Keeping up with accessibility

Greenhouse Creative's developers recently attended the virtual conference Web Directions - Access All Areas. The conference’s aim is to keep web professionals up to date with developments in technologies and practices to help deliver a web that can be accessed by all.

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There were a number of valuable takeaways from this conference to aid our developers in building accessible websites. Here’s some we’d like to share with our clients...

 

Accessibility affects more people than you realise.

More people may struggle to use your website than you might think. No website owner wants to exclude people from visiting their site, so having a site that is available to as many people as possible is a good thing. But how do you go about making that a reality? When you think about users who may have difficulty with a website, most people can understand how disabilities like blindness or low vision can affect a user. But there are many other groups of people who need help using the web. Here's some other users you may not have thought about before who have accessibility issues:

  • Users with mobility issues such as paralysis, arthritis or Parkinson's disease may not be able to click on your content. Even a temporary condition such as a broken hand may make it difficult to browse your website if alternative navigation with a keyboard isn't provided.
  • Users who are affected by motion based disorientation, like motion sickness using highly animated websites.
  • Users with reading or comprehension difficulties such as dyslexia.
  • Users whose native language isn’t English. Avoiding unnecessarily complicated language on your site will help your content be useful for as many people as possible.

Considering this much larger audience makes you realise how important accessibility is for your website and for your business.

Here's an excellent video to help explain who may find your website difficult.

Using HTML5 correctly gets you a long way.

HTML has - from the beginning of the web - provided standard elements that describe to web browsers (and assistive technologies) the structure and content of your page. Over time more elements have been added to give more meaning to sections of a page. For example, the nav element that is to be used for navigation, address indicates contact information, and main is where the main content should live and allows users to skip straight to it.

When developers use these elements correctly, it becomes much easier for users who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers to find the content they’re looking for. This is also true for Google's search algorithm. Accessible content doesn’t just help customers, it also helps the robots that determine your search engine rankings.

If you have an older website it's possible your site won't be using modern, descriptive HTML elements, which will be difficult for users who rely on these elements, and more difficult for search engines to scan your pages.

 

ARIA to fill the gaps.

Sometimes, HTML doesn't go far enough. We want our sites to have beautiful features such as image galleries, animations, and carousels. However, there’s no standard HTML elements for these features, so a different specification called ARIA is used to help describe these elements and their usage.

Some examples ARIA is used for:

  • Indicating if part of the page is open or closed, such as a menu, a selected image in a gallery, or a pop-up window.
  • Indicating if a button is pressed, such as filters on a blog, or a selection in an accordion menu.
  • Indicate what "role" an element plays if this isn't clear in the HTML. For example, an image may have a role of "presentation" if it's purely decorative and doesn't add information to the page content.

When developing custom elements for our clients sites it’s important to provide the correct ARIA roles and properties to ensure these elements are accessible.

 

It’s also about your content.

At Greenhouse, we take great care in creating quality HTML markup using the latest standards such as ARIA to make sure pages are easy to navigate and understand for a wide audience.

We can also assist with reviewing the content that you change over time to help ensure the site remains accessible, and that you’re not accidentally excluding potential customers. Examples include ensuring that images have ‘alt text’ that describes the image, and that the correct heading levels are selected for content in the CMS.

There's always improvements to be made in regards to accessibility, and it’s encouraging to see advances in this area. This conference was a great reminder to stay focused on accessibility. It's good for our clients, and good for business… because it’s good for everybody!