Should I make my website accessible to people with disabilities?

Posted on Aug 19, 2015 in Guest blog

accessible iconYes! About 20% of Americans – some 60 million people – have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The largest and fastest growing type of disability is visual. Think baby boomers moving from spectacles to screen readers, and living longer than ever before…

Making your website accessible opens it up to more people, and for many of us, it is required by law. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (508 for short) says that any agency that gets money from the federal government must make its site and its downloadable PDFs accessible.

But don’t fret! Making your website accessible is easier than you’d think. And happily, doing so also makes your site easier to use and read. Here are the areas you will want to work on: 1) URL, 2) Navigation, 3) Site Design, 4) HTML Code, and 5) Site Content.

1. URL

Is your URL short and easy to remember? For example: is a user-friendly URL. It is brief and intuitive, which helps users remember it more easily. You can even use title case, so readers see the component words more easily: If your URL is long or hard to remember, use a URL shortener, like TinyURL, which lets you convert a long URL to something short and snappy.

2. Navigation

Make navigation easy on all devices. Label all links clearly and meaningfully. Simple, consistent navigation placed predictably and uniformly across all devices (such as mobile and tablet) helps all users move around easily. Also include a site map and a search function.

3. Site Design

Use a flexible layout that adapts to different devices with different screen sizes (such as phones or PDAs). If you do this once, you won’t need a second, mobile-dedicated site. This also lowers your administrative costs. It’s also a good idea to make text resizable so users can adjust it to meet their needs.

Use contrasting colors. We recommend using dark fonts on a light background. Show off subheadings using colorblind-proof colors that are dark and bold. No functions should be color-dependent. Your site should work with color turned on or off. View your pages without color at:

Use external markup and style sheets so users can adjust page display to meet their needs. For example, a user with low vision can increase the font size, or a colorblind user can change the font color. Make sure your pages are readable when style sheets are turned off, so screen readers and Braille displays will still work. Although tables are useful in print documents, don’t use tables or frames online, as they may confuse screen readers. If you use JavaScript for pull-downs or fly-overs, your code needs to use onclick so users without mouse access can use the keyboard instead.

4. HTML Code

Specify a natural (human) language so screen readers can read the text out loud. For English, use <html lang=”en”>; for Spanish use <html lang=”es”>. Identify all changes in human language so screen readers and Braille systems can pronounce and display the content in the new language.

Use the “abbr” and “acronym” elements to expand abbreviations and acronyms, giving more meaning to the content.

Provide text equivalents to sound and images so screen readers and closed captioning can interpret them. For content in video or audio format, provide a transcript or closed captions. YouTube’s closed caption feature automates this process. (Click on the CC icon.)

Validate your code using W3C standards at

5. Content

Make language and layout clear and simple. Use consistent page layout, easy-to-interpret graphics, and words that are easy to read and understand.

Provide information in intuitive bits. Divide large blocks of information into smaller chunks to make it more manageable.

But wait! You’re not quite done yet… Get support and learn more from these tools and resources:

Best practices

Accessible Flash and indd files

alt text

Transcripts and captions

Accessibility testing

URL Shortener


Blog author photoAbout the Author: Maria Mindlin is a linguist, former court interpreter, and founder of Transcend, a language services company in California. She loves teaching plain language and enjoys the challenge of translating inaccessible text into language most people can understand.