Most web designers are familiar with the term “accessibility” and know why it is important, but how many of us actually design our websites to meet these guidelines? An accessibility overlay is a simple way to make your website more accessible for people with disabilities.

Most people assume that users with disabilities use specialized equipment or techniques that will allow them to see and use your website. Although some individuals may require assistive technologies to access the web, most do not. It has been estimated that nearly 20% of all web users have one type of disability or another. If this is not enough reason for you, consider also that there are good business reasons for meeting accessibility standards. Some government agencies, states, and localities now require accessible websites as a condition of doing business with their citizens. The search engines are also including greater weight in their algorithms for websites that are accessible to a wider range of visitors.

Elements Of An Accessible Website

An accessible website has several characteristics:

– The site’s information and structure is conveyed through text, not pictures. For example, the main navigation links on an eCommerce site should be written in HTML as normal text with no background image or graphical borders.

– Web pages can be navigated with the keyboard only, using the Tab key for moving from link to link and ‘Enter’ or ‘Return’ for activating a link or submitting form data – this allows users who cannot use a mouse to access your content easily. Some assistive technologies include a single switch input device which uses a keyboard keystroke to simulate whatever mouse functions are necessary to activate a link.

– The site’s content is readable and understandable by search engines – this means making sure your keyword phrases are used in the visible text of page titles, headings, etc., and that the text contains at least a minimum level of quality.

– There are no flashing or moving graphics or multimedia elements – these can trigger seizures in photosensitive epilepsy sufferers. In addition, there should be no sudden changes to size or color on any web page.

– All website functions must have keyboard shortcuts available, so users don’t need to go through multiple mouse clicks just to perform an action. For example, if you have a print screen link, then there should also be a “PrtScn” key shortcut for activating it. The website should also include an HTML-based site map that can be navigated using the keyboard.

Ensuring Accessibility At Distant Horizons

Many companies see ‘accessibility’ as something beyond their control or influence. Some small businesses may think they do not have time or resources to worry about these issues when there are other, more immediate concerns that need to be addressed in order to improve sales and protect revenues. However, that’s not entirely true.

The good news for website owners and managers is that the business world has come a long way in recognizing and accommodating people with disabilities and their unique needs and concerns. Some of our largest corporations have created entire divisions to promote accessibility within the workplace, so it is an issue many organizations are taking seriously. Even if you do not currently employ any staff or contractors who need access to your website, it can still be a valuable marketing tool that will demonstrate your commitment to operating an accessible enterprise.