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Evoluted's a11y Advent Recapped!

by Dan Rawley
6 min read

Over December we ran an 'a11y Advent' series with daily tips for improving website accessibility and key things to consider when designing website features.

Accessibility is something of a pet topic for our team. Earlier in 2022 we published a comprehensive free Ultimate Guide to UX, packed with tips for making it as easy as possible for visitors to navigate and use your website.

The a11y Advent was the brainchild of our Technical Team Lead Andy Carter, with Andy's tips brought to life by Creative Director Will Barron.

The advent calendar received some brilliant engagement on socials, so we've collated the full series of tips here for ease of reference.

Tip #1: All-uppercased text

Avoid all-uppercased text - it reduces the readability of the content for those with dyslexia and causes issues for screen-readers.

Two identical sentences: the first uses sentence-case and the second is all-uppercase. The second sentence is less readable than the first sentence.

Tip #2: Colour contrast

Good colour contrast is essential - it helps people with low vision perceive your content.

Two identical sentences: the first is written in a colour that contrasts well against the background, making it easy to read. The second sentence is written in a colour that is similar to the background so it is hard to read.

Tip #3: Colour for context

Don't rely on colour to provide context. People with colour blindness will struggle to understand the meaning. 'Red-green' colour vision deficiency affects around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women.

Two identical forms with an invalid input field represented by a red outline. One form is filtered to represent protanopia colour blindness, making the invalid field difficult to distinguish from the other fields.

Tip #4: Content layout

Avoid multicolumn content layouts. This helps people with a low field of vision because it means they don't have to horizontally scroll and risk losing their place in the content.

An example form using a complicated layout with multiple columns. Some of the input fields span more than one column.

Tip #5: Video content

Make sure you provide captions and/or a transcript for videos - 1 in 6 UK adults are affected by hearing loss, making it the country's second-most common disability.

There are also many other reasons why users may not be able to play your videos with sound - for example, if they're watching in public without headphones.

A video with captions provided

Tip #6: Headings in content

Make sure you use a good heading structure and don't skip heading levels. Your headings should establish the content hierarchy and follow a sequential order.

VoiceOver's heading navigation menu shown as an overlay for the RNIB homepage, representing a good heading structure that is well-ordered with descriptive titles

Tip #7: Formatting numbers

Formatting numbers properly makes them easier to read for people with conditions like dyscalculia. Break up large numbers with commas and for credit cards, use spaces after every fourth digit.

The number one million written out twice: first, correctly with commas for the thousands separator, and second, written without commas.

Tip #8: Alt text for non-decorative images

Provide alt text for all non-decorative images so that people using screen-readers can perceive the image's meaning.

An example of a descriptive alt text attribute for an image with the alternative text overlaid. The image shows a group of three people sharing a toast at a Christmas meal.

Tip #9: Alt text for decorative images

For purely decorative images, provide a null alt text, i.e. alt="".

This prevents screen-readers from attempting to read out the image's filename.

This tip led to an interesting debate on Twitter about whether to still add alt text for images there - the consensus was that this is a good idea, as Twitter otherwise applies "image" as the default alt text which is unhelpful to users with screen-readers.

An example of a purely decorative image which is better suited to null alt text, e.g. alt="".

Tip #10: Form inputs

Ensure all form inputs have an associated label - never use the placeholder attribute as the label (or for anything important to completing the form).

Labels help people with dexterity issues, cognitive disabilities and screen-readers.

Two examples of a form. The first example has labels above the input fields. The second example uses placeholder text in the input fields instead of labels.

Tip #11: Font choice

Your font choice affects your content's readability for people with disabilities like dyslexia and reduced vision - so use accessible fonts. The Readability Group's "Guide to Understanding What Makes a Typeface Accessible" may be a useful resource here.

Two font examples. The first example uses Gill Sans and the uppercase "I", lowercase "L" and number 1 look identical.   The second example uses Public Sans and the three characters are much easier to distinguish.

Tip #12: Link text

Avoid ambiguous link text like 'Click here' or 'Read more' - and don't use the same link text for links pointing at different pages.

Some assistive technologies let people browse links in isolation from content, so the link text needs to provide context.

