Keep an eye on accessibility

When designing a website, it’s important to make it accessible to everyone

Following the death of Prince Philip, there were many tributes. On the following Monday, both Network Rail and National Rail changed their websites from colour to greyscale. However, it was a move which was criticised, as it left partially sighted people struggling, as these comments on Twitter show:

“National Rail have coloured their entire website grey to ‘mourn Prince Philip’, rendering the whole website completely useless to people with visual impairments.”

“Here's one hell of a case study to stress the importance of considering every user and their potential accessibility needs in all your digital decision making. This issue will also impact customers who are more likely to rely on public transport too (low vision).”

“National Rail greyscaled their website to mourn the death of Prince Philip and it’s causing utter chaos for the visually impaired.”

As Robin Spinks, the innovation lead for the Royal National Institute of Blind People explained in The Guardian: “As someone who is registered severely sight impaired, good colour contrast on a website is incredibly important. A lack of this makes it difficult for me to read the content and causes headaches and eye strain. It leaves me feeling unwelcome as a customer.

“Although I can understand why an organisation might make a change to its website in circumstances such as this, any change should be inclusive and accessible so that all customers can continue to use the site as normal.”

There are a set of guidelines for making websites accessible known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. The Consortium is an international community led by the web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe which has a mission to ‘lead the web to its full potential’.

WCAG are an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility. They explain how to make digital services, websites and apps accessible to everyone, including users with impairments to their vision, hearing, mobility, and thinking and understanding.

WCAG (which is currently at version 2.1) is based on four design principles:

* Perceivable
* Operable
* Understandable
* Robust

By focusing on principles, not technology, they emphasise the need to think about the different ways that people interact with content. For example, users might use a keyboard instead of a mouse, use a screen reader to ‘read’ (speak) content out loud or use a screen magnifier to enlarge part or all of a screen.

Making your website accessible is something which should be considered at the very start of the process, when a company is thinking about branding and the colours it selects. We wrote about this in a previous blog. For example, it’s key to think about which colours you use together and that they have enough definition on a screen.

Of course, it’s not just the partially sighted who might struggle with accessibility. We are being told that it’s key to use videos online but if somebody is hard of hearing, then you should consider using captions. While we are talking about websites here, it’s interesting to see this increasingly happening on social media.

On Instagram stories, for instance, you will now notice that the majority of the key brands or content creators/influencers will add captions and there are apps which add these automatically, including one within Instagram itself. That said, they are not always 100% accurate but they do help to make the story more accessible.

If somebody is accessing a website using a screen reader, then be aware of having an image-heavy website. If you do have images, then use alt text to label the pictures. This means that the screen reader will tell the website visitor that there’s an image there and what’s in the image.

Anyone using a screen reader will also appreciate you not inserting too many headings and when they are used, have ones that make sense. Also, don’t add too many tables to the page – as these aren’t easily translated by a screen reader.

If you need advice on making your website more accessible, then contact Lake Solutions today.


Article Details

Ian Jepp
20 April 2021