Put simply, web pages are accessible when people, with and without disabilities, are able to access and use the content as intended. So all have equal opportunity to achieve the purpose for which the content is published. It’s a key area within user experience design and website usability.
Equal access for all is a legal obligation we have as an organisation providing education services. But it also makes sense from a business and social point of view to have a website that works for as wide an audience as possible.
Just as accessible building design that takes into account the needs of people with disabilities often results in a better experience of a building for all the people who use it, accessible web design also benefits all users’ experience of the web.
People in their infinite variety are therefore at the heart of this, and people use various senses, technologies, languages, formats and functionality to access and interact with web content. Some of this is from personal choice, and some is imposed by the need for assistance when certain senses or abilities are compromised.
For an idea of the range of abilities we need to keep in mind when considering accessibility, take a look at this Alphabet of Accessibility.
Search engine optimisation
Did you know there is a very important and severely disabled group of users who look at our entire website on a very regular basis? Search engine robots are blind. Their needs when accessing our web content to crawl and index our pages are much the same as blind users of the site. The same things we can do to assist blind or partially sighted users to access our web content will help search engines index our web pages, so they will be findable by all people who need to find them. That in itself makes our pages more accessible.
If we’re talking about the ways people use technology to access web content, there is clearly an important technical aspect to web accessibility. An international set of guidelines produced by W3C called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines offers guidance on a range of specific technical pitfalls to avoid when creating web pages. But it’s important not to get too bound up in technical accessibility alone, as it’s possible to pass a set of guidelines to claim technical conformance, but still have a site that is not fully usable by real people. So these guidelines are organised around four people-focused guiding principles, that web pages should be:
- Perceivable: People need to be able to access web content through the senses of sight, hearing, and/or touch if they are to be able to use it.
- Operable: People should be able to find and interact with web content using whatever input methods available to them (eg keyboard, voice recognition), and have control over how they use it.
- Understandable: If people can access your content, it’s useless to them if they cannot understand its meaning or what to do with it.
- Robust: Content needs to be able to be perceived, operable and understood using the wide range of technologies available for people to choose from.
There are a lot of these guidelines, it has to be said. But many of them have to be taken into account by designers when designing websites and by developers when building new functionality. The Web Team are responsible for keeping these in mind when building design and structural code into the back end of T4. There are, however, some less technical but very important guidelines which you as content authors and publishers need to bear in mind when you create content and add it to the website in T4. These will really help to make sure your web content is as accessible as possible.
What you can do as content authors
- Use the formatting options Heading 1 to Heading 6 from the drop-down Format menu in T4’s editor to format your headings and subheadings correctly. The visual formatting is available to sighted users for scanning and the underlying logical structure is available to assistive software, such as screen reading software and keyboard users to navigate, making your content accessible to all. Over 65% of screen reader users with visual impairments or dyslexia navigate pages using headings according to a recent WebAim survey.
- Only format actual heading text as headings – avoid using heading mark-up to style text that isn’t a heading as this will be misleading.
- Good use of headings is also helpful for search engine optimisation.
- Link text and navigation labels
- Screen readers allow users to view a list of all links on the page, using a keyboard shortcut, and people who can’t use a mouse can use the tab key on a keyboard to skip from link to link in order to skim content. If link text does not make sense out of context, then the destination of the link will not be clear.
- Make sure you use clear, concise and direct words to indicate the destination of the link – although don’t use any more words than you need, as link text needs to be kept short and to the point.
- Use key words in your link text to help search engines to find your pages, as words in link text are prioritised for indexing.
- For the sake of both humans and search engine robots do not use ‘here’, ‘click here’, ‘more’, ‘read more’ or other such link text that doesn’t make it clear on its own what the destination of the link is.
- This also applies to the words in navigation labels, which are determined in T4 by the way you name your sections.
- Page titles appear in your browser tab heading. These are also derived from section names in T4, and each one needs to be unique and informative. A screen reader will speak this when a person arrives on a page, so they need to know from the title where they are and if it is the page they want.
- It’s also the title of the page’s listing in a set of search results, where you want people to be able to identify the page is what they want.
- Alternative text should be provided for any images conveying important information not available within the actual text of the page. In the media library entry for an image, you can add text to the ‘Description’ field to input alternative text that will then be available in the code of your page to convey the equivalent meaning. You don’t need alternative text if your image is purely decorative and not conveying key information.
- Images of text: use graphic text sparingly as it is not available to search engines or to screen readers. If there are good reasons to use this, then keep the words to a minimum and provide alternative text using the same words.
Lists and tables
- Use the relevant buttons in T4’s WYSIWYG editor to apply the correct structural formatting to bulleted and numbered lists, and to table headers and rows.
- Avoid pasting lists or tables directly from Word into T4. If you paste from Word documents, this doesn’t include the correct underlying structure for lists or tables in web pages.
- Use plain, simple direct language for clarity of expression and ease of understanding, using your audience’s language, and avoiding jargon.
- Focus on a single topic per page and keep sentences as clear and straightforward as possible within the topic you are writing.
- Explain abbreviations and acronyms the first time you mention them in a page.
- Don’t rely on colour, shape or location alone
- Avoid using instructions in your page that rely only on shape, size, screen location, orientation, sound or colour alone. Eg, ‘Click the blue button’, ‘Use the links on the left’, ‘See the instructions below’. You can’t assume how the reader is actually viewing your content.
For more information, read our pages on web accessibility on the Web Support site.
Web Marketing and Editorial Officer