What Does it Mean to Have an Accessible Website? 

Beverly Written by Beverly Leavitt June 5, 2024 Marketing

A close-up of a man's wrist wearing a smart watch with a menu open displaying photos, mail, clock, and more options, over a green background.

Accessibility might not be top of mind for you, especially if you feel like it doesn’t apply to you. But if you put yourself in the position of your customers, you might think differently. 

When we think of online accessibility, we often think of people with severe hearing or vision impairments, but it’s so much more than that. If you’re thinking, “We seldom have customers with visible disabilities walk through our doors,” think again. It’s not always visible to you. 

“Twenty percent of the world has a disability,” says Derek Featherstone, accessibility expert. He continues, “People with disabilities have the same goals and tasks as everyone else. They might just use specialized tools to do it.” 

There are some changes you can make to your website that help people who are deaf, blind, have autism, have no limbs, have arthritis, or many others access your products and services. 

Making your site accessible benefits everyone, including people who use smart watches, watch videos in public without sound, or just have big thumbs. 

What Changes Should You Make? 

If you look at your site through the lens of your customers (or the scenarios outlined above), you’re likely to find room for improvement. 

Check these common fail points on your site: 

  1. Form fields - The information you’re looking for your customer to input always needs to be visible. For example, if you want their phone number, the field always needs to display the words “phone number” or an example number “555-555-5555.” It can’t disappear when someone clicks on the field to enter their information. This feature is helpful for those with cognitive disabilities.
  1. Contrast - Often, a fun colour scheme can take precedence over readability. High contrast is important for people with visual impairments (including people who use reading glasses, are colourblind, or have low vision). 

To test this, turn your page black and white and see if you can tell the difference between the colours on the page. This is most important when colour is used to distinguish a difference. For example, choosing between a red or a blue product for sale. 

A colourblind test with six circles in two rows. From top left to right: the first is yellow/orange with a green "7," the second is grey/brown with a red "13," the third is grey with an orange "16." From bottom left to right: a green/yellow with a pink "8," an coral/peach with a green "12," and a blue/green/grey with an orange "9."

See how contrast can impact readability? 

*Photo Credit: Canadian Association of Optometrists 

  1. Zoom in - In addition to contrast, testing your site at different magnifications will show you how someone with low or tunnel vision will experience it. Can you see the consequences of all of your actions? For example, if you click “submit” on a contact form, can you see that it was sent successfully?
  1. Transcribe audio - Any time you create a video or audio (podcast), ensure you transcribe the audio for people with low or no hearing. This feature allows them to understand what people are saying. You can go a step further by describing the additional sounds you hear, like what you would see in closed captioning available on TV programs. 
  1. Alt text - Alt text is a description you write of an image so that a screen reader can pick it up for someone without sight. For example, the image below is of a seedling. But if you can’t see it, that description doesn’t really serve you. A better description would be: “a pair of dirty hands pressing the soil around a small, green seedling beside a black irrigation tube.”
A pair of dirty hands pressing the soil around a small, green seedling beside a black irrigation tube.
  1. Reduce motion - Using animation on your site can be helpful in telling people what you want them to do next. For example, if your “buy now” button pulses, it can bring more attention to the button and potentially attract a click.

However, if you have a vestibular disorder, those motions can make you dizzy. You don’t have to remove it from your site, but the function of your site shouldn’t rely on it, so if your customer chooses to turn it off using their computer settings, it won’t affect how they experience your content. 

  1. Using the keyboard to navigate - Some people have difficulty or are unable to navigate their computer with a mouse (blindness or limited dexterity). Instead, they use their keyboard. Any active part of the page (button or link) should be highlighted when they tab across the screen. This is a built-in function on the browser, but some developers turn it off. 

A simple conversation with your developer will ensure they prioritize this function for your customers. They can also make it better by coding it themselves to make it more visible, but it’s imperative that they test it. 

  1. Tapping the page - Touchscreens are everywhere, and mobile use is often optimized by designers (if it isn’t, have a chat with yours!). For someone with arthritis or without arms, it can be difficult to tap the buttons to move throughout your website. 

Have your designer and developer prioritize larger “targets” with lots of breathing room so your customers don’t accidentally hit the wrong button. 

Who’s Responsible for These Changes? 

Whoever you work with on your website should be able to help guide you. You can use these points to start the conversation, and they may have more ways to help you make your site accessible based on the content you present to your customers. 

This list doesn’t include all the ways you can make your site more accessible, but we’ve included some of the most common ones. 

Why is this Important? 

First and foremost, it puts your customers at the forefront of your decision-making. It helps them access your services and products, which removes barriers for them. If you don’t do this, you might lose them to someone who considers their needs. 

Google prioritizes the user experience. If you put in the work to help your customers, it signals to Google, which helps you show up higher in the search results. 

It’s a legal requirement. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) states that “organizations must ensure the accessibility of any web content that they own” by referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 for international standards.  

Take a look at your site through the lens of some of the scenarios we’ve outlined and see how user-friendly it truly is.