Ten Tips for Accessible Websites

We all know that building accessible designs is important, but how many of us really take it into account when crafting a site? Here are some simple and effective steps for making your site accessible for everyone.

1. Validate your XHTML and CSS

Validating your code can often lead you to discover problems which you didn’t notice before. Things such as unclosed and mis-typed tags which look fine in your browser, but could cause problems when viewed by others. The main two tools you need to use are a XHTML Validator and a CSS Validator.

2. Add alternative text for images

Not everyone has images turned on in their browser, and many people use text-to-speech programs as they suffer from sight problems. Providing alternative text for images through the alt attribute ensures that images have a description and can be made sense of by visitors. It also helps you site when being indexed by search engines.

3. Make sure your site works without JavaScript

As with images, many people browse with JavaScript turned off (almost 6% at the time of writing). This is a fairly high number, and it’s worth ensuring that your website functions correctly without JavaScript. Relying too heavily on it can alienate certain people in your audience.

4. Use CSS to seperate content and formatting

As a website which showcases and promotes the use of Cascading Style Sheets, it’s not surprising to see them mentioned here. Using CSS keeps your pages clean from formatting, and ensures that browsers are able to add their own rules to make pages higher contrast and more easily viewed.

5. Provide a high contrast style sheet

Why not make a second style sheet for your website which reduces or removes the colour, and makes everything higher contrast. Place the link to activate this style near the top of the page so that hard of sight users can see benefit from the content on your website.

6. Ensure link text is descriptive

Rather than simply writing “click here” or “read more”, make your links more descriptive. We all fall into this trap from time to time, but a meaningful link can be understood much more easily and improves accessibility.

7. Add “Skip to content” links on pages

Rather than making people scroll down past the repetitive header on every page of your website, include a link which allows them to skip to the main content lower down the page. This saves time, especially on text-to-speech browsers which read out all the information on the page.

8. Ensure every form has label tags

Correctly labeling the inputs on your forms will allow them to be interpreted and filled in much easier by accessible browsers.

9. Don’t open links in a new window

Whilst it’s tempting to link to other websites in a new window, it really is bad practice. Everyone knows how to use a “Back” button, but when the need arises to close windows and keep track of several at once many web users can be confused and annoyed.

10. Make an accessibility statement

Having a statement on one page of your website will show people what accessibility features you offer, and explain how they can navigate around your site easily. Explain how to turn on your high contrast style sheet, and where your “Skip to content” links are. People will be grateful for you explaining it to them clearly.