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January 5, 2024 - 4 minutes

Accessibility in Web Development: Designing for All Users

It’s a necessity and here’s what you need to know. 

Juliette Erath - Tech Writer

The internet is an incredible place, right? It’s full of basically all the information you could ever need in a myriad of formats to make it palatable to everyone: whether you prefer watching videos or reading articles, you’ll be able to find the information you’re looking for in a way that is appealing to you. 

But just a few years back, this wasn’t the case for everyone. In fact, a large number of people who have varying disabilities were not thought of when the basic framework of internet sites or phone applications were developed: do all pages have voice operating options for those who are blind? Or children-friendly ways to navigate a site if the information displayed is aimed at kids? 

We’ve realized how crucial providing equitable access to online services is, especially after the internet’s importance absolutely skyrocketed after the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, practically everything was online and those with diverse circumstances were sometimes unable to access the same information or services as their peers. That’s why accessibility in web development is so crucial; the internet is a tool that can be used to spread lots of information, learn, and connect, but only when the experience yields the same outcome for all users.

In this article, we’ll dive into why accessibility in web development is so important, the different kinds of accessibility that exist, and our tips and tricks for designing for all users.

Why is Accessibility Important? 

Even if the people in your immediate circles don’t seem to have a disability, they still might. And that’s not even mentioning the large portion of today’s population that has some form of a disability–be it physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or something entirely separate. According to the World Health Organization, 16% of the world’s population and 26% of the United States’ population have a disability; that’s a significant part of internet users and like we mentioned above, more and more services are offered online exclusively now. Equality in web development will only come when everyone, regardless of any factor, can access internet services just like the rest of the general population. 

And it also brings the following benefits: 

  • You’ll serve a wider audience: if you make your site accessible to more people, you’ll grow your audience and clients, expanding your reach and maybe even introducing completely new buyer personas. 

  • You’ll promise a better experience for your users: you know that having a well-functioning site is a crucial part of ensuring your users become loyal to your company and by ensuring that you offer various options for those with disabilities, you’re promising a better user experience.

  • You’ll benefit from a website that’s easier to maintain: accessible sites usually have simpler and clearer designs, which means the code is also quite straightforward. This means that when you have to update or change something in your site, it will be an easier (and cheaper!) process for you.

  • You’ll be fulfilling your responsibilities to society: choosing accessibility is simply the ethical thing to do, but your country probably also has legal requirements for accessibility. If you choose to ignore these, you could face serious consequences down the road. 

What makes something accessible?

You understand the importance of accessible designs, but are probably asking the next great question: how can you actually make something accessible? We’ll go into our tips and tricks later, but let’s cover the basics of accessible designs here. For something to be accessible online, it needs to be:

  • Perceivable: the information needs to be apparent to the user and available to one of their senses; for example, if a website is made up of text, there needs to be an audio option to include blind users. 

  • Understandable: the content provided needs to be understandable to the chosen audience; if you’re creating a website for immigrants, ensuring that the information is available in various languages can make the content understandable.

  • Operable: if someone is only able to control their computer via voice, the website should work the same as it does for someone who can only use a mouse or a keyboard, therefore being operable.

  • Robust: the website must function the same as it does for a person without disabilities, meaning that no one has a worse experience. 

Accessible Web Development 

With a healthy understanding of the importance of web development under your belt, it’s time to get right to the good stuff: our tips and tricks for creating accessible designs on your next web development project. 

There are lots of ways to incorporate accessible practices into your design, but you’ll need to listen to your audience (and local laws) to figure out what’s best for your company. 

Include alt text on images 

Visuals are commonly used on websites as they’re a fun and creative way to capture the user’s attention and change up the way you communicate information. But for those who are blind or have limited vision, in addition to those who don’t have the high-speed internet required to load such images, alt text is a fantastic way to provide a description for users so that they have access to the same information. 

Provide sizing options 

Small font sizes or large paragraphs may make the information inaccessible for younger users or those with intellectual disabilities, in addition to those with vision loss. Provide different options for your users so that they’re able to increase or decrease font size, in addition to breaking up the information into a more readable format. 

Give options for interactive website elements 

Not all users can use a keyboard or mouse and some might require a special system to navigate your sight; others may not be able to properly see where to click or hover, so make sure your site offers alternatives for all the interactive elements you’ve included in your design. 

Use audio and visual descriptions 

As we mentioned above, videos and images are great ways to provide information in a new and engaging way, but you’ll need to include properly timed and correct subtitles for any audio elements on your site, in addition to visual descriptions of images or videos. 

It may seem like a lot of work and we’re not going to lie–incorporating accessibility into your designs does take effort, but it’s an effort that’s completely worth it and an absolute necessity. At Ironhack, we pride ourselves on creating an inclusive space for future techies and we’re focused on making sure our students understand the importance of accessible designs. 

If you’re ready to take the next step and explore a web development career with Ironhack, you’re in the right place.

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