Web designers and developers make a lot of tough decisions that seek to balance form and function. While aesthetics determine how a website appears, functionality dictates how it works. Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of websites across the world are inaccessible to users with disabilities, who make up around 1.3 billion of the world’s population. The lack of accessibility can result in the exclusion of a significant number of potential site visitors and potential lawsuits from users who might feel left out.

However, it is not too late to ensure that your existing website designs are inclusive. Performing a website accessibility audit will help you discover potential accessibility issues while giving you useful insights that will guide your accessibility efforts. This article will discuss the concept of accessibility auditing. We will also give you examples of web design accessibility issues that you need to avoid or resolve right away.

What is an accessibility audit?

Digital accessibility consists of a set of best practices that make websites and other digital properties easier to use for individuals with disabilities. Most experts agree that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the most extensive set of accessibility success criteria. The WCAG covers elements such as color contrast, alt text for images, and font choices.

An accessibility audit uses the WCAG as a benchmark for a website’s accessibility posture. Most accessibility audits combine both manual and automated testing methods. Manual testing involves an end-user, commonly a user with a disability, who tries to access and operate the website effectively. Automated testing, on the other hand, uses a tool called an accessibility checker that navigates the website’s code and reveals potential accessibility issues that don’t readily show up during manual testing.

After all the tests are completed, the accessibility auditor produces what is called an “accessibility report”. This document lists all the potential accessibility issues found during the audit along with recommendations for resolving them. It offers useful insights that can help the web designer prioritize the most important issues and maximize the website’s accessibility.

Common web design accessibility red flags

Most web accessibility results will reflect the following potential WCAG violations. These are considered low-hanging fruit, but resolving them will allow individuals with disabilities to access and navigate your website without much difficulty. They also improve the overall user experience.

Missing or incorrect alt text for multimedia content

Non-text content, such as images or videos, should be accompanied by alternative (alt) text. This text is part of the HTML code that refers to the image and should provide a reasonably detailed description of the image that adds context. For example, an image of a website on a computer screen can have the alt text “A website on a computer screen” if the website being shown is not really relevant to the text. When the page is a tutorial that shows how to navigate a specific website, the image alt text should be something like “The designer-daily.com home page being shown on a computer screen” or something similar.

Missing heading tags

Most users, including individuals with disabilities, read only specific parts of the text. Adding heading tags like <h1> or <h2> will allow users to skip to the parts that they find most useful. These tags also help screen reader users and individuals who use their keyboards to navigate through web pages. Missing heading tags result in confused readers and ineffective assistive technology.

Insufficient color contrast

People with visual impairments often have difficulty distinguishing between text and background when the color theme does not have enough contrast. The WCAG recommends a color contrast ratio of 3:1 for text 14pt or larger and 4.5:1 for text that is 12pt. Web designers also need to consider the needs of individuals with color perception issues such as color blindness. This means that red text on a green background and vice-versa are to be avoided completely.

Non-responsive themes

The majority of internet users consist of mobile-first users. This means that websites have to adapt to different screen shapes and sizes. Using non-responsive themes results in users having to zoom and swipe their way through the screen to find the content that they are looking for. On the other hand, using a responsive theme will allow the website to resize itself to fill the screen of the device without sacrificing functionality.

Accessibility audits for improved user experience

Web designers have the duty to ensure that their output can be accessed and operated by individuals with disabilities. By performing an accessibility audit, a designer can find potential issues and come up with an action plan to resolve them. An accessible website is one that offers an excellent user experience for everyone, regardless of their disability.

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.