Steps for making websites more accessible to people with disabilities.
Steps for making websites more accessible to people with disabilities.

In recent posts I have shared my learnings from ‘The Yahoo! Style Guide‘. I have reached a thought-provoking section of the book which for the first time has made me aware of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in accessing information on the web.

I have written scores of articles for the internet.  But I have to admit that whenever I have had a discussion on the target reader with a client, the discussion has centred on basic demographics – age group, geography, occupation, interests and hobbies. Not once have I paused to think that I may also be writing for a section of readers that consists of people with disabilities.

And in all likelihood I am not alone in my ignorance.

Significance of Designing/Writing Websites for People with Disabilities

Disabled people rely on various hardware and software to access information on the internet. But a lot of their ability  to use this technology is contingent on how websites are designed and the way the content is written. For example, adding a textual description for an image on your website can help people with sight disabilities access the content through a software called the screen reader.

These days most companies have a video on their homepage explaining the core services being offered.  But how many such corporate videos are accompanied with captions? Textual descriptions are crucial for persons with hearing abilities to fully comprehend the information being shared via videos and online learning platforms.

There are an estimated one billion people in the world with disabilities.  And while the majority (80% as per the  World Health Organisation) reside in developing countries, there is no denying that persons with disabilities represent an untapped market for many businesses.

But more importantly, ensuring that all websites are compliant with the basic design rules for access by persons with disabilities, is in fact crucial to the ‘world wide web’ being truly inclusive and far-reaching.

Measures Underway for Improving Accessibility of the Web to People with Disabilities

International bodies such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for improving accessibility of information on the internet, has been signed by more than a 100 countries. Different countries have also formulated their own policies relating to web accessibility. In fact for some businesses, ensuring compliance to these guidelines may also be compulsory.

The possibility of litigation in case of non-compliance has also compelled companies, especially those in the telecommunications industry such as Apple and Microsoft, to design products that can be used by people with disabilities right out of a box.

5 Guidelines for Improving Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities  (Source: The Yahoo! Style Guide, Chapter 6)

  1. The first step to making the web more inclusive for people with disabilities is ‘awareness’. Whether its your own website, or a client that you are writing for, discuss the requirement of making the website compliant with accessibility guidelines. Also, test usability of your website by seeking feedback from people with disabilities.
  2. All pages on your site should be accessible via keyboard commands. This is important because many people with disabilities cannot use a mouse. Instead they navigate websites using the keyboard. Incidentally, the WordPress keyboard shortcuts can be used by all of us to save time in maintaining our blogs.
  3. Provide an alternative for image verification boxes on your website (commonly referred to as CAPTCHA verification). For instance the user can be asked to click on a confirmation email or the numbers and letters can be voiced-out.

    Captcha Image Verification
    Point 3 – The website needs to  provide alternatives for people with disabilities who may not be able to fill out image verification boxes
  4. For people with limited vision (such as color blindness), you can offer the option of viewing the website in different background colors as well as font size.
  5. The site must be laden with alternate text. This includes –
  • Actionable elements like input fields, radio buttons and check- boxes
  • Image descriptions
  • Videos captions. Incidentally You Tube offers an auto captioning feature for adding captions to videos in 10 languages.
  • Don’t rely on color coded cues; include add text for all instructions on the website.

The Web Accessibility Initiative lists detailed guidelines for making the web more accessible to people with disabilities.

Before I conclude, I’d like to apologize in advance for having offended anyone’s sensibilities basis my choice of words.

I truly hope that all the web designers/ content writers reading this post will change the way they work on projects, towards making the web truly inclusive.