Website accessibility – How to make friends and not alienate people

By Jack

What is it and why is it important?

Web accessibility aims to ensure that all internet users have equal access to all parts of the web. It means that people with all abilities and disabilities are able to use, understand and interact with the web, without any barriers hindering their experience. It is the idea that your website should be equally accessible for everyone, regardless of any physical, mental or sensory impairments.

According to a Labour Force Survey, people with disabilities make up between 10-15% (around 650 million) of the European population. Not only is this a significant section of society that you can’t afford to overlook when designing your healthcare organisation’s website, but failure to provide an accessible service could mean that you’re in violation of the Equality Act 2010 (UK)

The Same For Everyone

Who to have in mind when considering your website accessibility

Below is an outline of some of the key groups who need to be considered when designing your website for accessibility:

Blindness

Around 360,000 people in the UK population are registered as living with blindness or partial sightedness. People with very little or no vision rely on assistive technologies such as screen reader to use the internet.

A screen reader is an application that attempts to describe to the blind user in speech what the graphical user interface is displaying. The screen reader acts almost as a sighted companion to the blind user, reading out what is happening on the screen – popup boxes, command buttons, menu items, and text. There are many screen readers available, including JAWS, Window Eyes, and Thunder.

Designing a website so it is compatible with these systems is essential to allow blind users to navigate, find information and complete actions on the website. Ensuring images, links, buttons and inputs are properly labeled so that they can be described by a screen reader is essential.

visual impairments

Visual Impairments and Colour Blindness

People with impaired vision or who are colour blind may require some assistive technologies to access the internet.

It used to be common for websites to have options to change text size or adjust the colour scheme embedded into the website, however it is now more common for users who require visual adjustment to use their own tools customised to their specific needs. For example colour blind users may use a browser extension to adjust the colours of websites automatically, such as High Contrast’, ‘Midnight Lizard’ and ‘Pro Visu Look’. People with visual impairments may set their browsers to automatically increase their font size, or may use a screen magnifier.

Your medical website design can make these features more effective, as is described in this article. Underlining links is also a good way of making them jump out to colour blind users.

Mobility Issues

This covers users with difficulty using their hands through issues ranging from Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, stroke or muscular dystrophy. These groups often have trouble controlling a mouse with precision, so by making clickable link areas big and bold, you can make your website more welcoming.

Keyboard navigation is a great tool for a wide variety of users with physical impairments. Ensuring your site is easily browsed exclusively by keyboard will give it a slick, professional feel and create a smooth experience for all users, whether they are physically impaired or just looking for efficient shortcuts.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Captions tend to be included for users who are hard of hearing or dyslexic but are a great example of how web accessibility creates a more complete user experience for everyone.

Trying to watch a sneaky video at work or in a lecture? Captions/subtitles are your friend in these situations where you don’t want sound blaring out from your device.

You could also consider providing sign-language versions of any video content appearing on your site.

deafness and hard of hearing

Dyslexia

Dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people in the UK and can massively impact their online experience, with words appearing to jump around the page. Developer Victor Wendell created this simulation to try and show how a text-heavy page appears to a dyslexic user.

There are certain things you can do to make your site more welcoming to them. Fonts such as Dyslexie use uniquely shaped letters to minimise common reading errors of dyslexia as well as offering benefits to non-dyslexic users.

Cognitive disabilities

This includes people living with Alzheimer’s, dementia or learning difficulties and is probably currently the least understood of the disability categories from a web accessibility perspective.

There are however plenty of simple things to bear in mind when considering how accessible your page is for anyone with a cognitive disability.

A person with a cognitive impairment often takes longer to think and respond to online stimuli. Multiple windows, complex or cluttered displays can create distractions and processing problems and sequential operations can be likewise distracting to those with memory deficit problems.

Keeping menus short and easy to understand, limiting the number of options to prevent cognitive overload and keeping controls standardized within the site to create consistency will all help to maximise your sites accessibility.

There are some useful guidelines provided by the Alzheimer’s Society which also has a lot of relevant crossover information for other cognitive disabilities.

Everyone’s a Winner

It’s not just the users with disabilities that can benefit from your site being accessible. Chances are you’ve been using functions specifically integrated for disabled web users without even noticing.

By creating a smooth, streamlined, stress-free journey for everyone visiting your website, you’re not only giving a fantastic user experience, you’re also giving yourself the best chance of success by ensuring you are appealing to the largest audience possible.

We take great care in making sure that any medical website we create meets the needs of each of these audiences, both during the design process and a thorough the audit before launch. You’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run by considering accessibility in the earliest stages of your medical website development project.