In 2020 as the pandemic raged, more of us shifted portions of our daily lives online, increasing the number of total active internet users by 530 million worldwide.* With 1 in 5 people globally also affected by some form of disability, the mandate is clear: Accessible online experiences that welcome people of diverse abilities are essential to modern life.
This reality, however, may present a dilemma for small businesses, organizations or others who need to connect their services, organizations and causes with users who live with some form of disability. For these website administrators with limited resources or less expansive operations, an accessible website might seem out of reach. John Herzog, lead accessibility solutions engineer at AT&T, has good news for them.
“You don’t have to be an accessibility professional to dip your toe in the water,” he says. “Accessibility basics are within reach for anybody – and a small investment of time and focus can lead to better web experiences for all.”
John should know. An experienced accessibility professional with AT&T’s strategic platforms team, John also has lived accessibility challenges firsthand. “I started using a screen reader in 1997 and internet access in 1999,” he says. “The technology evolution from the early days of Internet Explorer and Shockwave Flash have been accompanied by meaningful standardization and browsers with built-in accessibility features. This innovation has opened up a world of content and ideas that was never available before.”
3 steps toward accessible websites
Though accessibility is a complex, evolving field, it also offers basic concepts that can be more easily implemented to welcome users of diverse abilities. One key mindset guides them all says John, “You should always start with the user. Accessible websites are usable websites.”
1. Get to know the standards.
Familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – but don’t be intimidated by them.
“The standards provide guidance, but the real goal is to do the thinking that leads to a great user experience for all. Everybody can do something,” says John.
He advises reviewing WCAG recommendations, even if you can’t implement them all at first, and applying the standards selectively if required. For example, while the guidelines call for verbalizing the names of buttons, combo boxes and edit fields when you highlight an object, too much detail can inundate users and clutter the experience. Instead, prioritize usability by using brief labels that keep it simple.
Per WCAG standards, accessible websites function equally well using both mouse and keyboard, so that can be a great place to start. (Screen reader users or those with impaired motor skills may not be able to use a mouse.)Try this nowTab through every item on the site using just your keyboard. For each one, ask: Can I easily tell where my focus should be? Can I navigate all parts of this site with the tab key alone?
2. Think readability.
Text should be simple, clean and concise. John recommends combining color with other cues, like bullets or icons, to signal how content is organized. Keep font sizes in mind too – 16 point is a standard minimum font size – and, ideally, visitors can resize text up to 200% of its original size. When it comes to text, less is often more. Reading level should be for a general population and is easily checked on a free tool like that which is available in Microsoft Word.Try this nowCheck your site’s readability. Make sure the text is easy to read, with high contrast between the color of the text and the color of its background. Look at font sizes to ensure there is nothing smaller than 16 px. Attempt resizing up to 200% and see what happens.
3. Organize content and label with meaning.
Well-organized content includes text links that clearly identify the destination to the user. Some users, as they tab through a page, may not be able to ascertain the meaning of vague directions like “click here” or “this link” or “act now.” Screen readers exacerbate this problem by presenting the link separate from surrounding content. Be specific.Try this nowReview all links on your site. Do they make sense if read alone? A good link describes where it will take the user. For example: See 3 steps to digital accessibility. Avoid generic links like, Learn More or, even worse, naked URLs, https://about.att.com/sites/accessibility.
That’s it – 3 simple steps to start plus one principle to live by: Always put the user first and focus on their experience.
Good website design means committing to an improved site experience for users of all abilities and backgrounds. It is a journey, not a destination. And it offers a great promise of inclusivity.
“Meeting the accessibility needs of a website makes it more usable overall. A user experience that is simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate becomes more inclusive of all users allowing us to take action, choose which products, or even find employment,” concludes John.
Author John Herzog
Since 2013, John Herzog has worked with AT&T to enhance the accessibility of its products, services and websites. John holds a juris doctor (JD) from University of Michigan Law School. Prior to joining AT&T, he also served as an attorney advisor with the Federal Communications Commission, where he helped draft the 21st Century Communications and Accessibility Act (CVAA). Among his proudest career accomplishments, this federal law requires that cell phones, online chat and video services be accessible to those who are deaf or blind.