As the U.S. population ages, the percentage of persons with disabilities increases. According to a 2017 University of New Hampshire Institute of Disability report, 12.8% of the overall population has a disability while 35.6% of those over 65 years of age have a disability. That translates to one out of eight people with a disability in the overall population and one out of three people over 65. Not accommodating persons with disabilities limits opportunities for both the individuals and the website provider. A wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological need to be taken into consideration. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 defines how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. WCAG 2.0 has four principles that provide the foundation for accessible content:
Many website and web application developers rely on tools to make their sites and applications accessible by providing closed captioning and screen reader capability. But you don’t have to be an accessibility tool expert to make your website or web application more accessible. Many times, design and writing style are the best first steps to creating a web product that is more accessible for everyone. Mike Mote, the Manager of Accessibility and Workforce Development at the Industries for the Blind (IFB) Solutions in Winston Salem, North Carolina, couldn’t agree more that this “low hanging fruit” is a critical non-technical component of accessible web design. The following “low hanging fruit”, though critical to good accessibility design is often overlooked in the design process:
Using a straightforward writing style makes your web content understandable. Using a common business writing style is the most efficient and inclusive style.
Know and write to your audience. Your audience is not interested in “how smart” you are. Your audience is interested in valuable content that can help them accomplish, avoid, or fix something. Know and stick to your content purpose. Define acronyms and industry terms. Avoid technical and uncommon terms. Write to an eighth-grade reading level to reach the widest audience. Use consistent terminology and names to eliminate confusion.
Use an active voice writing style. Make your sentences short and verb oriented. Avoid dangling prepositional phrases such as, “purpose of your content” and “in order to reach your audience”. Instead say, “your content purpose” and “to reach your audience”. If at all possible, avoid using “for” and “of”.
Use parallel content construction. For example, if you use bulleted lists, begin each bulleted item the same way. Use the same tense and verb-noun or noun-verb constructs.
Providing trouble-free formatting is especially important to persons with low vision. As a legally blind web content user, I am especially supportive of these rules of thumb.
Provide as much white space as possible to clarify page content area locations. Clutter and the absence of white space is a hindrance to navigation and communicating page focus.
Reuse common content locations across pages. For example, keep button locations consistent across pages, Cancel to the left and Submit to the right.
Minimize formatting or location change when you refresh content. This is similar to grocery stores moving stock to another place in the store after having a consistent place for the items for months or years.
Minimize horizontal scrolling to find buttons and other content. Low vision users that use Magnifiers to Zoom in to see content have a difficult time keeping content in context or even knowing if additional content exists.
Use high contrast for message pop-up background colors to help low vision users know that a pop-up is displayed. Place pop-ups in a consistent common page area.
Avoid hover text. Low vision users that Zoom in to read text have to move the mouse pointer or cursor to read the hover text. If the hover-over area is small, the low vision user moves off the hover area and the hover text disappears.
Contrast should be 5:1. Color selection is probably the most important consideration for low vision users. High contrast is used to make text easy to read and delimit areas of the page. High contrast is more important to many low vision users than the font size.
Selecting the right font family can make the text easier to read. Use a San Serif font, such as Helvetica, to maximize character recognition for low vision users.
Mobile responsive web pages and applications contribute to flow operability and understandability. With 73% of all web pages consumed on mobile devices, it is critical to make all web content responsive.
Simplifying the website or web application work flows
Keep your web page focus to one purpose or user goal. This eliminates confusion and complexity.
Don’t mix workflows, keep them separated. Subprocesses, when mixed with primary workflows can confuse the overall objective and goal.
Avoid drag and drop user experiences. Drag and drop is especially difficult for screen readers and magnifiers.
Use a “happy path” flow as the default with 80% of the typical user scenarios fulfilled with one path. The remaining 20% of the work flow can be saved for “side paths”.
If at all possible, use an on-boarding and function adoption product, such as Appcues, Work Me or Toonimo to add workflow assistance. These products can greatly enhance understandability to complex workflows.
You do not have to be a technology expert to make your website or web application more accessible. Simplifying the User eXperience (UX) can contribute more to the overall accessibility for your users and contribute to everyone’s experience with your website. Think “less is more” and be consistent. Use fewer words and keep on focus. Go for the low hanging fruit and everyone wins.
In the words of GAAD organizers, “The target audience of GAAD is the design, development, usability, and related communities who build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use. While people may be interested in the topic of making technology accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, the reality is that they often do not know how or where to start.”
DigitalChalk is committed to making learning available to everyone. Compliance guidelines are a great starting point for creating accessible technology, but we can (and should) do more. DigitalChalk is proud to participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and together with IFB Solutions, we are already looking forward to GAAD 2020 and encourage you to participate as well.
Learn more about GAAD here.
Written by: Russ Stinehour
President and CEO, Russ Stinehour, himself legally blind, actively works with organizations that help the visually impaired use technology. He currently serves as a member of the Advisory Board to the Industries for the Blind and was named to the North Carolina Commission for the Blind by Governor Mike Easley in 2004.