Understanding website accessibility

Aug 18, 2020|By atomix
Read time: 10 mins

For most of us, browsing the web is second nature.

But for people with disabilities, it can be quite difficult.

Australian Network on Disability defines disability as “any condition that restricts a person’s mental, sensory or mobility functions. It may be caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease. A disability may be temporary or permanent, total or partial, lifelong or acquired, visible or invisible.”

Over 4.4 million people in Australia live with a disability – 1 out of 5 people.

Another way to look at it: one-fifth of Australia’s population could be having issues accessing services from your business online.

  • 17.8% of females and 17.6% of males in Australia have a disability.

  • 1 in 3 people with a disability report that their customer needs are often unmet.

  • 28% of people with disabilities have experienced discrimination by organisations they’ve dealt with.

  • In the year to 2017, 62% of SME’s had not done anything to make it easier for their customers with disability to access their services; half of those SMEs reasoned that they had not been asked to do anything specific to help these customers.

Source: Australian Network on Disability

Empathise with your users

From colour blindness, blurry vision, hand tremors, to dyslexia, understanding the diverse abilities and disabilities of your users can help you to build better user experiences. To try and understand how important accessibility is, download a Chrome extension that can simulate how people with a variety of abilities and disabilities experience the web.

Two Chrome extensions you might wish to try include:

  1. Funkify Disability Simulator

  2. Web Disability Simulator


The web is for everyone.

Everyone should be given the same opportunity to browse and enjoy the web. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were created to serve this purpose.

WCAG is designed to help webmasters and developers create accessible web content, tools and software. It has a library of resources aimed at decision-makers, managers, researchers and others involved in the development of web content or tools.

WCAG Conformance Levels

There are three levels of conformance and success criteria within the WCAG that help organisations ensure their websites are accessible. These are A, AA and AAA. A is the minimum, while AAA is the maximum – most government websites are required to be at a minimum of AA.

The WCAG has four guiding principles:

  1. Perceivable - Users can identify and perceive content by using their senses, which includes sight, sound or touch.

  2. Operable - The user can operate buttons, controls, navigation and other interactive elements on your website, which could be via a keyboard, rollerball or voice commands.

  3. Understandable - The user can read, operate and understand your website.

  4. Robust – Your content can be interpreted by a variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

How can I tell if my site is accessible?

Accessibility is an essential consideration in user experience design.

Common design elements that often cause issues for users with disabilities include:

  • Low contrast between text and backgrounds

  • Thin, light typefaces

  • Lots of images without captions and minimal text on the page

  • Alt-text on images that isn’t helpful or is an exercise in keyword-stuffing

  • Form fields that can’t be interacted with or tabbed through on a keyboard

  • Hyperlinks that aren’t distinguishable from normal text, or rely on colour alone

  • Buttons or interactive features that don’t have a hover state or aren’t clearly clickable

  • Using images instead of text, often found in banners or headings

If you’re reviewing your own website for accessibility issues, some high-level tips (and handy online tools) include:

  • Check the colour contrast of your text against your background colour.

  • WebAIM Contrast Checker: Enter the colour of your text and the background, and this tool will let you know how you’re doing according to the WCAG.

  • Check if hyperlinks in text are easily discoverable without hovering over them.

  • Check whether images add context or meaning to the page and if so, ensure they have appropriate alt-text attached to them.

  • Alt Text Tester Chrome Extension: This extension will indicate whether an image on a website has alt-text and what the alt-text is.

  • Check if multimedia content, such as videos or audio files, contain captions or transcripts for download.

  • Captions and transcripts ensure people with visual or auditory disabilities can still access this content. Both YouTube and Facebook allow you to attach your own captions to your video files.

  • Install or activate a screen-reader (most modern computers have a built-in one) and explore your website with this activated.

  • Unplug your mouse or trackpad and try to navigate around your website using only your keyboard.

Download our WCAG 2.0 A checklist

Our guide includes a step-by-step checklist of things to review or check when assessing the accessibility of your website. The items in the list are required for WCAG 2.0 Level A.

When you design and build your website to be accessible, you will also be optimising for search engines.

Designing for accessibility means you likely will cover some SEO elements, but optimising for SEO doesn’t guarantee that your website will be retrospectively optimised for assistive technologies.

Building a website to be accessible naturally includes optimising for search engines. Google (and other search engines) use machines to ‘read’ and understand websites. If you make your site easily navigated and accessible by machines, search engines have a better chance of understanding your site. On-page SEO elements such as image alt text, title and heading tags, content formatting (bold, italics etc), and link anchor text all provide machines – including search engines and assistive software – with a better understanding of your content.

Search engines aim to serve up content that users will engage with. User engagement indicators, such as bounces or instant returns from search engine results pages, indicate to search engines how user-friendly your website is. If you have a significant portion of traffic bouncing straight back to the search results page simply because they can’t access your content, search engines may take this as a negative ranking signal and it could hurt your traffic performance.

Accessibility is good for business

Imagine 20% of your potential market is unable to use your website.

In addition to the users who cannot access your website at all, there could be a number of users who are frustrated or disappointed with your online service. Dissatisfaction may prompt visitors to contact you via your email or phone support services, adding to an existing lack of accessibility options for your websites users as well as adding to costs for customer service management.

Being accessible opens the door to a larger pool of potential customers, and ensures you aren’t excluding an engaged, ready-to-buy portion of your ideal customer base.

Making your site more accessible will also translate into broader visibility to more potential customers across the web.

Want to know how your website stacks up?

We can help you evaluate your site against WCAG guidelines. Get in touch with us to start the conversation.

Further reading and useful links:

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