Website Accessibility in our Opinion


  1. Overview
  2. The Responsive Web
  3. Screen readers
  4. Visual Impairments
  5. User Input
  6. Cognitive
  7. Hearing


There are four main groups of disability that we need to be aware of when designing and developing a web site:

* Hearing (include presbycusis, acoustic trauma, auditory processing disorder, and otosclerosis)

* Visual (including myopia, colour blindness, glaucoma and albinism)

* Motor (including RSI, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, and muscular dystrophy

* Cognitive (including Down’s syndrome, autism, global developmental delay and dyslexia)

Each of these groups will have their own requirements and need to be taken into consideration.

The Responsive Web
Current best practices in web design lead toward developing ‘responsive’ web sites. These are web sites that are restructured according to the device or platform – from mobile devices all the way up to 50”+ television screens. For each device, the web site adapts to make the best use of the available space, input method and device specific requirements – changing font size, layout and use of images accordingly.

This means that the user will get a similar, yet different experience of the site depending upon their local factors.

Current accessibility guidelines suggest that all users should be given the same experience, but since the birth of The Responsive Web the question inevitably crops up – the same experience as the user on a phone, or on a desktop?

Therefore, the way to approach accessibility should not be ‘the same experience’, but rather, ‘the best experience’. This can then be applied across the board to all users.

Screen Readers
Having read articles and watched videos of and by the users of screen readers, it became apparent that most of the user’s time is spent listening to the screen reader at high speed listening out for key words to take actions on []. The alternative was to spend 30 minutes per page listening to lots of information that was of no use or interest.

The suggestion is to only use an alt tag on images where that image is of functional use or contains important content. Images that are purely to improve the visual appeal of the site should be given an empty alt tag [].

The web site itself will be built with a clear semantic hierarchy, with navigation, headings and tables all clearly marked-up. Where possible, text should always be used instead of images.

Visual Impairments
Subtle visual clues, text over transparencies and visuals that are required for the site to be usable, can all cause problems.

Previously, web sites have included functionality to change font size and screen colours to help visually impaired users. All modern browsers now have this functionality built in. This must therefore be left to the browser to control. However, it is important to make sure that the web site is built in a way that allows fonts to be increased in size without breaking the functionality of the site. Many browsers also offer built-in text only functionality.

Where transparencies or other graphical effects are used, care should be taken to make sure they are either incidental graphics, or used for secondary information. Where possible, any important information displayed in this way should offer an alternative method of giving the user information – for example going to a block colour when the user hovers over it.

Where colour is used to convey information, icons should also be used (for example, ‘correct the fields marked in red’ could also have an X next to it).

User Input
As the site is being developed for the responsive web, input could range from voice to touch to mouse to remote control, consideration should be given to the fact that users with motor impairments may find it difficult to use a traditional mouse or keyboard. Browsers support different types of input by default. It is important that the site doesn’t recreate any of the functionality that the browser has (e.g. scrolling, back/forward buttons) or use events that capture and re-purpose browser events for alternate behaviour, such as hotkeys for certain page links.

Cognitive Impairment means not being able to process information as easily. This means information needs to be kept straightforward and to the point. Instructions must be clear and links must describe exactly what they do.

As much as is appropriate, user choices need to be kept to a minimum and ideally the user should be guided through the site.

Any videos or audio content on the web site should also contain subtitles/transcript of the audio.

It is imperative that all users needs are taken into account, and that tools such as screen readers are considered as yet another device type, rather than a completely separate entity. Where design elements are used to enhance the visual appearance of the site they should be made readily available to visually impaired users, but not added to the clutter for a screen reader.

The best experience is making use of the site available and enjoyable to all. All users should be able to achieve all of their goals on the site, in the way that best meets their individual requirements. Ultimate are committed to working with our clients to achieve this best practice.

Resources – “Importance of Headings” – “How Blind People Navigate” – “Screen Reader Demo”


Written By: Jon Walker on the

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At Ultimate we believe new projects should be undertaken with great amount of consideration and vigilant planning and research. You can be assured everything we do, will be the best for you and your brand and not what is best for us!