Websites for everyone: using accessible design
Not everyone has the same abilities, and so not everyone experiences a website the same way. There are a number of strategies for removing barriers and making online experiences accessible to people with visual impairments, tremors and fine motor skills issues, learning disabilities and other challenges.
But accessible design isn't just a nice thing to do: it's the law. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) outlines all the things companies should be doing to make their sites available to everyone. And if you don't follow some of their guidelines, you may be leaving yourself open to discrimination lawsuits.
Here are some tips for making your site friendly to all your users:
Use meaningful words. Make sure your images include textual equivalents (a description of what's in the picture), and your links are meaningfully named – this makes it easier for visually impaired users to use assistive technologies like text-to-speech software or text-to-Braille hardware.
Make it enlargeable. Design that someone can zoom in on makes it easier for users with impaired vision to see the site. And always use standard fonts – they're the easiest ones to read.
Create clear links. Underlined or otherwise differentiate them by something other than just colour; otherwise colour blind users won't be able to find them. Looking at your site in black and white will give you an idea of how they see it.
Add keyboard controls. Some users with motor or mobility challenges are unable to control a mouse or need to use a specialized keyboard – ensure they can navigate using only the keyboard.
Close-caption video and audio components for deaf and hard-of-hearing users.
Keep content simple. Use plain language, and include diagrams and animations so users with dyslexia and learning difficulties can understand the content more easily.
Don't get flashy. Avoid flashing effects; they can cause seizures.
Those are just a few examples of ways in which you open up your site to people with disabilities. We've recently wrapped a couple of sites ourselves that follow these guidelines – and make the experience something every user can enjoy. Check out www.mirvish.com/kinkyboots and www.canadaswalkoffame.com. And talk to us about all the ways you can boost usability for everyone who visits you online.