Best Practices for Accessible Web Design
In today’s era, where modern technology is deeply intertwined with our daily lives, digital accessibility has evolved from being an optional add-on to an essential necessity. As efforts intensify to design universally accessible spaces, digital accessibility, especially website accessibility, is gaining global recognition.
- Overview of the importance of website accessibility
- The Importance of Accessibility for NDIS Participants
- Legal Aspects of Web Accessibility
- Benefits of Making Websites Accessible for NDIS Participants
- Key Principles of Web Accessibility
- Best Practices for Implementing Web Accessibility
Overview of the importance of website accessibility
What is website accessibility to begin with? It extends beyond merely having an active website that users can navigate with ease. Website accessibility ensures that every user, irrespective of their background or abilities, can access information online equitably.
This encompasses implementing features and functions tailored to meet the diverse needs of its users. Accessible websites empower individuals with visual, auditory, cognitive, or physical disabilities. Moreover, they accommodate the elderly experiencing age-related challenges and those temporarily encumbered, perhaps due to broken limbs or transient visual challenges.
Such websites champion inclusivity, catering to everyone, irrespective of their capabilities or situation, thus providing a balanced digital experience.
Understanding NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme)
In line with inclusivity and accessibility for all, the Australian government offers the NDIS, a fund dedicated to supporting eligible participants in their quest to achieve their goals, develop skills, and actively engage within their communities. With website accessibility, NDIS participants can independently and confidently access information that aids them in realising their objectives.
The intersection of website accessibility and NDIS participants
For NDIS participants, website accessibility transcends mere convenience. It serves as a gateway to independence, information, and meaningful engagement. By offering accessible website content, online businesses and brands can not only champion the NDIS’s mission of empowerment and inclusivity in the digital era but also ensure that their products and services are available to everyone.
The Importance of Accessibility for NDIS Participants
The rights of NDIS participants to access digital resources.
NDIS participants, like all citizens, have a fundamental right to access information and services online. In this ongoing digital age, ensuring free access to digital resources is a matter of equity and respect.
How website accessibility directly impacts daily lives and autonomy
For many NDIS participants, website accessibility is a lifeline. This allows them to better perform certain tasks such as booking appointments, learning, shopping, or communicating with others online. With websites that are not designed for accessibility, these tasks are either not possible at all or come with great difficulty. This restricts the autonomy of NDIS participants, making daily routines more challenging and limiting their participation in the digital world.
The scope and range of disabilities covered by NDIS: Physical, auditory, visual, cognitive, etc.
The NDIS supports eligible Australians experiencing certain restrictions in their daily lives, including challenges in mobility, visual, auditory, or cognitive. The NDIS also caters to participants in need of psychological and psychosocial support. Each disability has unique needs, emphasising the importance of diverse and inclusive web design that accommodates all users.
Legal Aspects of Web Accessibility
Overview of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The World Wide Web Consortium created the WCAG in May 1999, providing a set of guidelines for creating accessible online content. Over the years, this has evolved with new updates that adapt to the changing needs of the users, with the most recent release launched last June 2018. The WCAG 2.2 is currently in progress and is expected to be released by August 2023. Developed globally, it ensures websites, apps, and tools are usable by everyone, especially those with disabilities, making the digital world more inclusive.
Australia and web accessibility: The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
The Australian Human Rights Commission through the DDA mandates that services, including websites, be accessible to those with disabilities. This is further supplemented by the government’s Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS) requiring all web properties the need to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA. By aligning with WCAG, businesses can ensure compliance, emphasising the nation’s commitment to inclusivity in the digital realm.
Potential legal ramifications for non-compliance
Failure to make websites accessible can lead to legal consequences. It is more common than one might think, as individuals with disabilities are eligible to file for complaints against organisations restricting access to information or services in the digital space, which could lead to lawsuits, penalties, and reputational damage.
“Bee and her team have been excellent to work with for the development and launch of our new website. Designer Mary has been exceptional in translating our ideas into visuals that are right on point, and our Customer Success Specialist Phoebe’s coordination of timelines and action items has helped us keep our project timeline running smoothly. Their technical expertise and advice has been appreciated throughout our project.”
Benefits of Making Websites Accessible for NDIS Participants
The ethical and moral dimensions: Inclusivity and equality.
Driven with the goal to provide service and information to all, website accessibility is a basic right of any individual. This promotes an inclusive society where everyone has equal access to digital resources and platforms that enable them to conduct day-to-day tasks and social interactions, as well as enjoy avenues for learning and further growth, professional and personal.
Enhancing usability for everyone, not just those with disabilities.
When elevating the user experience of a website, this does not just benefit people with disabilities exclusively. These further improvements also enhance the user experience for everyone, making it more convenient and engaging when using the website. This improved user satisfaction can lead to brand loyalty, return customers, and increased traffic and sales.
Broadening your audience: The business case for accessibility.
A report released a few years ago noted that people with disabilities have “nearly half a trillion dollars in disposable income.” For businesses, this means a market that is largely untapped and with so much potential. Along with compliance, accessible websites provide businesses with increased reach and opportunities to increase sales on digital platforms with services made accessible to all.
Key Principles of Web Accessibility
In designing and developing accessible websites, the WCAG, as discussed above, upholds four foundational principles: being Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust, often abbreviated as POUR.
