5 Tips to Improve Web Accessibility

Desktop computer, laptop, and a range of assistive technologies used in accessibility testing

With more and more services moving online—from shopping and medical appointments to government services and remote work—creating accessible web content is not just a nice-to-have feature, but a fundamental aspect of web development.

It’s up to development teams to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, can access and use a website or web application with ease. In this article, we explore best practices for creating accessible websites and web interfaces that not only meet accessibility standards, but are also easier to use and more intuitive for all users. 

The importance of web accessibility

Web accessibility refers to creating websites and applications that everyone can use, including people with disabilities. This means users with motor, vision, or hearing impairments, as well as those with temporary disabilities, like users with a broken arm or in a noisy environment.

The main goal of web accessibility is to remove barriers so that all users can interact with web content. Web accessibility can be achieved by following accessibility guidelines, like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which consist of four key recommendations. According to these guidelines, digital content should be:

  • Perceivable. The information and components on a website should be presented in such a way that all users can understand the information provided. This principle states that alternative text should be provided for images, captions should be available for multimedia content, and the text displayed should be clearly visible.
  • Operable. Users must be able to interact with components in a variety of ways and use an interface that does not require actions that the user cannot perform. This principle refers to providing a variety of input methods, such as using a keyboard or assistive technology.
  • Understandable. Users should be able to understand the information and how to use the interface. This principle states that clear instructions, descriptions of errors, and a simple and clear interface should be provided.
  • Robust. As assistive technologies evolve, content should remain accessible and reliable. This principle states that semantic HTML markup should be used to adapt to different devices and browsers.

How to ensure your website is more accessible 

1. Use semantic HTML

Semantic HTML provides meaning and structure to assistive technologies, such as screen readers, which need it to convey correct information to the user. By using HTML semantic elements correctly, developers can ensure that web content is accessible and users can easily navigate pages.

For example, using landmarks to indicate the header <header>, navigation <nav>, main content <main>, sections <section>, forms <form>, tables  <table>, articles <article> and page footer <footer> areas helps screen readers differentiate sections of a web page.

Below you can see the difference between non-semantic and semantic HTML. 

Difference between non-semantic and semantic HTML
Difference between non-semantic and semantic HTML

Similarly, using a hierarchical heading structure (<h1> to <h6>) allows users to more easily navigate the page and understand the importance of the information being conveyed.

Example of hierarchical heading structure
Example of hierarchical heading structure

2. Add alt text to images and use ARIA

Alt text is a written description of an image that is displayed when the image is unavailable to the user. It is essential for helping people using screen readers understand the content of the image.

When adding alt text to images, developers should provide a short, meaningful description that conveys the image's purpose or context. If the image does not add significant meaning, for instance, an avatar, it's better to leave the alt text empty so screen readers can skip it. 

Example of an alt attribute
Example of an alt attribute

In addition to alt text, developers can use ARIA, like aria-labels and aria-labelledby attributes, to provide even more detailed descriptions if required. These attributes help users better understand what is happening in an image.

By ensuring that all images have ARIA attributes and descriptive alt text, developers can ensure that web content is more accessible to users who rely on screen readers.

3. Optimize color contrast and visual design

Color contrast refers to the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of an image or text. Sufficient color contrast is essential to ensure that text is readable and accessible to all users. 

According to WCAG, the contrast ratio between text and background colors should be at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. This contrast helps people with visual impairments or color blindness read texts more easily.

Example of using poor contrast for normal text, contrast ratio is 1.25:1
Example of using poor contrast for normal text, contrast ratio is 1.25:1
Example of using good contrast for normal text, contrast ratio is 6.57:1
Example of using good contrast for normal text, contrast ratio is 6.57:1

In addition, you should consider other visual design principles, such as visual hierarchy, to visually distinguish the importance of content. Using standardized fonts, maintaining adequate white space, and organizing content will improve readability for all users.

4. Design accessible input forms

Forms are an important part of websites and applications, and making them accessible is paramount. When designing and implementing forms, you need to ensure that they are easy to use and navigate for every user.

Here are some things you should consider when designing accessible input forms:

Labels and instructions

The <label> element is a good way to provide clear and descriptive labels for form fields. It is also worth including instructional text or tooltips so that users can understand the purpose of each form field. For a specific input field, it can be useful to provide recommendations on how to correctly fill out the form.

Example of using the label element - HTML data input
Example of using the label element - HTML data input
Example of using the label element - data output
Example of using the label element - data output

Error processing

A good practice is to display error messages next to the associated form fields and highlight the field, for example, in red, when users enter incorrect data. Error messages should be descriptive and indicate exactly what the error is and how to fix it. 

Example of good error processing
Example of good error processing

To do this, you can use ARIA attributes, such as aria-describedby, to associate error messages with appropriate form fields for assistive technology users.

<label for="name">
  First name
<input type="firstname" id="name" aria-describedby="fn_desc">

<p id="fn_desc">
  Please use letters only for the first name field.

Example of using the 'aria-describedby' attribute

Focus control

When users interact with form elements, these elements receive focus, indicating their active state. Avoid unexpected changes in focus context, as this can confuse users.

Form controls

The use of semantic HTML elements such as <input>, <textarea>, and <select> increases the usability and accessibility of web forms, as they are read correctly and clearly by screen readers.

Example of using the select element - HTML data input
Example of using the select element - HTML data input
Example of using the select element - data output
Example of using the select element - data output

5. Enable keyboard navigation

Keyboard navigation is necessary for users who cannot use a mouse. To ensure web content is accessible via the keyboard, you should pay attention to focus management, focus order, and focus indicator. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Focus management. Proper focus management allows keyboard users to navigate the page without difficulty:
A website that shows that users can focus on an element using the keyboard
Ability to focus on an element using the keyboard
  • Focus order. Logical focusing order helps users navigate content intuitively:
A website that shows that shows the sequential and logical focusing of elements
Sequential and logical focusing of elements
  • Focus indicator. Visible focus indicators help users identify the element that currently has focus:
An example of a keyboard focus indicator
Presence of keyboard focus indicator

The bottom line

Creating a more accessible website is crucial for making sure that all users, regardless of their abilities, can interact with your website effectively. By following our best practices—using semantic HTML, adding alt texts, optimizing color contrast, designing accessible input forms, and enabling keyboard navigation—you can make significant progress towards improving web accessibility.

We highly recommend exploring the WCAG guidelines for a comprehensive list of recommendations to further enhance your website’s accessibility. By implementing these practices and incorporating basic accessibility requirements into the design process, you’ll contribute to a more inclusive web experience for everyone.

Want to check how accessible your website is and whether it complies with various accessibility standards? We can help. Get in touch to learn more about our accessibility testing and audit services.

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