Editor's Note: We are delighted to share the second post in our series by UsableNet's Spring Marketing Intern, Brielle Cayer. Read more about Brielle in her first post, "Assistive Technology: What It Is and How it Helps Me."
In this post, Brielle explains the most common usability challenges she has found as a student who is navigating the online world with a visual disability.
As a legally blind student, I’ve had extensive experience dealing with usability issues when using the web. Considering that 97% of top websites fail the test for ADA web accessibility, this is not surprising. I can usually tell if a website is inaccessible within the first 30 seconds.
If I come across an accessibility issue right away, I'll simply exit the page and find an alternative. At that point, I am not invested enough in the website to waste my time with obstacles.
What’s even more irking (and common) is when I believe that a website might be fully accessible only to have my hopes crushed by a simple, missed accessibility error. Paying attention to and taking steps to prevent these complications can have a positive impact on the experience and impression that your website gives your customers.
What Makes a Site Inaccessible
All it takes is one (seemingly) tiny accessibility error for a website to go from great to subpar. Most of the challenges I face as a screen magnifier user aren't blatant enough to prevent me from using the website.
Instead, these nuisances pile upon each other, one by one, until I leave the webpage, unsatisfied and frustrated. Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence for me.
Many of these mentioned issues are hard-to-catch and remain unidentified by automated accessibility testing. It is absolutely imperative that companies employ user testing by members of the disabled community, rather than relying solely on automated WCAG testing alone or ineffective overlays/widgets.
A real user of assistive technology can find and explain issues that a machine would never identify on its own.
5 Common Digital Accessibility Issues to Avoid
In my experience, there are 5 common usability challenges that impact my experience on a website. You should do your best to avoid the following when thinking about the accessibility and usability of your website.
1. Weak color contrast
Like many visually impaired individuals, I have trouble differentiating between certain colors. Strong color contrast between the text and background is critical for me to be able to read your website content.
2. Lack of text resizing
Nothing is more frustrating than when I have a lengthy online reading due for a class, and when I go to zoom in on the page (I press the CTRL key and the + key), the text doesn’t reformat to fit the page.
Instead, I am forced to either zoom out and squint, or I must scroll the page from the left to right and back for every line of text (this is why I also dislike PDF readings... but that's another topic.) As you might imagine, this gets pretty exhausting!
Many websites don't properly handle page zoom. Fewer seem to accommodate text-only zoom such as this popular Chrome browser extension. Seeing as this extension serves over 10,000 users, websites should definitely pay attention to this option as well.
3. Hard-to-close pop-ups
I have definitely exited websites because of difficult-to-close pop-ups. Many times, I cannot locate the “X” because of placement and colors (when in high contrast mode, I often can’t see the “X” until I scroll over it).
I also sometimes get stuck and must zoom out because the exit button is on the bottom, and the website won’t let me scroll down the pop-up. I mostly see this with ads, subscription newsletter signups, and sometimes chat boxes.
4. Alt text
This one is pretty self-explanatory, which is why it's surprising that I have to list it here.
Please include good, descriptive alt text on all links and images; it makes everyone’s web experience easier!
5. Device Versatility
I’ll be frank; there are way too many pitiful mobile websites. It’s such a bummer when a website is easy to use on my computer but then it becomes impossible to follow when viewed on my phone.
Companies should note recent studies that show the majority of this year’s website views came from mobile devices. Trends like this should convince anyone; multi-screen accessibility is an absolute must!
Bringing it all Together
Every website is different, just as every online user is different. My advice? Test, test, test! Use every and all testing options, including manual, automatic, and by users with diverse disabilities.
Even better, hire an all-encompassing accessibility solutions partner like UsableNet to take care of the heavy lifting, and free your staff to focus on the growth of your business.