Designing accessible websites is not a luxury or some pleasant afterthought—it’s fundamental to any modern application. It doesn’t matter how gorgeous or robust your site is if your users can’t use it interactively. Here are tips for designing accessible websites:
In my experience, the vast majority of forms (whether for registration or for submitting a request) are useless or unhelpful to non-users. For instance, “What is your name” is not possible to answer without knowing the person is a human—and it’s impossible to distinguish whether someone using an automatic service such as an online chat has anything clever or valuable to say. A much better approach is to ignore the problem—or even embrace it:
I was stunned to see a few sites using speech synthesis instead of providing text-based instructions. This is madness. Speech isn’t always the best medium for presenting complex information about complex topics and concepts.
A lot of sites, even highly functional ones, don’t offer any feedback at all to users. All too often, the only way a user knows if something worked is to reload the page. This is a nightmare for people who live in bandwidth-starved countries or for those who are on slow connections.
Now the great thing about these tips is that they can be applied to a range of scenarios: manual and automatic registration, submitting requests, payment systems, organization hierarchies, and so on. It’s silly not to use them—you’ll end up with a world full of frustratingly unusable websites.
It’s important to use color appropriately and in a way that doesn’t trigger seizures in users with color-vision problems—especially people who are colorblind. When people see colors there is no equivalent word. They usually don’t know what color they perceive, so they have to depend on context. That’s why it’s important to provide as many ways as possible for users to describe colors.
Simple navigation is made unintuitive by the use of light text on a dark background. However, this at least has the benefit of hiding the fact that a button isn’t really a button.
Think of error conditions as normal events—not fatal ones. The page should still work, even if it’s not as visually pleasing.
Some sites offer a bare-bones version for blind users. However, this is almost never enough. Dialog boxes can’t remain read aloud, and many other controls and visualizations are often inaccessible.
I’ve seen more than a few sites that have lots of interesting graphics, but none that possess any intrinsic meaning. This is a common mistake—and a difficult one to avoid.
Remember that the most important part of building a website is its users. Unless the majority of them can use your site at all, it’s not worth building. Including accessibility experts in the design process is a good way to avoid these problems.
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