9 ways to improve your business website accessibility

If your business website isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, it could cost more than lost customers — it could also get your business sued.
519 Web Accessibility Panel

While many businesses of all sizes have likely considered whether their physical operations and employment practices are Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant, one area they may have overlooked is their digital presence. Yes, business websites must also be ADA compliant, and there could be legal ramifications if your company website is not accessible to people with disabilities.

One in seven people has some type of disability, possibly limiting their ability to interact with websites, according to SCORE. However, there are still accessibility barriers that make it harder for millions of people with disabilities worldwide to use and access websites independently.

Web accessibility refers to the configuration of online products, facilities, and services to make them usable and navigable for everyone, including those with hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive conditions.

The web should be inclusive — it should be accessible to those who have permanent or temporary disabilities or situational disabilities. People who are visually impaired should be able to read through screen readers, the deaf can stay up to date with current events through indexed transcripts, and the mute can join online discussions through blogs and comments.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), instituted in 1990, aims to end discrimination based on differing abilities. It requires establishments — government institutions, nonprofit organizations, and commercial organizations — to give equal-access accommodations.

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design, published in September 2010, covers all electronic and information technology, including computer hardware, software, and documentation. Accordingly, the ADA standards apply to all commercial and public entities that have places intended for public accommodation.

The web is considered a public accommodation and thus obliged to comply with the ADA standards, notes David Gevorkian, CEO and founder of Be Accessible. Even though there are no pertinent regulations covering ADA web accessibility, federal courts ruled that website accessibility falls within the spirit of ADA by lessening commerce and business barriers for individuals with disabilities. In several cases, the courts have ruled that websites fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and are thereby interpreted as a place of public accommodation.

So, any forms of ineffective website design and development that are not accessible can be considered discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Further, in the United States, there are federal guidelines for making websites accessible, namely the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. While large companies have been sued over a lack of accessibility, it could potentially be a concern for smaller websites as well.

Regardless of legal reasons, it’s best practice to make your content available for the highest number of people possible.

Benefits of web accessibility

There are numerous practical benefits to making your website accessible aside from avoiding possible legal issues. Making your website accessible gives a better user experience not just for the disabled, but for everyone. It also helps you rank better on search engines, improve conversion rates, optimize your site’s overall performance, and create more loyal and satisfied users.

Groups with accessibility needs include:

  • Users with sight limitations;
  • Visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Those with physical limitations;
  • Users with seizure conditions; and
  • Seniors

To improve accessibility, a website may need to be modified to meet the requisite guidelines. This could translate to hours of work, but it will protect the small business owner from lawsuits and legal costs. Here are nine ways to improve the accessibility of a website:

Provide a web accessibility statement

Creating a web accessibility statement tells site visitors the target level of the site’s web accessibility and any efforts or methods used to improve it. It may also inform users of alternative routes to access when there are obstacles or violations. W3C provides a tool that allows website owners to create and customize an accessibility statement.

Provide adequate color contrast

Color and contrast are crucial elements of accessibility in a business site. Users must be able to perceive content on the page, including those with low vision and have visual impairments. Plus, it will not leave out potential customers with color blindness.

Include alternative text for all images

Alternative text, or alt text, provides descriptions of images to users who are unable to see them. This does not only refer to blind people, but to users who opt to disable images on their devices as well. For screen reader users, the alt text should be read aloud.

Provide appropriate keyboard input

People with disabilities rely heavily on adaptive keyboards apart from other types of assistive technology. Design the website so that its layout and navigation are keyboard friendly. Also, visually impaired users should be able to navigate the entire website without difficulty.

Include audio and video transcripts

Transcripts refer to a text version of a speech or non-speech audio data. They are necessary for deaf users or those with hard of hearing to understand the content. For videos, include descriptive transcripts that provide visual information necessary for them to interpret the content.

Design your forms for accessibility

Make your forms simple and easy to read to benefit everyone, with larger font and clean design.

Use headers to structure your content correctly

Use headers (i.e., H1, H2) to correctly structure your content to make it organized and more readable; this is beneficial for those who use a screen reader.

Avoid automatic media and navigation

Automatic media and navigation can be frustrating to many users, especially those who use a screen reader as it also interrupts the audio. Not everyone reads at the same speed, so the automatic navigation prevents them from fully absorbing the information on the current page. Consider adding a “skipping navigation links” to conveniently redirect the user to important anchor links.

Follow ARIA good practices

The Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) provides guidelines on how to make your site accessible for those who use assistive technologies.

Click here to sign up for the free IB Ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.