Among the top priorities for web designers is in making sure that the websites we build are accessible. Everyone should be able to navigate and consume content – with or without assistive technologies.
But as much time as we spend in discussing the topic and sharpening our skills, we can’t do this alone. It also requires our clients to 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 this guide that is filled with ways clients can help in the process. Let’s get started!
Avoiding these bells and whistles isn’t so easy. Both designers and their clients tend to like shiny things – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
However, part of a designer’s role is that of an educator. We need to help clients understand the important stuff – accessibility being one of them. This can be a hard lesson for some.
Among the key points to emphasize is that a website should not sacrifice usability for the sake of aesthetics. Ideally, a balance can be achieved. And, quite often, simplicity is the way to get there.
And simplicity doesn’t have to mean boring. Rather, it entails making sure that the basics are covered. Text is easy to read, colors provide acceptable contrast and the site can be navigated by keyboard. Once those items are established, other goodies can be added in – so long as they don’t make things more difficult for any subset of users.
Providing Accessible Content
Guiding your client towards accessibility is only one step in the process. Once they buy into its importance, the real work begins.
Depending on who you’re working with, one of the bigger challenges can be obtaining content in accessible formats. The importance of this is often overlooked. After all, even if the website’s layout is accessible, that doesn’t guarantee anything when it comes to the actual content.
Accessible content includes:
If your client is providing you with text content for the various parts of their website, it 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.
Thus, if a client provides overly long and complicated text, we should work with them to simplify.
Accessible File Formats
Not everything on a website will be straight text and images. Downloadable files such as PDFs and Word documents are also quite common.
Of course, it can be debated whether a specific item should stay in a non-HTML format. A PDF file full of text could just as well be converted into HTML. However, there are items like printable forms where a different file format makes sense.
In that case, those documents should have accessibility features. For example, clients may send you files that were scanned. That can be a big problem, as scanned documents don’t have selectable text. The result is that they won’t be read by screen readers. Plus, the legibility of the document may also be suboptimal.
The ideal solution is asking 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 text or recreating the file from scratch.
Staying the Course
A big part of keeping a website accessible is in developing good habits. For clients who will be maintaining some or all aspects of 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, the little details are also worth discussing. Alt attributes on images, for example, can easily get lost in the shuffle. They’re something that has to be added to a client’s standard workflow in order to become habit.
When it comes to typography, designers tend to cringe when we think of clients changing things around. Nobody wants to see their carefully-crafted type settings disrupted by an adventurous content manager. However, avoiding the topic altogether is not a solid plan.
It might be better to assume that some typographic elements will be changed down the line. Knowing this, clients should at least understand the rules of the road. Fonts should be readable, with acceptable sizing and color contrast.
Then there are the potential downsides of installing additional plugins or other software. With the prevalence of free plugins for platforms such as WordPress, there’s a temptation to hit that “Install” button to see what a plugin can do. But it should be noted that some items might negatively impact accessibility – not to mention the website itself.
Beyond the normal client training, there are other ways to help encourage accessible habits. For one, providing an accessibility checklist 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 are paramount for all of us. Still, it’s also important to think about the role a client can play. Their contributions can make the 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 fill your clients in on best practices. This will empower them to make better decisions regarding accessibility.