Best practice in web design

Best practices for accessible websites


Accessibility is an important part of web design. For public authorities and commercial websites in Northern Ireland, it is also a legal requirement under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Why is web accessibility so important?

People with disabilities use a wide range of tools and techniques to help them navigate the web. For example, some may configure standard software such as browsers to their specific needs. Others may prefer to use specialised tools, eg screen or text readers, assistive scanning keyboards, etc. For these tools to work, you must build websites and applications in a way that supports the use of assistive technologies.

How to implement web accessibility?

You should follow key principles of accessible design when developing your website and content. You can implement most of these easily without any effect on your site's look and feel.

Provide alternative text - it offers a textual alternative to graphic content, such as pictures, icons, button, illustrations and charts. Alternative text helps people who have visual impairments and may rely on screen readers to navigate a site.

Provide captions, narrations or transcripts for media - this applies to videos, archived audios as well as live audio.

Don't use colour to convey meaning - colour is a strong design element, but you should avoid using it to convey information. It will be inaccessible to colour-blind people, as well as screen readers.

Mark-up your site structure - use headings, lists, tables and other structural elements to give meaning to a web page or order of information. Make sure that all functionality is available from a keyboard.

Use headers for data tables - if you are using tabular data, introduce table headers so that screen readers can understand them.

Label form content correctly - every form element, such as text field, checkbox or dropdown list, should be marked using the 'label' element. Make sure users can submit the form and recover from any errors, such as the failure to fill in all required fields.

Make links understandable - screen reader users may choose to read only the links on a web page, so links should make sense even if read out of context. Avoid phrases like 'clink here' or 'more'.

Distinguish between different types of content - this includes PDF files, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and flash content. If you can't make them accessible, consider using HTML or alternative

Allow users to skip repetitive elements on the page - provide a 'skip to main content' or 'skip navigation' link at the top of the This can help a user with impaired mobility or relying on a screen reader to access content more quickly.

Provide clear and easy-to-read content - content should be accessible to people with diverse cognitive abilities, as well Write it in plain English and make it as simple, and as easy-to-read as possible.

Design to standards

If you are building a website from scratch, make sure that you develop HTML-compliant and accessible pages from the outset. Use cascading style sheets where possible to separate content from presentation. This can give you more flexibility and improve accessibility of your content.

To find out more, look at web accessibility issues or learn about the key principles of accessible design.