What is Accessibility in Web Design?
At its core, web accessibility refers to website design and development that allows a vast range of people to access and use the website. This includes those who have visual, motor, auditory, speech, or cognitive disabilities. If your website is fully accessible, then it can be navigated regardless of any of these disabilities – allowing anyone to interact with the site, and in essence, your business.
But it’s not only those with specific disabilities that can benefit from accessible websites. It’s also people with poor eyesight, hearing, or temporary physical challenges who benefit from a website that has been designed with accessibility in mind.
This inclusivity is incredibly powerful when you get it right and we’ve seen the industry expand significantly in recent years as people have started to take this mission more seriously. As a result, the internet has started to open up in a way that it never has before to people who struggled with the traditional paradigm of how able-bodied people interact with websites.
In order to join forces here, the industry has come together to set some global standards which codify some of the goals and objectives we are aiming towards – so that everyone can hold themselves accountable. The current version of these standards is called the WCAG 2.1 AA Standards and regular updates are published by the World Wide Web Consortium(W3C) as things develop.
The Importance of Accessibility
When it comes to designing your own website, it is crucial that you design with accessibility in mind. You should really be doing everything you can to bring your site up to the global standards. Here are some of the reasons why:
- Inclusivity. As a business, you want to be very proactive in ensuring that you are not discriminating against anyone on the basis of their disability. Your company should be aiming to be as inclusive as possible so that every person who wants to interact with your product or service can do so. This shows an immense amount of respect to your customer base and ensures that you are being as socially inclusive as you can.
- Expands Potential Customer Base. From a purely selfish point of view, making your website accessible can expand your customer base. People who previously could not do business with you because they were unreachable – can now form part of your target audience. This widening of the possible pool makes for larger opportunities for your business which can move the needle for your bottom line.
- Competitive Advantage. If you are able to make your website more accessible than those of your competitors, then you can give yourself a powerful competitive advantage in the market. You’ll stand out from the rest when it comes to this specific niche of customers and that can be a significant catalyst for growth in a lot of cases.
- Forces You to Make a Functional Website. An underrated benefit of focusing attention on accessibility is that it makes you pay attention to how functional your website actually is. We all get a bit carried away sometimes with fancy designs and complicated animations, because of the aesthetic value. But at the end of the day, your website needs to be functional and easy to navigate. When you start looking seriously at accessibility, you’ll find all the places where you’ve made things more difficult than they need to be, and by optimizing in this way – you can improve conversions.
Those are just a few of the reasons why accessibility is so important when you’re building a website. Now, let’s move on to how Webflow makes this incredibly efficient and easy to get your head around.
How Webflow Helps to Make Your Website Accessible
Webflow is an incredibly powerful website building tool, and it really is charting the future of web design. So, it’s no surprise that they’re on the cutting edge of this conversation and they’ve gone above and beyond to help their users achieve the highest level of accessibility as easily as possible.
Here are some of the key components of the Webflow platform that make your journey to full accessibility much smoother:
- Accessible Pre-Built Layouts. Webflow have released a wide range of pre-built layouts which adhere to a range of functional accessibility requirements right out of the box. These templates have done most of the hard work for you, ensuring that things like heading hierarchy, page structure, and keyboard navigability are taken care of.
- Prominent Alt Attribute Fields. When you include an image on your website, it is best practice to also include a text description of the image in the ‘alt attribute’ field which helps those with visual impairments to understand what the image is conveying. Webflow makes this very prominent when you’re adding images so it’s not something you have to think about – you just answer the prompt when it comes. If you don’t include one, Webflow will generate an automatic one for you.
- Low Vision Simulations. Inside the platform, there is a really powerful option that allows you to preview your own site as it appears to those who have visual impairments. For example, you can see what someone with red-green colour blindness would see if they came to your website. This is a wonderful tool because you can quickly and easily run through all the different common visual impairments and see how your site can be improved to be as visually inclusive as possible.
- Color Contrast Tool. Webflow’s colour selector has a built in contrast tool that gives you a quantitative reading of how readable your text is compared to the background it's sitting on. This is a great way to ensure that your text is clear and accessible on every page of your site.
- Custom Code Options. If you are an advanced developer and you want even more precise control of your accessibility, you can create really powerful custom code options that get into the nuts and bolts of your site and give you almost infinite configurability. This is worth its weight in gold for more specific use cases where your accessibility efforts are concentrated in one particular area. You can get exactly what you want, right down to the code level with this functionality.
- Online Educational Material. Webflow University, the company’s knowledge, and education base, includes a really great course on all things accessibility so that you as a designer and developer can learn about the field and upskill yourself effectively to make the required changes to your site.
- Audit Panel. Probably the most revolutionary component when it comes to accessibility is the Webflow audit panel which analyses your site and all its features to generate an audit of your accessibility across the board. It will help you identify things that can be improved such as missing alt attributes, HTML5 tags, heading levels and so much more. Just by acting on these prompts and making those small optimizations can make a big difference in the greater scheme of things.
Those are just a few of the things that Webflow have done so far to make your website building experience one that puts accessibility at the forefront. They really do stand out in this regard when compared to their competitors and they’re not stopping here! Their CEO has put out a statement about their commitment to accessibility that goes like this:
The work that they’ve done so far shows that they believe in this mantra and are working towards it. It’s not just empty words. Webflow remains the best web-building platform out there for highly accessible websites.
They are really making accessibility, accessible.
There are three additional tools that I would recommend using as well, because they provide some extra benefits when you’re designing and developing your site:
- Stark. This is an accessibility tool focused mostly on graphics that designers can use to ensure that what they create is fully accessible. It integrates natively with software such as Figma, Sketch, Adobe XE, and the like, and provides great insights into how your designs and creations can be optimized for web accessibility. The features include a contrast checker, colour-blind generator, smart colour suggestions, vision simulations, and much more. It’s a really powerful tool.
- Contrast. This is a simple, yet effective macOS app for checking WCAG colour contrast ratios. It updates instantly when you’re picking colours to help give you the insights that you need in the exact moment when you need them. Instead of having to dig around the web for the necessary information, it's fed to you right then and there. The magic is in its simplicity.
As the industry expands, we’re likely to see many more players enter the space, but for now – those three are a great foundation for any web product.
Hopefully you can see how importance accessibility is when it comes to modern web design and development. Platforms like Webflow are going above and beyond to make it easy to implement, but regardless of what you’re using to design your website – it’s crucial that you take this seriously. We want to make sure that all the hard work we’re doing in our businesses are accessible to everyone regardless of their physical capabilities.
That’s the sort of world we should all be aspiring to create.
If you’re looking for some professional help when it comes to web design and development, be sure to check out what we’re doing at Snowhouse Studio. We make accessibility a priority in all of our work, and we’ve helped clients of all types build exceptional web presences that are fully compliant with global accessibility standards. If that sounds like it should be you, be sure to get in touch today and let’s see how we can help!