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Web accessibility – what is it?

Why it matters for your website and its users

Web accessibility has emerged as a fundamental principle in website design, ensuring that the internet is open and inclusive to all individuals. This article looks into the significance of web accessibility, exploring its legal status and its impact on user experience and brand reputation.

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What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility means designing websites and digital resources in a way that addresses users with diverse needs. This involves a wide range of design aspects that, when followed, make the web a more user-friendly place for all people.  

In this article, we’ll dig into the principles of web accessibility that you should follow, the deeper importance of web accessibility for your brand, and give you some practical tips to follow to create an inclusive online experience.

The 4 principles of web accessibility

There are four main principles that form part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines have been agreed upon by a division of the World Wide Web Consortium (abbreviated to W3C), a global standards organisation that has existed since 1994 and determines international standards for the web.

The four principles are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (or POUR). We will dive into each of the principles and briefly touch on what these mean for your website.   


This first principle states that all information and any user interface parts on a website must be perceivable to all users, meaning obvious and apparent. Regardless of an individual’s ability, they must be able to grasp all the components of a website.

What does this look like in practice? It means providing text alternatives for non-text content like images and multimedia, so that screen readers can read out information to visually impaired users.

It also involves using clear colours and contrasts to help users with visual perception issues, such as colour blindness. Additionally, it means improving usability by providing text and content that can be resized to fit various screen sizes and resolutions.


Where the first principle focused on making the information on a site apparent, this second principle emphasis the need to make all websites actively usable by all users.

Another part of this principle is that websites should make sure their content is properly organised. This includes making sure that page structures are all organised logically to help users understand how to use the page. This even extends to error messages and instructions, which should be as informative and understandable as possible and avoid causing any confusion. 


This principle refers to ensuring that web content and functionalities are clear and easy to understand. Websites should use clear and plain language, avoiding jargon or complex terminology, ensuring users can easily understand the information presented. 

Another part of this principle is that websites should make sure their content is properly organised. This includes making sure that page structures are all organised logically to help users understand how to use the page. This even extends to error messages and instructions, which should be as informative and understandable as possible and avoid causing any confusion. 


This final principle underscores the importance of developing web content that supports many different types of situations or capabilities. It is also about future-proofing your site to future technologies. You can live up to this principle by continuously adhering to web standards and testing your website to ensure it is free of major errors and that all sorts of devices can utilise it.

Why is web accessibility important?

Let’s look at a few key reasons that highlight the importance of web accessibility and how it affects users, businesses, and the broader digital landscape.

Legal requirement

Web accessibility holds legal importance. At a global level, web accessibility is recognised as a fundamental human right under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Within the European Union, multiple directives are in place to mandate accessibility for websites and mobile applications, with specific standards and timelines for compliance. Failing to meet these obligations can eventually lead to legal consequences, including financial penalties.

One such piece of legislation is the European Accessibility Act, a directive that came into force in 2019 but is not binding until 2025. This directive outlines many sectors of society that must reduce barriers to access by individuals with disabilities.

Among the sectors addressed by the directive is ecommerce. It expects all users to have equal access to online shopping methods, regardless of ability. By 2025, it is expected that all EU countries will have added the directive’s regulations regarding accessibility into their national legislation.

It is therefore important from a legal perspective to follow web accessibility regulations to avoid financial penalties, future-proof your website from future legislative changes, and most importantly, to be ethical towards all individuals, regardless of ability.

Better online shopping experience

For ecommerce and online shop owners, accessibility plays an important role in ensuring that as many potential customers as possible can make purchases on your site.

Accessible websites are designed with a user-centric approach, which benefits all users. For example, having well-structured content and clear website navigation not only help individuals with disabilities but also provide a smoother shopping experience for all your customers.

An accessible online store is not only a legal necessity in many regions but also a business need. By incorporating accessibility features and best practices, you improve the shopping experience for a diverse range of customers.

Build trust in your brand and expand your customer base

Showing you care about all potential customers and following accessibility principles demonstrates your company ethics, and boost customers’ trust in your brand beyond your site. Many customers are more likely to trust businesses that prioritise inclusivity and show ethical practices. This in turn can increase customer loyalty, as your customers will appreciate you going the extra mile to ensure a seamless and inclusive experience.

Appealing to a wide range of customers is also essential for business growth. Web accessibility allows you to tap into new customer segments who other businesses may have poorly served. By making your website accessible, you can therefore also only broaden your customer base.

To summarise, web accessibility is not just an appealing concept. It’s a mindset for website development that can grow your e-commerce business, expand your customer base, and foster a positive brand image. By making your online store accessible to all, you meet legal requirements and contribute to a more inclusive and user-friendly digital environment.

How do you check web accessibility?

Ensuring web accessibility involves a combination of methods and tools designed to evaluate your website’s compliance with accessibility standards. Here’s a brief overview of how web accessibility can be tested.

Automated testing tools

There are automated accessibility testing tools that can quickly scan your website and identify common accessibility issues. These tools are valuable for an initial review and to find potential problems related to code, images, and content structure. They may have limitations so manual testing is also necessary.

