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10 Tips to Make Your Website Accessible

Thursday, May 26th, 2011


With so many ways to communicate with customers and employees these days, and with the rapid speed at which technology is evolving, it can be almost impossible for employers to keep up and make sure their communications tools are accessible to people with disabilities. From videos and social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, to websites for both internal and external use, removing accessibility barriers is one of the most critical things you can do to make sure your company and brand is inclusive to everyone.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has 10 practical tips for making sure your company’s website is accessible. JAN, a service of the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, provides free, confidential technical assistance about job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

1. Review online application systems. For employers who are providing materials to job seekers as well as employees, your online human resource system should be accessible. This includes recruiting tools, applications, calendars, benefit forms, time sheets and leave relations. An online HR system that has forms or other unavoidable custom designs needs to have alternative options such as e‑mail, fax, telephone or mail.

2. Use text descriptions. For any type of visual material such as graphics and programs, you should use text‑only alternatives called alt‑tags.  Alt‑tags are supported by a variety of browsers and are basically text descriptions of graphics. These are used for instances when images cannot be seen by the user. You can ask your web master to test your website for alt-tags using free screen reading software such as nonvisual desktop access, or NVDA.

3. Caption all audio and video. For all audio and video applications, podcasts and trainings, including YouTube videos, try to use open or closed captions.  If audio and video are designed in-house, you can hire a service to caption the audio and then that service will match the text with the exact timings that you need. It will cost around $100 for a five-minute video.

4. Maintain a consistent page design. Keep a standard header and footer that includes navigational information and statements on accessibility, the disclaimer, copyright, site map, as well as privacy. This will decrease confusion when people are moving within your websites and moving from page to page.

5. Consider your colors. For those who are colorblind, websites should have enough contrast so that the background and the text are distinct to allow for other means of conveying information besides color. There are many online tools that can be used to simulate what a website would look like to someone with color vision deficiency.

6. Allow keyboard navigation. Programming keyboard navigation into a website will enable individuals who use assistive technologies or have fine motor, vision or cognitive impairments to easily navigate a website without having to use a mouse.

7. Set user controls. Items with audio, video, motion, and even those timing elements should be programmed to allow a user to control variance of sound, visuals and time limits.  Menus should allow users to be able to mute, increase and decrease volume options for visuals. For any moving objects, you want to make sure your pages don’t time out when someone is working slower than expected, perhaps due to a disability. Also, elements that blink more than three times per second can induce seizures, so steer clear of these.

8. Use default human language. Programming the default human language as a page allows assistive technologies such as braille translators or screen-reading software to provide more accurate content to the user. For example, if a page is written in English, there’s a hidden piece of code in the webpage template that tells the assistive technology what language to cue.

9. Provide accessible documents. Companies should post and provide users with accessible documents, such as accessible PDF and Microsoft Office documents. Adobe Acrobat now has a built-in accessibility check that will help you find accessibility errors in PDF documents, although it’s not perfect.

10. Evaluate! You can evaluate your the website using an automated checker.  Depending on the web browser, there may be built-in tools or extensions available that can be used to quickly evaluate a website. There are also several online tools such as the Wave Accessibility Tool from Web Aim.

To that end, JAN has developed a tool called SNAP, whose acronym stands for the following: “Select” IT people who are accessibility advocates; don’t take “No” for an answer when it comes finding solutions; “accept” challenges for all types of users and don’t ignore the feedback and suggestions from people who use your site; and “prioritize” accessibility first, with support from top management.

SNAP is an Excel spreadsheet consisting of 15 steps, with each step graded with green for fully accessible, yellow for partially accessible, red for inaccessible, and NA for not applicable. It can be downloaded here.

Remember, a good web master can make your website user‑friendly as well as accessible. So select well, don’t take no for an answer, get as much feedback as you can, and prioritize accessibility for everyone.