Below is a short overview of each:
- Perceivable: This ensures that all information and the user interface are presented in a way that is easily and readily accessible, as well as multisensorial.
- Text Alternatives: For those with visual impairments and screen reader users, text alternatives are a great way to present visual information. “Alt text”, a feature embedded in images, provides a description of the image content or function.
- Adaptable content: With the many ways to access information these days, the flexibility of content is paramount. This means that the content of the website must stay the same without losing structure or data, regardless of what device or accessibility function it was accessed. This includes screen readers, varying screen sizes, or larger fonts.
- Distinguishable content: Websites come with different elements, from text to images, videos, buttons, navigation menu and more. Making sure these components are distinguishable allows for a better user experience for everyone.
These can be done through contrast of colours for text and background, avoiding auto-play audio which can cause sudden discomfort for users with hearing aids, and other designs that may confuse or disorient individuals interacting with your website.
- Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Keyboard accessibility: Ensuring that every feature can easily be clicked through the mouse can also be completed through keyboard controls. For users with motor disabilities, keyboards and similar tools are one of the most common ways to engage with websites.
- Enough time for users to read and use content: If possible, avoid putting timeouts on website functions or if this is really necessary, provide ample time for users. This ensures that there is adequate time for everyone to process, understand, and interact with the website.
- Seizure prevention (avoiding flashing content): Something one commonly sees in films and other visual channels as well, flashing content and lights are known to cause seizures in certain people. When designing a website, safety should always come first.
- Navigable and findable content: Through features like a table of content, skip-to-link content, breadcrumbs, or logical tab orders – users can interact with the site content and find the information they need right away with no hassle.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be clear.
- Readable text: For some users with visual impairments, a slight change in the text can make a world of difference. This can be through clear fonts in solid colours, simple language, and understandable instructions. Remember that the core of the website is to communicate the message. For users that need more complex visual support, the website should also be able to accommodate alternative or adaptive tools.
- Predictable web pages: In designing the user experience, ensure that the overall design flow is straightforward, logical, and predictable. Drastic changes can be disorienting for users.
- Input assistance (error identification, descriptions, and suggestions): Like with anything, designing and using accessible websites come with its own learning curve. Should there be a need to contact someone for help or assistance, this function should be readily available.
- Robust: With the digital landscape that is continuously changing, content must be accessible by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Compatibility with current and future tools: To create accessible websites that are also sustainable and resilient to future changes, it is important to design with the future in mind. Assistive technologies and tools also change over time, along with the needs of the users. Keeping websites up to date with all of these accessibility requirements is important in maintaining the website’s relevance and inclusivity.
Best Practices for Implementing Web Accessibility
As we have outlined, website accessibility is a necessity in this day and age. Ensuring every individual has equal access to website content and the digital space addresses three important aspects for any business — inclusivity, compliance, and increased market reach.
Whether you are building a website for the first time or redesigning it with accessibility in mind, here are some of the best practices to keep in mind:
- Working with a local website development team that shares your vision: There are several website development companies, but not all of them understand the varying requirements when working in the disability space. By choosing a local website development team, you are assured of the team’s proven experience in this specific industry along with the local audience which are your clients, while also implementing the best and latest digital marketing strategies to help you achieve your organisational goals.
- Regularly auditing your website for accessibility issues: Like all facets of a website, accessibility is not a “set it and forget it” feature. Regular audits ensure that as new content is added or website structures change, accessibility remains at the forefront.
- Engaging with real NDIS participants for feedback: The best insight comes with the direct participants. Consider working with NDIS participants to get feedback on your website or for less hassle, work with a website development agency specialising in the NDIS market such as Digital Marketing Bee. The lived experiences of NDIS participants provide a unique perspective, ensuring that solutions are practical and genuinely beneficial.
- Leveraging accessible website design principles: One might think that NDIS websites are plain, boring, or not aesthetically pleasing. This is a misconception! Marrying website accessibility and intuitive beautiful design is definitely possible.
An example of this is AIIM Choices’ website, which comes with the necessary features for fully accessible functionality, while also being visually appealing. These adaptive functions include the Screen Reader feature, increase contrast, smart contrast, highlight links, bigger text, text spacing, pause animations, and hide images. There is also a Dyslexia Friendly version of the website that can be activated.
- Embedding accessibility into the organisational culture: Don’t just stop on the website. Accessibility shouldn’t be an afterthought or a box to check. Instead, make it a part of the company’s ethos. This could involve highlighting the importance of inclusivity in onboarding sessions, celebrating accessibility milestones, or working with a dedicated team responsible for ensuring the website remains accessible.
With the digital world deeply embedded in our daily lives, the requirement for web accessibility for NDIS participants is more crucial than ever. NDIS participants deserve the same ease of access to digital resources as everyone else. They should be able to shop, learn, interact, and contribute online without barriers. With accessible websites, this is possible.
For website designers and developers, as well as businesses, prioritising accessibility champions inclusivity. This is not an additional “feature” that one adds to the website or “service” incorporated into the business. More than that, it is about helping create a world that is accessible for all, where everyone can engage and interact.
In conclusion, web accessibility is not just a guideline—it’s a pathway to an inclusive digital realm where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn, engage, and contribute. It is an ongoing journey that is shared by businesses, developers, community members, leaders, and more. A digital space that is for everyone.