There’s a lot of talk about how to create accessible content for search engines—but what about people? Most able-bodied, neurotypical people don’t think about content accessibility. We assume the people on the other side of the screen are seeing what we see, hearing what we hear.
The Web Accessibility Initiative found that one billion people or 15 to 20% of the world’s population have some form of disability. Monsido also reported that there were about 57 million Americans with a disability. In other words, there’s a growing need for accessible websites.
We’re not perfect—we’ve been lax on the Superpath site. For example, not many of our videos have transcripts and some salary progression charts in our $100k Club posts don’t have descriptive alt text.
“The web should be accessible for everyone,” says Webflow’s incredibly tactile article on website accessibility. “This often isn’t the case for people who are blind, low vision, visually disabled, deaf, hard of hearing, or who have cognitive, learning, or mobility disabilities.”
From an ethical standpoint, accessible content is equitable content. Someone who is deaf or hard of hearing should be able to watch a video with captions or read a transcript. Even people without a disability can benefit from accessible content. For instance, 74% of Gen Z watch video content on mute with captions on.
There are also complex legal issues surrounding accessibility. If your site isn’t compliant with the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1), you could be at risk of a lawsuit. Non-compliance lawsuits are on the rise, according to Usable Net’s 2022 Report. They found almost 100 lawsuits were filed each week and that lawsuits have increased from 3,500 in 2020 to over 4,000 in 2022.
A 2022 study by WebAIM analyzed 1 million websites and found 96.8% violated some part of WCAG 2. Some of the most common issues include:
While you can install an AI-powered accessibility widget like AccessiBe or Userway as a quick fix, there will still be underlying issues. Usable Net also noted that accessibility widgets, or automated solutions that let the user adjust the font size, colors, and layout, offered no guarantees. There were around 300 lawsuits against companies using these widgets in 2022.
Most of these lawsuits (74%) are against E-commerce companies, but B2B companies should be aware of the risks as well. For example, Guillermo Robles sued Dominoes in 2019 because he was blind and couldn’t order food from the site and app, even when using a screen reader.
So what’s the solution if not simply installing an accessibility widget? Let’s dig in.
There are a lot of free accessibility checkers out there such as AccessibilityChecker.org. Just add your URL to see your site’s accessibility score and the areas you need to improve. You can also use a screen reader to test the user experience for people with limited vision.
To fix these issues, the best solution is to work with designers and developers to create an accessible site from the beginning or manually re-write code to fix contrast ratios, form labels, and other issues. But since hiring experts to make your site accessible from the backend is expensive, making incremental upgrades can be just as valid.
Using sentence case, especially for headings, can make your site more accessible, says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding.
“For some people that are neuro-divergent, such as those with dyslexia, reading all capital letters in a word can be more difficult,” he explains.
Other pointers are using clear concise language, avoiding jargon or acronyms, including a table of contents, and breaking up your content with subheadings, says Danny Trichter, Co-Founder of Accessibility Checker. As with other accessibility improvements, these changes will improve text content for any reader.
Not having an adequate contrast ratio is one of the most common issues, coming up in Superpath’s audit along with 84% of home pages in WebAIM’s report. Some of this is due to brand colors. For example, Superpath’s orange text likely causes some contrast ratio issues.
“There is a design trend toward using more shades of gray for text or backgrounds. Instead, we use #000 black font on #FFF white background because it is the highest contrast and easier to read. We’ve put similar thoughts into font size, spacing, and so on,” Michael adds.
The minimum contrast ratio for text is 4.5:1 and 3:1 for text that is 18 pt or 14 pt and bold, according to WAGC guidelines. Higher contrast ratios help people with lower vision to read online. Since most people (myself included) don’t know what proper contrast looks like, you can use WebAIM’s contrast checker by entering your site’s color hex codes.
One of the four pillars of WGAC guidelines is that content should be “perceivable” to everyone. Though many factors play into this, adding captions and transcripts to videos as well as screen readers to text are good first steps.
“We've recently updated our website to be more mobile-friendly and compatible with screen readers, as well as added alt text to all images on the site. We also have a "skip to content" link in the header that allows users who are less able-bodied to jump directly to the content they want without having to click through everything else that's on the page,” says Will Yang, Head of Growth at Instrumentl.
Instrumentl also provides text-to-speech functions on all of their mobile apps, and offers an option for users who are blind or visually impaired to listen to their content instead of reading, Will adds.
Since all of the accessibility considerations get complex, you can simplify things with this website accessibility checklist from HubSpot.
The best approach to accessibility is to see it as an ongoing endeavor. For example, we have some great video content at Superpath like our webinars and office hours that need transcripts to be accessible to everyone. One of my goals as the content manager is to add transcripts, ensure all images have alt text, and add a text-to-speech plugin over the next few months.
There is no shortcut or easy fix to website accessibility. In the process of writing this article, I’ve realized that as tempting as ‘one line of code’ solutions like AccessiBe and Userway might be, AI can only go so far.
It’s up to us as humans to design our websites to be accessible from the ground up. If we haven't done that, we can go back and make improvements. Businesses can be committed to accessibility, even while being imperfect and fixing things along the way.