We all know that an institution's website is likely the first thing prospective students see when considering a school, so it is undoubtedly vital that websites be easy to use and pleasant to view. When building a website, the focus tends to be on how content is designed and managed, but we may be forgetting an important element that can cut down visibility when left unaddressed: content accessibility to people with disabilities.
Almost a sixth of our country has some form of disability, which includes wearing glasses and hearing aids. If your website doesn't meet the standards of accessibility regulations and recommendations, that's almost 57 million people in the U.S. who may not be able to access your site as you intended.
Fortunately, there is new protocol that streamlines accessibility compliance efforts. As part of #OUTC16, Justin Gatewood, Webmaster at Victor Valley College, showed us how to S.I.F.T. through a website's content for accessibility. Read on for the details to make sure your website is accessible by all.
S.I.F.T. Through Your Site
S.I.F.T . stands for Structure, Images, Forms, and Tables and provides a framework to systematically go through your website and address each area where an issue may be found. When you S.I.F.T. through your website's content, not only are you fixing issues for disabled people, you're creating a site that's more accessible to search engines, that loads faster in browsers and on mobile devices, and that's easier to scan for sighted visitors.
Here are some examples of accessibility issues to be aware of as you S.I.F.T. through your site:
Structure: You can help people using assistive technologies better understand what page they're on by avoiding duplicate page titles and ensuring that each page has a clear, concise, and context-related title element.
Images: Use the "alt" text attribute when placing images and other media on your page that have meaning. It should be an accurate and equivalent presentation of the content and function of the image on the page so people who cannot see the image will have the same level of understanding as those who can.
Forms: If fields are in error upon form submission, provide a clear indication of the error. General error messages can be difficult for site visitors with disabilities to determine which form field needs to be corrected.
Tables: Avoid using nested data tables. When nested data tables are used within table rows, users of assistive technologies may have difficulty navigating between cells.
Accessibility in OU Campus
You're not alone when it comes to accessibility. The OU Campus CMS has a helpful tool to assist in the accessibility review process! When publishing a page in OU Campus, the Final Check tool will search your page and show you a list of specific accessibility issues, where the issues exist in the code, and even examples of code you can use to address the problem.
Ensuring Complete Accessibility
We can't assume that any tool will find all instances that could be problematic for impaired site visitors. Correcting accessibility issues requires a human hand in the process as well. One simple step you can take to test that your site doesn't contain any accessibility blocks is to move around your website using only your keyboard. Resist the urge to use a mouse and tab around your website. Are links visible when you tab to them? Is the tab order logical in that it follows the visual reading order of the page? Can you tab through and select options on a form?
Another easy test is to try enlarging the text. People with low vision or other macular degeneration issues will likely be viewing your page with enlarged text. Does the text stay on the screen when enlarged or does it run off of it? Does text go behind other elements on the page? Do relevant charts, tables, and forms expand as well?
Your website may have many technical updates that are needed to ensure accessibility, and that can be a bit daunting, but when you S.I.F.T. through your content thoroughly, your site will be more understandable and better performing. Gatewood said, "As you take this information back to your campus, know that there are a lot of people out there who are going to benefit tremendously from you making sure your site complies with these standards." You will gain an understanding of what you're doing for people, and they're going to be able to use your site. Everybody wins.
Check out the complete list of Web Accessibility Best Practices so that you can make informed changes that benefit all your website's visitors.