Two rows with examples of link text. The first row uses link text which provides clear context: "View Services", "View Price Guide" and "Contact Us".  The second row uses link text which doesn't provide any context: all say "Click Here".

Tip #13: ARIA attributes

Only use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes when there's no native HTML option available.

ARIA supplements HTML, but no ARIA is better than bad ARIA. If you can use a native HTML element/attribute that does what you need, do so.

Two examples of code for a linked image. The first redundantly uses an aria-label; the second uses the image's alt attribute to provide the link text.

Tip #14: Mobile zoom

Don't disable zoom on mobile - for people with low vision it's important to have the ability to zoom into content to read it more easily.

Illustration of a man reading content on a mobile phone.

Tip #15: Focusable elements

Make sure you set a visible and consistent :focus style to focusable elements like links and buttons. This ensures content can be easily navigated without a mouse.

An example of a form where the focused interactive element Is highlighted in yellow to contrast it from the non-focused state.

Tip #16: Sentence structure

Use simple English and avoid jargon to ensure your content is accessible to those with cognitive disabilities.

This also helps people without recognised disabilities - 1 in 6 UK adults has the reading level of an 11-year-old.

Two examples of blocks of dummy text with readability scores in the style of writing tools like Grammarly.  The first block is longer and more complex and has a readability level of 'College Student'. The second block is shorter and less complex and has a readability level of 'Fourth Grade Student'.

Tip #17: Divs and buttons

A div is not a button. Don't reinvent the wheel - if we already have the semantic element for something, use that and style it, rather than trying to mould another element into what you need.

Two examples of code. The first uses a div as a button; the second uses the semantic element for a button instead which is preferable.

Tip #18: Screen-readers

Don't be tempted to 'correct' pronunciation of words read out by a screen-reader. It will cause confusion for people who use other assistive technologies like a Braille reader.

Two examples of code for a link to Contact Evoluted. The first example uses an ARIA label to phonetically spell Evoluted, but this affects the output of the text on a Braille reader. The second example doesn't use an ARIA label, so the Braille reader will output the link text as it is written, 'Contact Evoluted'.

Tip #19: Accessibility overlays

Do not use an accessibility overlay. It won't fix your site's accessibility problems and reinforces discrimination of those with disabilities.

For more information, see Should I Use An Accessibility Overlay?

An example of an accessibility overlay.

Tip #20: Skip links

Provide skip links to allow people to skip to the main content or skip past a long list of items. This really helps those using a keyboard to navigate the page.

An example of a skip link on a page.

Tip #21: HTML validation

Validate your HTML markup. Browsers can be very forgiving of errors, but some assistive technologies may be less so. The W3C provides a free HTML markup validator.

An example of valid HTML markup.

Tip #22: CSS breakpoints

When working with CSS breakpoints, remember the user is not necessarily using a mobile phone. They could be using a screen-reader or be zoomed in on the page due to having low vision.

Two examples of a page. The second example is zoomed in, causing the layout to switch to a more mobile-friendly layout with a hamburger menu and elements stacked vertically instead of horizontally.

Tip #23: Text layout

Avoid centred multi-line text. This can cause readability issues, particularly for people with dyslexia. Justified text is also problematic.

Two examples of multi-line text. The first is not centred. The second example is.

Tip #24: a11y

'a11y' is a commonly used numeronym for 'accessibility' and the source of our series' name. The 11 represents the count of letters between 'a' and 'y' in 'accessibility'.

The word 'accessibility' written out, matching each letter to its corresponding number in the 'a11y' numeronym.

If you need expert support with your web design and UX, see our Create services or our UX and Accessibility Audits offering.

Written by Dan Rawley
Digital Marketing Manager

As our Digital Marketing Manager, Dan spreads the word about the excellent work being delivered by our team, drawing on his background in journalism and SEO.

Having founded an SEO agency for start-up businesses in his previous role, Dan relished the opportunity to join the set-up at Evoluted and help grow an already thriving agency. He was named one of The Drum's Future 50 Emerging Marketers Worldwide for 2023 and was a finalist for Prolific North's 2022 Marketer of the Year.