Manual testing

Manual testing is key to checking web accessibility. It involves reviewing your website’s content, navigation, and any interactive elements to find the issues that the automated tools might miss. Manual testing ensures a thorough examination of your site’s accessibility and provides valuable insights into the user experience. Part of a manual test could include user research, where you get feedback from users after they have used your site.

User testing and research

User testing would ideally involve individuals with disabilities in the testing process to gain firsthand insights into their experiences on your website. By observing users navigate your site, you can identify specific challenges and get feedback to make targeted improvements.

User testing not only enhances accessibility, but it also contributes to building trust in your brand by showing your commitment to inclusivity.

Remember, ensuring web accessibility is an ongoing process, and regular assessments are crucial to maintaining an inclusive digital environment.

Quick accessibility fixes to your website

You may be asking “how can I make my website accessible?” When it comes to boosting web accessibility, there are several quick fixes you can implement today that will go a long way towards making your website more inclusive.

Colour contrast

One of the fastest ways to boost web accessibility is by addressing the colour contrast on your web pages. This means ensuring there is a big enough colour difference between text and background elements. Good colour contrast makes reading text a more pleasant experience for every user, regardless of ability, but it is key to making your content legible to users with certain visual impairments or colour blindness.

Implementing this fix not only improves accessibility but also benefits your website’s search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engines often penalise websites with poor colour contrast and legibility, making colour contrast something you need to keep in mind as you work on your site.

Alt text

Alternative text, usually referred to simply as alt text, is an essential component in web accessibility. Alt text is where you provide descriptions for images and graphics, which in turn allows accessibility tools such as screen readers to read out the content.

Making sure that all your visuals contain alt text is also key for your SEO work. Search engines rely on it when crawling websites to understand the context of images, so adding alt text can potentially improve your website’s search engine rankings. Conversely, failing to provide alt text can result in SEO penalties, so be sure to include descriptive alt text for all visuals on your site.

Alt text is usually easy to add in your content management system (CMS), so make sure all your visuals have these text descriptions. It’s a solid way to improve accessibility and potentially drive in more traffic to your site.

Buttons and calls to action (CTAs)

Buttons and calls to action play a vital role on many web pages, especially on ecommerce sites where you want users to hit “Add to Cart” or “Checkout”. If the buttons are too small to be read or tapped, or if the buttons are confusingly labelled or non-descriptive, you risk your users having a negative experience or leaving your website altogether.

There are a few actions you can take to ensure your buttons and CTAs are accessible:

  • Descriptive text: Buttons should have clear, descriptive text clarifying their purpose. Instead of vague labels like “Click Here” or “Submit,” use labels that provide context, such as “Add item to cart” or “Proceed to checkout”. This helps users, including those who rely on screen readers, to understand the button’s function.
  • Resizable buttons: Allow users to resize buttons and adjust the font size to meet their individual needs. This feature not only improves accessibility but also offers a more personalised experience.
  • Zoom-friendly design: Design your buttons and CTAs with consideration for users who may need to zoom in on their screens. Ensure that the buttons remain functional and readable when a user zooms in.

Ensuring that buttons and CTAs are accessible helps users find their way around your website and make it the whole way through their user journey on your page.

Include transcripts and captions for your multimedia content

Multimedia content, such as videos and tutorials, can be made more accessible by providing transcripts and captions. This is another win-win for both accessibility and SEO, as it has benefits for both aspects.

Ensuring that you have a text-based alternative to spoken material is key for access by hearing-impaired individuals and those who simply prefer written content.

Including transcripts and captions also improves the ability of search engines to crawl your content. As with alt text, search engines rely on textual data to understand what is on your site. Captions and transcripts provide this valuable context, making your videos easier to discover and more appealing to both human users and search algorithms.

Bottom line: don’t prioritise style over functionality 

While a visually appealing website is a good thing, it’s essential not to prioritise style over functionality in your website design. Web accessibility is not only a legal requirement in many places, but it is also a means to expand your audience, improve SEO, and a way to improve the user experience for all your website visitors.

By keeping these quick accessibility fixes in mind and considering accessibility from the beginning of your web development, you can balance aesthetics and functionality. Remember, accessibility benefits everyone by creating a more inclusive, ethical, and user-friendly digital presence.

Accessibility: good for your business, good for the world

As we’ve explored throughout this article, web accessibility is not just a concept. It’s a legal obligation, and business decision that can have a large impact. By making your digital presence more inclusive, you not only tap into a broader customer base but also boost your brand reputation, as well as your search engine rankings.

However, the importance of web accessibility goes far beyond its business benefits. It is part of a commitment to creating a fairer online world. With digital interactions increasingly becoming part of daily life, everyone deserves the opportunity to participate, access information, and engage with online resources regardless of their abilities.

Whether you’re making quick accessibility fixes to your existing website or have new things to keep in mind while designing a new site, remember that doing this work contributes to a more accessible, welcoming, and interconnected digital landscape. You’re advancing your business interests and helping to build a world where technology truly serves all of humanity. Accessibility is not just good for your business; it’s good for the world.

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