How to Create an Accessible Website Design

By Madison Taylor
June 19, 2023
Woman working on a laptop and phone

Web accessibility is not just a moral imperative but a legal requirement in many regions. Ensuring that your website is accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities, is not only ethically sound but also expands your audience reach. Here, we provide a comprehensive step-by-step guide to help you create a website that champions accessibility.

Step 1: Understand Accessibility Standards

Before embarking on the journey of creating an accessible website, it’s crucial to gain a deep understanding of accessibility standards. The foremost standard in this field is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines are not just a set of recommendations; they are internationally recognized standards that set the benchmark for web accessibility.

WCAG provides a comprehensive framework for making web content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Understanding and implementing these standards is not only a legal requirement in many regions but also a way to ensure that your website is fully inclusive, allowing all users to access and interact with your content. By adhering to WCAG, you not only avoid potential legal issues but also open the doors to a broader audience, making your website a welcoming space for everyone, regardless of their abilities.

Step 2: Prioritize Semantic HTML

Semantic HTML, while often associated with aesthetics, plays a pivotal role in web accessibility. It’s not just about how your website looks; it’s about how it communicates meaning to all users. Semantic HTML elements provide structure and context to your content, allowing assistive technologies like screen readers to interpret and convey information effectively.

Using header tags (h1, h2, h3, etc.) to structure your content logically is a fundamental aspect of semantic HTML. By doing so, you not only enhance the visual hierarchy of your content but also create a clear and organized structure for assistive technology users. Consistent and meaningful headings not only make content more accessible but also improve the overall user experience, making your website more user-friendly and navigable for all.

Step 3: Provide Text Alternatives (Alt Text)

In the realm of web accessibility, providing text alternatives, such as alt text for images, is not merely a compliance checkbox; it’s a gateway to inclusive digital experiences. Alt text serves as a bridge between visual content and those who rely on screen readers or have visual impairments.

Crafting informative alt text is an art in itself. It’s about conveying the essence and content of an image accurately, ensuring that users with visual impairments can form a mental picture of what the image represents. However, it’s not just about accessibility; it also has significant SEO implications. Search engines use alt text to understand and index images, contributing to your website’s discoverability.

Step 4: Implement Keyboard Navigation

Keyboard navigation is a cornerstone of web accessibility, and it goes beyond mere compliance. It’s a lifeline for users with motor disabilities who cannot use a mouse or touchpad. Ensuring that your website can be effectively navigated using only a keyboard is an imperative aspect of creating an inclusive digital space.

This involves more than just making sure the tab order is logical. It’s about creating an intuitive navigation path that respects user expectations. Properly tested and refined keyboard navigation enhances the overall user experience, ensuring that all users, regardless of their abilities, can navigate your site with ease.

Step 5: Create Accessible Forms

Forms are a ubiquitous element of the web, and creating accessible forms is a cornerstone of inclusive web design. It’s not just about adhering to guidelines; it’s about making sure that everyone, including users with cognitive disabilities and those who rely on screen readers, can interact with your forms effortlessly.

Clear labeling of form fields, avoiding sole reliance on color for indicating required fields, and using fieldsets and legends to group related form controls are strategies that go a long way in creating accessible forms. By doing so, you ensure that all users can understand and interact with your forms, and you create a more inclusive digital environment.

Step 6: Optimize for Mobile Accessibility

The mobile web is an integral part of our digital landscape, and mobile accessibility is a top priority. In this step it’s about making sure your website is responsive and that interactive elements are designed with touch and mobile devices in mind.

Consider touch targets, which should be at least 40 x 40 pixels, to accommodate various device sizes and user interactions. By doing this, you not only meet the needs of users with disabilities but also create a better mobile experience for all users, given the diversity of devices and interactions in our mobile-centric world.

Step 7: Test with Accessibility Tools

Leveraging accessibility evaluation tools, such as WAVE and Axe, is a critical part of the web accessibility journey. These tools provide an initial scan of your website to identify glaring accessibility issues. However, they are just the starting point.

Remember that automated tools have their limitations and cannot catch all accessibility challenges. Manual testing, performed by individuals with a deep understanding of accessibility, is equally crucial. It unveils nuances that automated tools often miss, ensuring a comprehensive evaluation and improvement process.

Step 8: Conduct User Testing

User testing is an integral part of the accessibility process, and it’s not just about gathering feedback from any users. Including individuals with disabilities in your testing process is essential to gain insights into how real users interact with your website.

Their feedback is invaluable in identifying pain points and fine-tuning your design to cater to their specific needs. This user-centric approach results in a more accessible and user-friendly design, ensuring that your website truly meets the needs of its diverse audience.

Step 9: Offer Content Alternatives

Multimedia content, such as videos and podcasts, has become a significant part of online communication. To make this content accessible to all, it’s essential to provide accurate captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions.

By doing so, you ensure that users with hearing or visual impairments can access and understand the content, contributing to a more inclusive digital landscape. It’s not just about compliance; it’s about embracing diversity and making sure that everyone can participate in your content.

Step 10: Keep Content Simple and Readable

Accessible design is not a separate branch of design; it’s about creating a design that is readable and understandable by everyone. A clean and simple design with legible fonts, appropriate font sizes, and ample line spacing benefits all users.

By avoiding excessive use of jargon or complex language, you enhance readability for everyone. This isn’t just an accessibility practice; it’s good design practice, improving the overall user experience for a diverse audience.

Step 11: Ensure Consistency and Clarity

Consistency in design and layout is crucial for accessibility. It provides predictability and reduces cognitive load for users. Navigation menus, buttons, and interactive elements should have a uniform appearance throughout your website.

Clarity is equally vital. Links, buttons, and other actionable elements should be self-evident and distinguishable. Consistency and clarity aren’t just about compliance; they are about creating a seamless and intuitive user experience, which is the hallmark of an accessible website.

Step 12: Stay Informed and Evolve

Web accessibility is a dynamic field that continually evolves, and it’s essential to stay informed about emerging standards and best practices. As new technologies and devices emerge, accessibility standards adapt, and your commitment to accessibility should also evolve.

Regularly monitoring your website for accessibility issues and making improvements as needed is part of this ongoing commitment. By doing so, you ensure that your website remains accessible and continues to provide an inclusive online experience for all users.