Web accessibility means that websites and technologies are navigable and inclusive for people with disabilities. When a website is accessible, it reduces barriers and increases opportunities for many people with disabilities. This benefits people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities.
Website accessibility is required by a number of federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Despite this – and although an estimated 27% of the adult American population has a disability – approximately 97% of websites are not fully accessible to the disability community.
The importance of web accessibility has also been recognized by the United Nations, which shared that “ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States.”
Web accessibility benefits for business
When a business or website prioritizes accessibility, it reduces the risk of lawsuits while also demonstrating compassion.
Web accessibility can also lead to improved business results. Organizations most focused on accessibility engagement have been found to grow sales more than four times faster than those that do not.
In general, accessible, human-centered design improves the overall user experience for a wide range of people. This can help to build a brand, increase customer loyalty, and allow access to new markets.
Important web accessibility elements
An accessible website is inclusive and navigable for the highest number of people.
The best way to measure if a website is accessible is to check it against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the international standard for web accessibility, as set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). While it isn’t codified into U.S. law, WCAG has been referenced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. courts as the standard for accessibility.
The latest version of these guidelines is WCAG 2.1, which is currently the best benchmark for an accessible website.
Based on WCAG 2.1, these are some of the most important web accessibility best practices:
- Ensuring compatibility with screen reader technology: People who are blind or have low vision often use screen reader technology to understand web content. To be compatible with these assistive technologies, websites should have clear navigation, provide text alternatives to non-text content (such as images and videos), and use semantic HTML for headers
- Including alt text on images: Alternative text, or alt text, describes the content of an image. This makes an image accessible for people who are blind or have a vision impairment, as it can be read via screen reader technology. It’s important to add alt text only to images that convey information and provide additional context, and not to those that are purely decorative
- Allowing size adjustments: Content should be resizable up to 200% without loss of functionality and readability
- Using sufficient contrast: The minimum contrast ratio between text and its background is 4.5:1, except for large text (with at least 18 point) or bold text (with at least 14 point) which should have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1
- Using consistent design and navigation: Some people with disabilities find it more challenging to navigate websites. Consistent and predictable design and navigation help to reduce these barriers
- Choosing clear fonts for better accessibility: Accessible content should be easy to read. This means using clear and simple fonts that avoid unnecessary flourishes and have sufficient size and weight
- Using ARIA roles/labels and HTML5 markup