How to Make a Website Accessible for the Blind Community in 2023
Like most other people, the blind community relies on the web to find information, make purchases, bank, and perform general day-to-day tasks.
Unfortunately, there are still far too many websites that aren’t accessible and don’t cater to the disabled, including those living with visual impairments.
In this blog, we will discuss the importance of creating websites that are accessible for the blind and how they can benefit your business as well as your customers.
Why It’s Important to Build an Accessible Website for the Blind
Before we outline how to make a website color-blind-friendly and accessible to those living with other visual impairments, it’s important to understand why you should be doing this in the first place.
It’s a Legal Requirement
In many countries, digital accessibility is a legal requirement, meaning all users should be able to access and engage with your website, content, products, services, and documents, regardless of ability.
Accessibility lawsuits are more common than ever before, which means your business could be facing hefty fines and a damaged brand reputation for running a website that doesn’t meet the necessary requirements.
It Makes Ethical Sense
As a business operating in a modern age, it’s your responsibility to provide all users with equal access to your website. Not only does this show that you’re an ethical and socially responsible brand, but your customers will thank you for it too.
The knock-on effect of this is that customers are more likely to recommend your business and become loyal supporters and buyers. A study by Accenture actually shows that over 60% of consumers are more likely to buy from businesses that have the same values as them and are willing to stand by them.
It Boosts Your Bottom Line
Building a website for the blind can also have a positive impact on your bottom line. Research shows that 1 in 4 people in the United States is living with some form of disability. Consider how many customers you are obstructing by simply not making your website accessible and what this means in terms of revenue.
Keeping the average customer on your website is hard enough, even more so if your site is impossible to navigate and understand.
It Enhances Your SEO Efforts
Accessibility now plays a critical role in SEO because they’re both linked to user experience.
There are a number of areas that cross over between SEO and web accessibility. Let’s take video transcripts for example. The text in a video transcript is great for including a copy that’s relevant to your website and offering for SEO purposes. At the same time, it also ensures that users with hearing and visual impairments are able to understand the content.
Tools the Visually Impaired Use to Navigate Websites
Now that you know why accessibility matters to your blind users as well as your business, let’s look at the tools that the visually impaired use to interact with websites. This will give you more context once we go through our essential tips.
Browsers such as PnC and WebbIE were designed to detect the structure of any web page, making it easier for visually impaired users to browse the web. These don’t look or work as well as better-known browsers such as Chrome though, so some features may be lacking.
Screen readers are one of the most common tools used by people with visual impairments. They render text and graphic content as speech or braille, providing people with more context of what’s on a website. VoiceOver, JAWS, Narrator, and NVDA are some of the better known screen readers.
Not all users with visual impairments are blind – some can still see to some extent but rely on tools such as screen magnifiers to do so. As the name suggests, a screen magnifier makes it possible to enhance the size of a screen, making it easier for someone to see what’s on any given page of a website.
Website Accessibility for the Blind: 12 Essential Tips
We can now take you through the most essential tips for building a website for the blind.
Check Your Color Contrast and Textures
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines require a color contrast ratio of 4:5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text, with large text being a 14- or 18-point font. You can check whether your website meets the necessary color contrast requirements using tools such as Color Contrast Checker. To make it even easier for people with visual disabilities to discern visual elements, it also really helps to use textures and patterns for more complex visuals such as charts and graphs.
Don’t Place Text Over Background Images
If at all possible, it’s best to avoid placing any text over background images unless you’re certain there will be enough contrast. Without enough contrast, it’s impossible for visually impaired users, including those with color blindness, to tell the difference between the background and your text.
Make It Possible to Adjust Font Sizes
Even though some of your visitors will use screen magnifiers when browsing your website, it’s still important to make it possible for anyone to adjust font sizes, including older users who might be struggling with age-related vision concerns.
Give Them the Most Important Information First
This is another area where SEO and web accessibility work hand-in-hand. Placing your most important content near the top of your page is not only good for users but search engines too. Visitor using assistive technology can more easily decide whether they want to spend time on your site when they know what a page is about right from the start.
Offer More Clarity Using Icons
Color is often used to convey meaning online, but people living with visual impairments might have a hard time discerning colors. Instead of only relying on colors, consider working some icons into the mix too. Seeing a warning icon instead of trying to read red text is one example of how you can provide your users with a more accessible experience on your site.
Make Keyboard-Only Accessibility Possible
A great number of users rely on keyboards to navigate the web. To make your site more accessible to blind visitors, it’s important to make your website keyboard-online accessible. This ensures that users can use shortcuts and commands to do what they need to do on your site. Using specific attributes in the code of your website is what makes this possible.
Add Alt Text to Your Images
Alternative text, or alt text, is what helps disabled users and search engines better understand what an image is about.
Alt text doesn’t need to be overly complex or descriptive unless it’s warranted.
Basically, you want to tell a visitor what they are looking at and how it relates to your content by adding a description within the right tags in the code of your site.
Don’t Forget About Empty Alt Text
Not every image on your site needs alt text unless it’s truly relevant to the user experience. However, this doesn’t mean you should exclude it completely. For irrelevant and decorative images, make sure that you include an empty alt tag so that screen readers skip over it. By not adding empty alt tags, a screen reader will attempt to read the file name instead, creating a confusing user experience.
Limit Links Where Possible
Web accessibility aside, limiting the number of links you add to a page is a best practice. Not only is it frustrating for users, but it’s not always good for SEO either, particularly if you’re adding too many external links. Imagine landing on a page and a screen reader starts reading out the various links on a page before it even gets to the actual content – most users will want to leave.
Make Your Links and Buttons Descriptive
When it comes to creating an accessible website for the blind, “click here” is just not good enough when it comes to links and buttons. This is especially true if there’s no text surrounding the link or button because the user won’t have any context. Making your links and buttons descriptive is best for all users. Visually impaired users will have more context and sighted users can scan your site more easily too.
Titles Should Be Descriptive Too
Screen readers will announce the title of a web page to visually impaired users to tell them what to expect. Pages that don’t have clear and descriptive titles can end up losing visitors because it wasn’t immediately clear whether someone was on a page that’s relevant to their needs. The page title is what’s contained in the ‘title’ elements of your HTML code.
Limit the Number of Ads
It can be difficult for a screen reader to distinguish an ad from your site’s real content, which is why it’s better to limit the number of ads you display on each page. It’s important to keep contrast and alt text in mind when placing ads if you want to create a consistent user experience. Using the word advertisement in your alt text is also highly recommended because it gives the user the option to engage with the ad or not.
Visually impaired users will make up a large percentage of the overall number of visitors your site receives every month, which is why accessibility needs to be a priority. Along with providing an inclusive and engaging experience for all users, you are also positioning your brand as ethical and avoiding unnecessary and costly lawsuits.
Ideally, you want to build an accessible website from scratch, but if you already have a site, the right tools and the help of a developer with accessibility knowledge and experience are all you need to comply and create a better online experience for all.