Does your website work for the broadest possible audience? For example, for folks with varying abilities, reading and seeing a website or using a mouse may be difficult—if not impossible—activities. What happens if someone can’t use your website? They’ll simply move on to another that meets their needs.
How can you be sure that your website works for as many people as possible?
I’ll take a look at website accessibility in two parts: planning ahead, and specific website features. In this article, I’ll focus on planning for accessibility from the start.
When you’re thinking of your website, the best way to help ensure accessibility to a wide audience is to divide your website requirements into three categories: what you need, what you want, and the finishing touches. Let’s take a look at how to do that.
What you need
At its most basic level, what do you need your website to do? This is easier to answer if you’ve done the work of figuring out the purpose of your website as well as the unique selling proposition of your business or organization.
For example, an online-only business that sells gift baskets needs its website to offer baskets for sale and to provide a way for people to choose and purchase them. A church, on the other hand, probably needs to allow people to find out what’s going on as well as how to contact and visit the church. An independent consultant, however, may only need to post contact information and descriptions of services offered.
Really, anything else added to the above examples would be beyond what’s absolutely needed. Design and appearance don’t even matter here. The consultant above truly only needs that information to be plainly typed.
While it may seem counterintuitive to ignore design as a “need” for your website, consider this: People with vision impairments may not get to “see” your website. Assistive technology can help them make sense of and use your website, so all you truly need are the absolute basics.
What you want
When you’ve identified what you absolutely need from your website, now is the time to address what you’d like your website to have. This is probably where you’ve spent most of your dreaming and planning time. This is where pieces like layout and design come into play. You may be thinking of particular images and pictures, maybe a nice calendar of events, or perhaps a portfolio of your work. These are things that should support and work toward your website’s purpose and business objectives.
Most people will see and experience these parts of your website, so it is important that you spend time planning them carefully. However, if these should fail or if you do have users with impairments or obsolete technology, your website should safely fall back into the “what you need” category, thereby allowing your users to complete the tasks they need.
The finishing touches
You don’t have to know what these technologies are or how they work; that isn’t the point. Rather, knowing that they might not be 100 percent reliable is. Your website should work and look good for most people even if these components don’t work. A professional web developer can help ensure this for you.
You can help make sure that most people can use your website, including those with varying abilities and technologies, by planning ahead to make sure that your site can serve up what’s needed at a minimum, and then add what you want and the finishing touches on top.