Accessibility is a top priority for web designers. Everyone should be able to use a website – regardless of whether they require assistive technologies.
We spend a lot of time discussing the topic and sharpening our skills. But we can’t do it alone. Our clients must buy in as well. They’ll need to understand the benefits of accessibility and why it’s important. Not to mention what they could lose by ignoring the issue.
With that, we’ve put together a guide with ways clients can help. Let’s get started!
Embrace Simple Form and Function
Avoiding these bells and whistles isn’t easy. Both designers and clients tend to like shiny things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, it pays to proceed with caution.
Education is part of what designers do. And accessibility is an area where we have expertise. Therefore, we should share what we know with clients.
Among the biggest takeaways: a website should not sacrifice usability for the sake of aesthetics. Ideally, a balance can be achieved. And simplicity is the way to get there.
But simplicity doesn’t have to be boring. Rather, it’s about ensuring that the basics are covered.
In practice, this means text that is easy to read. A color palette that provides acceptable contrast ratios. And the site should be navigable by keyboard.
Once those items are established, other goodies can be added. So long as they don’t make the website harder to use.
Providing Accessible Content
Guiding your clients toward accessibility is only the first step. Once they buy into the concept, the real work begins.
One challenge is obtaining content in accessible formats. The importance of this is often overlooked. Even if the website’s layout is accessible, that doesn’t guarantee the content will be.
Accessible content includes:
Text content should be simple and to the point. For consumer-oriented and business-to-business websites, the simpler, the better. The main idea is that visitors shouldn’t need a college degree to comprehend a site’s content.
If a client provides long and complicated text, we should work with them to simplify.
Accessible File Formats
Websites are more than text and images. Formats such as PDFs and Word documents are also common.
It’s debatable whether these formats are even necessary. A PDF file full of text could just as well be converted into HTML. However, there are items like printable forms where a downloadable format makes sense.
All documents should have accessibility features enabled. For example, clients may send you files that were scanned. That can be problematic, as they don’t include selectable text. The result is that they won’t be read by screen readers. Plus, they may not be legible.
The ideal solution is to ask your client to track down the original, non-scanned version of the file. This would allow it to be converted to, say, a PDF while keeping the content accessible. Otherwise, it may be a matter of using OCR to detect the document’s text.
Develop Processes To Ensure Accessibility
Keeping a website accessible requires developing good habits. For clients who will be maintaining their site, they’ll need to create a process. This is an area where designers can help.
While focusing on accessible content (as outlined above) is important, there are other aspects to discuss. Alt attributes on images, for example, can easily get lost in the shuffle. They must be added to a client’s workflow to become a habit.
Meanwhile, designers tend to cringe when clients make changes to typography. Nobody wants to see their carefully-crafted type settings disrupted. However, avoiding the topic is not a solid plan.
It’s better to assume that some typographic elements will be changed down the line. Knowing this, clients should understand the rules of the road. Fonts should be readable, with acceptable sizing and color contrast.
There are also potential downsides when installing plugins. On platforms such as WordPress, there’s a temptation to hit that “Install” button to see what a plugin can do. But some items might negatively impact accessibility – not to mention the website itself.
There are other ways to help encourage accessible habits. For one, providing an accessibility checklist is recommended. It offers clients a handy reference that they can go back to again and again.
Engaged Clients Can Make a Difference
The use of accessible design and development techniques is paramount. Still, it’s also important to think about the role a client can play. Their contributions can make a difference in just how accessible their website is.
In the end, it’s about sharing knowledge. When people know better, they tend to do better.
So, take the time to educate clients on best practices. This will empower them to make better decisions regarding accessibility.