The short answer: Yes, you really need to. But before you stop reading right away, please let me elaborate on this. It’s actually not so hard, and it does have more benefits than you might think.
Most people only have a vague idea what accessibility on the web might imply. One could think it’s about people with severely limited or no eyesight. And, quite honestly, as fairly healthy, sighted people we cannot even imagine what it would be like to surf the web without actually seeing it.
Who benefits from my accessible website?
Actually, the need for accessibility on the web is far more common than we’d expect. Not only people with strong impediments depend on us to keep their needs in mind. We all benefit from websites that don’t create additional obstacles, preventing us from reaching our goals. See an overview here
Screenreaders and search engines
If your website isn’t accessible for screenreaders, this means that visitors who depend on that screenreader are barred from the content of your website.
What many people don’t consider, though, is that a search engine bot works pretty similar to a screenreader. If a visitor using a screenreader can navigate your website well and find the content she is looking for, the search engine bot will be able to do so as well. And that’s an important corner stone on your journey to a good ranking with Google and Co.
Smartphones and Tablets
Accessibility is also concerned with fonts, font sizes, and color contrasts. This helps everyone who is trying to decipher your website in bright sunlight or other adverse conditions. Or elder people who are having trouble reading the real small print. To be honest, one does not need to feel that old to have problems at that end…
If you pick your colors wisely, with a good contrast, and use a font with a clear typeface, that is usually going to work just fine. But using a dark grey squiggly font on a light grey background won’t really do, even if it might be considered elegant.
Operating a website with one hand?
Did you ever break your arm? Or try to order something online while holding your toddler? You know what I mean. There are plenty of ways to help your visitor to get things done anyway: Large enough buttons to be able to actually hit them on a smartphone or tablet or to make sure that you are actually able to use the arrow keys or the tabulator key to move through the website.
This also helps people with movement disorders to find what they are looking for on your website.
Foreign language? Exhausted? Difficult topic?
Language can be a huge obstacle. Maybe the website is written in a language you don’t speak well. But even content in our mother tongue can be incomprehensible: Very long sentences, a lot of words we are not very familiar with or a confusing structure can hinder us. And it’s not getting easier when we are distracted or tired.
Creating a clear structure, keeping sentences short and using as little foreign words as possible makes your content more readable. It’s not necessary to write your website content in simple language.
Sliders, videos and moving elements
For screen readers, sliders, and other moving elements can become a one-way road they cannot escape from anymore. Even sighted visitors can be irritated or distracted by fidgety elements. Depending on your health condition, it might even cause an epileptic seizure.
No matter what, these elements usually cause a longer loading time than necessary. Trying to load the website using a bad mobile connection might take pretty long. Most visitors give up after a few seconds and leave.
Besides, many people actually perceive sliders and the likes as irritating. Do you look at every image a slider provides in order to see if there is relevant information? Research shows that barely 1% of site visitors actually click on a slider image.
How do I make my website accessible?
With WordPress, that’s actually not so hard. The WordPress core team has put a lot of effort into giving it a stable, accessible basis. All the WordPress standard themes have been accessible for years. They already contain a lot of the elements that are essential if you are using a screen reader or navigate the website using your keyboard. Color contrasts and fonts have been chosen accordingly. Sometimes they might come with different color schemes, and not all of them fulfill the criteria for accessibility. But in this case it’s clearly stated in the documentary that comes with the theme.
The technical groundwork is not enough
This basis is great to build on. Without it, you won’t be able to get an accessible website. But we still can destroy everything once we start to build the structure and add our content to the website.
When the structure of your website is clear and easy to understand it’s a huge benefit for your visitors. It can be so frustrating to click back and forth on search for some content you believe you have seen… somewhere? At this point a lot of visitors give up and leave.
Tip: Using the search function
When your website has many pages and a lot of posts, it can be helpful to implement an efficient search function. It does pay off to add an extra plugin for this (the original WordPress search unfortunately isn’t that good).
Clear structure for your content
Hierarchic headlines and subheadlines make it easier for everyone to grasp your content quickly. Many visitors scan an article for the information they are looking for.
People who are visiting using a screen reader can let the screen reader read the headlines in hierarchical order. If there aren’t any, it’s close to impossible to find what you are looking for.
Presenting your content in different ways
Some people most easily get a hang of things by reading. Others find it easier to grasp when using a graph. And the next group would rather watch a video than read a lengthy text. People are different, and you can help them by catering to the different needs.
This might mean to add an infographic to your text. Or to offer a video, accompanied by a written excerpt. Elements like videos should never start automatically, though. Visitors should always be able to decide when or if to start the video.
Consistent use of controls
Controls need to be easy to identify. They should also be consistent concerning their behavior: The same type of control should evoke the same result.
A link, for instance, needs to be recognizable as a link. It is common practice to underline links on websites. Additionally, they could get a different font color and font weight. When clicking on a link, you expect to be forwarded to a different page of the same website or to a different website altogether.
A button is expected to cause an action. This could mean open a popup window or take us to a point where we can DO something, fill in a form for instance.
It’s not important how many different control elements you use on your website. But it’s important that your visitor can distinguish them and that their behavior is predictable.
Forms in a way are a certain type of control elements. There are plenty of plugins out there that help you to create all kinds of forms easily. Unfortunately, most plugins won’t create accessible forms automatically. You need to know which plugins you can use and how to build an accessible form. Then it hardly takes more time than creating one without keeping accessibility in mind.
When talking about accessible websites, the key point in my opinion is to be aware of the problem and to keep in mind how often accessibility does make a huge difference. This way, you can create a website that’s largely accessible without it needing a lot of additional time and expense.
For us, it’s of great concern to build the websites for our clients with accessibility in mind. How much accessibility is built into a project largely depends on the project, its requirements as well as the client’s wishes.
If you have questions concerning accessibility, don’t hesitate to get in touch!