The universal symbol for accessibility is a stylized line drawing of a person in a wheelchair. While helpful to people in wheelchairs, it is somewhat unfortunate for the greater world of accessibility. Not everyone who has trouble accessing things is in a wheelchair. One does not have to be severely handicapped to need accessible tools. Accessibility is a set of tools, methods, or way of thinking that makes it possible for someone to gain access that would otherwise not have. That applies to all of us at some point in our lives. A person under 5’ tall will have trouble accessing things on a high shelf. A person on crutches will have trouble accessing certain location. Everyday accessibility is not represented by a wheelchair. It is something we all face, including and especially online. Websites are typically designed by the young, who also happen to be among the brightest and tech-savviest of humans. Their able bodies often mean that the web designed in such a way that leaves less than perfect people at a disadvantage. Here is how to make your website more accessible by design:
Human brains love consistency. When it is absent, our brains try to find patterns in things that don’t exist. Help out the humans that visit your site by infusing it with as much consistency as possible. That means using the same styles and fonts throughout. Even if you start with an iPage.com template, you need to carry over that consistency to external communications like emails to clients. Like letterhead of old, it is helpful if your company emails have your company branding and special lettering. This type of consistency helps people know at a glance that they are working with you. That is the power of branding. Branding serves as a shorthand for all of the positive messaging you have done over the years. Branding starts with consistency. And it is a powerful accessibility tool.
You will notice that this list of e-commerce design principles comes down to one overarching message: clarity. Take note of #9 on the list. Even consistent branding serves the cause of clarity. The last thing you want is for people to be confused when they encounter your site. A large percentage of people are already confused when they turn on a computer. The internet tends to make them even more confused. You might be inadvertently sending mixed messages with your webpage. Their eyes dart here, then there. Everywhere they look is something else that seems equally important as the last. That may seem like a good idea. But it is a mistake that can cost you business. When visitors lack a clear path to follow, and a clear idea of what to do next, they will often do nothing at all. This is called analysis paralysis. Clarity makes your site far more accessible than a million good ideas.
Clutter is not just something that happens to houses. It also happens to websites. And just as clutter can make a house inaccessible, it can do the same for a website. One of the most insidious forms of clutter is advertising. It is the thing which finances websites. And it is the very thing that creates the most clutter on a website, making it inaccessible. Digiday provides a list of the worst ad clutter offenders. Ironically the page they offer to make the point is, itself, full of visual clutter. There are a growing number of websites that are only in business to display ads. Others have a more noble purpose. You have to decide which your site is. There are plenty of ways to have paid sponsors without making your website cluttered and inaccessible. When you design your website to provide content and not as merely a container for ads, you will have gone most of the way to making your site accessible by design. Cut confusion and clutter while providing clarity for users. This has nothing to do with wheelchairs and disabilities, and everything to do with accessibility in its purest meaning.