Note: We’re marketers — not lawyers. If you have specific questions concerning ADA compliance and how to avoid legal issues therein, please consult a licensed legal expert.
When it comes to user experience (UX), we tend to think of the things that are immediately noticeable upon visiting a site.
Can I easily find what I’m looking for? How long does the site take to load? Can I navigate through pages on my phone?
But a crucial aspect of UX design involves things that many visitors won’t ever see: accessibility features.
For people living with disabilities that might affect how they navigate the web, these accessibility features are critical to their own user experience, and websites must take into account ways to accommodate their time on site.
And it’s not just best practices to do so — you could end up in legal trouble if you don’t. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed in the early days of the internet, but the courts have set a clear precedent in the last decade that shows just how liable website owners can be if they fail to make their site accessible.
So how can you make sure your site remains a good experience for everyone who visits it? We’ve put together a beginner’s list to website accessibility, which should help you get started towards improving access for every visitor.
1. Unplug Your Mouse
A truly accessible website should be navigable without the use of your mouse. Try unplugging or disabling yours to see if you can get around using the “tab” keys on your keyboard. Not only does this give you a good idea of how well laid out your site flow is, but it also allows you to experience the site from a device-independent mindset.
Use your “Tab” key to bounce from link to link (use Shift + Tab to navigate backwards) and see how easily you can access the main portions of your site. If you find yourself getting stuck at a particular point or unable to click on a specific portion of the site, make a note to fix that.
2. Disable “Styles”
We know you’ve probably put a lot of work into making your site look pretty, but when it comes to accessibility, the more important concern is how navigable your site is. To figure that out, you’ll need to disable the CSS stylings that turn your black-and-white code into vivid colors and images.
If you’re using Google Chrome, here’s how to do that:
- Download a web developer Chrome extension
- Open the extension, open the CSS options and disable “All Styles”
Now you’ll see your site laid out in all its glorious basic-ness. From here, you can investigate whether there’s a coherent flow to your sitemap and pages. If you’re able to logically follow from one section to another without the aid of images or animations, that means it will be more accessible and navigable overall.
3. Use a Screen Reader
This is another chance to walk a mile in someone else’s proverbial shoes, navigating the web the way someone with limited or no sight might. Your computer should come stocked with a screen reading option under your Accessibility settings, but a quick Google search should help you find alternatives if not.
Much like with disabling styles, a screen reader provides a very basic understanding of what your sitemap feels like without the benefit of visuals. If you find yourself having difficulty finding what you need without the use of visual explainers, you might consider finding ways to bolster the copy on your site.
For instance, if you’re not already using alt-text on images (which you should be doing from an SEO perspective), a screen reader will highlight the gaps in your site where descriptive text can be given to images.
4. Evaluate Your Color & Font Choices
If your website was designed by a professional web developer, there is less chance that you’ll run into issues with color contrast and font sizes. But if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person and put together your site internally, you’ll want to take a closer look at the decisions you made
For example, certain color choices that might look great when paired on furniture or home stylings simply make it more difficult to read text on a screen. Though not all your color choices have to pass this contrast litmus test, anything you’re using for fonts should. If anyone with average vision has difficulty in parsing some words, imagine how it might look to the more visually-impaired.
Additionally, it’s a good rule of thumb to stick to fonts no smaller than 14pt. That way, no one has to squint or increase their browser size to read your handy work. That has become increasingly important for mobile responsiveness, as well, where fonts will naturally look smaller on a phone than when viewed on a desktop.
While these are just a few recommendations to get you started, it’s important for any brand to undergo a serious evaluation of Accessibility on your site. Not only will it ensure a smooth, enjoyable user experience no matter who is visiting, it can help keep you ahead of costly legal troubles, too.