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Simple ways to improve website accessibility

Web accessibility is important, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. What makes a website accessible for me does not mean it will be that way for you. My goal is to make my site as useful for as many visitors as possible while understanding it might not be just right for everyone all the time.

Why is Accessibility Important?

An accessible site is better from both a human and a computer readability perspective.

In oversimplified terms, when web spiders crawl your site to index it for search engines, they do so in a manner that is similar to how a screen reader will navigate those same pages. The difference isn’t really one at all: you want to be read by search engines; you want your content to be read by your people.

Let’s consider this story of Mister Rogers that often makes the rounds of social media. It’s about why he mentioned aloud that he fed his fish. A girl wrote to him that she couldn’t see when he was feeding them, and her father noted that his daughter was blind. That one comment, and a simple fix increased and improved her access and to the show. Mister Rogers was my favorite as a child, and I remember running to my own fish tank when he fed his fish. The audio was my own cue because I couldn’t see the TV and my fish at the same time.

Returning to the point. It’s straightforward to research best practices for accessibility. However, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and want to turn to a magical tool to solve the issue. I urge you to avoid one-size-fits-all approaches and accept that it will be an ongoing process.

Accept it’s a Process

This isn’t the type of project you can do once and check off your task list forever. The web keeps evolving as do the tools you use to create and access it. While general principles won’t change, there are standards that are evolving. One of those is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Currently, I use the working draft of version 2.2 to evaluate my site. This builds on earlier versions and adds criteria primarily to aid users with low vision, cognitive, learning, and motor disabilities. They also include benefits for those on mobile devices. For example, if a button is too small or close to other buttons, it’s easy to select the wrong one. As a passenger, have you ever tried to type an address into a navigation app while on a bumpy street? These standards could help you not press the wrong button.

Add Access

The easiest way to improve accessibility is to make sure there’s more than one way to access your content. As you begin to adopt including these practices into to your workflow, you may find they become easier to create and take less of your time.

I’ve linked to the WCAG guidelines or other blog posts that explain why these are important or provide tips to implement them.

Some examples include:

  • Add alt text to images.
  • Include subheadings (not just bold text) to break up large chunks of text.
  • Use lists when they work with your content. See How Users Read on the Web.
  • Provide a transcript with any audio, such as a podcast and add closed captions to video.
  • Try to make links descriptive.
  • Please include contact information as text, not an image. I can write a whole post about this one example! Please provide it in a way that can easily be copied and pasted. If your phone number includes a vanity word as part of your branding, please provide it as numbers too! For example, 1-800-FLOWERS is easy to remember, but if you can’t see the letters or remember the f = 3 on the keypad, 1-800-356-9377.  

I published my own accessibility policy which explains steps I’m taking on this site to improve accessibility. Small changes can create significant positive impact.

Note: This is a 2022 update of a post first published in 2018.