Now that the holidays are over and we are into the new year, many people are looking for ways to turn over a new leaf in terms of personal health. Many people may consider a gym membership for a healthier start to the new year. In this spirit, I recently visited the websites of a few of the most popular gyms in my area. Some were national chains, while others were small businesses.
In this blog post, I will discuss some of the biggest obstacles I found and share my top 5 tips for making your fitness website more accessible.
Web Accessibility Examples on Fitness Websites: Issues with images
One major problem I discovered on almost every site I visited was a need for alternative text. Many gyms advertise their facility using pictures that display details on the gym's various amenities. Without text descriptions, it becomes impossible for a visually impaired individual to obtain necessary information about the size of the gym space, the types of equipment available, and the age and cleanliness of the facility.
While most sites list amenities, these lists need to provide more detail. For example, the site may state that the gym has 15 treadmills. More information is required, especially when all treadmills are unequal and features vary significantly from model to model. In these cases, the gym relies on the pictures of the treadmills to convey details to consumers. When these pictures have no accompanying text descriptions, it is a very frustrating experience for screen reader users like myself.
The other image-related issue I encountered on three of the six sites I visited was that the images overlapped with on-screen buttons such as "continue," "explore plans," or "sign up." Though I could detect these buttons with my screen reader, I could not activate them because the overlapping image would confuse my focus cursor. Instead of selecting the spoken button, my screen reader would activate the image, which did nothing but bring up a useless context menu with options for resizing and sharing the picture. This problem made it almost impossible to navigate the site successfully.
Web Accessibility Examples on Fitness Websites: Membership fees
Every gym site I visited allowed me to browse membership plans relatively easily. I was able to hear details such as plan duration and billing frequency. However, I needed help finding the membership price on several sites. After consulting a sighted user, I discovered that the price was displayed in a small box using heavily stylized numerals. The size and color of the numbers varied from plan to plan, depending on the price. Unfortunately, these price text boxes are not screen reader detectable. I could not access the monthly fee, which is essential when considering membership.
Web Accessibility Examples on Fitness Websites: Captcha Verification
Almost every site I visited required the user to complete a captcha verification to confirm their authenticity. The standard captcha form on most websites offers an audio version of the challenge that allows people with visual disabilities to type in the words they hear in a short audio clip. However, a few of the gym sites I visited did not offer an audio version. At this point, I couldn't proceed.
Web Accessibility Examples on Fitness Websites: Promotions
Since January is a popular month for a gym membership, many gyms offer promotional deals to bring as many customers as possible. For example, on three of the six gym sites I explored, I received pop-up dialogue boxes that prompted me to click a link to view the current promotion. Once I clicked the link, the site redirected me to a page with promotions and deals. Unfortunately, once I got to the promotion page, the only thing that my screen reader would say was "image."
My theory is that since the promotions are temporary, the gym uploads a picture of a paper flier to the site. Another possibility is that the promotion information is an inaccessible PDF. Either way, I needed help learning about the promotion's details- it was a dead end for my screen reader. I found this commonly happened on the websites of smaller local gyms.
To conclude, I would like to provide a brief set of helpful tips and pointers that can hopefully aid gyms in improving their digital accessibility, therefore bettering the overall accessibility of the fitness industry.
My top 5 tips to improve web accessibility on your fitness website
1. Always include alternative text image descriptions for pictures that provide information to customers about the features and amenities of your gym experience. Details on amenities are helpful because many gyms compete on qualities of the workout experience, such as the types of equipment offered, the machinery's age, and the gym space's size.
2. Never upload text-based materials such as promotional fliers to the website as image files because these documents will not be accessible to screen reader users like me. Instead, add the data to the site as plain text.
3. Pay particular attention to fonts and stylization. The visually pleasing design and accessibility are not mutually exclusive. It is okay to embrace stylistic creativity as long as the final product complies with digital accessibility standards.
4. If accessibility work seems too large of an undertaking, consider engaging an external accessibility partner. Accessibility partners can significantly help a company by providing expertise, resources, and accessibility solutions.
5. Gather and consider user feedback because real-world assistive technology users may be the best to detect accessibility barriers to full digital access.
81% of people with disabilities don't feel welcome. Let's change that.
I want to note that I exclusively cover screen reader accessibility in this post because I am a blind technology user. I am also one of 61 million adults in the US living with a disability. Unfortunately, research from Lakeshore Foundation, a nonprofit organization specializing in sports science for athletes with disabilities worldwide, found that 81% of people with disabilities do not feel welcome in fitness spaces. If you have a gym or fitness space, I urge you to do what you can to make that space more welcoming to people with disabilities, starting with the membership sign-up on your website.
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Editor's note: UsableNet has 20 years of experience in accessibility and works with fitness industry leaders like Jazzercise and Bodybuilding.com. Please feel free to contact us to learn about our technology and services to support you in your accessibility initiative.
This is a guest post from our marketing intern, Michael Taylor. This post reflects his opinions and experiences. Read more about Michael and some of his other posts on his experience online here.