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Common Accessibility Pitfalls in Web Design (And How to Avoid Them)

By June 25, 2024No Comments6 min read

Web accessibility ensures that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites effectively. However, many modern web designs unknowingly incorporate elements that create barriers for users with disabilities. Let’s explore some common accessibility pitfalls in contemporary web design and provide practical solutions to avoid them.

1. Poor Color Contrast

One of the most frequent accessibility issues in modern web design is insufficient color contrast. Many designers prioritize aesthetics over readability, resulting in text that’s difficult to read for users with visual impairments or color blindness.

How to avoid:

  • Use tools like AllAccessible to ensure your color combinations meet WCAG 2.1 guidelines.
  • Aim for a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.
  • Avoid using color as the sole means of conveying information.
  1. Non-responsive Design

With the increasing use of mobile devices, non-responsive designs can significantly hinder accessibility. Websites that don’t adapt to different screen sizes force users to zoom and scroll excessively, creating a frustrating experience for everyone, especially those with motor impairments.

How to avoid:

  • Implement responsive design principles that adapt to various screen sizes and orientations.
  • Use flexible layouts, images, and CSS media queries to ensure content is easily readable on all devices.
  • Test your website on multiple devices and screen readers to ensure compatibility.
  1. Inaccessible Forms

Forms are crucial for user interaction, but poorly designed forms can be a significant barrier for users with disabilities. Common issues include lack of labels, poor error handling, and inaccessible CAPTCHA systems.

How to avoid:

  • Use clear, descriptive labels for all form fields.
  • Implement error messages that are easily identifiable and explain how to correct mistakes.
  • Provide alternatives to visual CAPTCHA, such as audio versions or simple math problems.
  • Use ARIA attributes to enhance form accessibility for screen reader users.
  1. Lack of Keyboard Navigation

Many modern websites rely heavily on mouse interactions, overlooking users who depend on keyboard navigation. This includes people with motor impairments, visual impairments, and power users who prefer keyboard shortcuts.

How to avoid:

  • Ensure all interactive elements are accessible via keyboard.
  • Implement a logical tab order that follows the visual layout of the page.
  • Provide visible focus indicators for keyboard users.
  • Test your website using only a keyboard to identify any navigation issues.
  1. Missing Alternative Text for Images

Images play a significant role in modern web design, but without proper alternative text, they become inaccessible to users with visual impairments who rely on screen readers.

How to avoid:

  • Add descriptive alt text to all images that convey information.
  • Use empty alt attributes (alt=””) for decorative images.
  • For complex images like infographics, provide detailed descriptions in the surrounding text or through a link to a full description.
  1. Auto Play Media and Lack of Controls

Auto playing videos or audio can be disorienting for screen reader users and distracting for users with cognitive disabilities. Additionally, lack of media controls can make it difficult for users to pause, stop, or adjust volume.

How to avoid:

  • Avoid auto playing media, or at least provide an option to disable auto play.
  • Ensure all media players have accessible controls for play, pause, stop, and volume adjustment.
  • Provide closed captions for video content and transcripts for audio content.
  1. Complex Navigation Menus

Overly complex navigation menus can be challenging for all users, but especially for those using screen readers or keyboard navigation.

How to avoid:

  • Keep navigation structures simple and intuitive.
  • Use ARIA landmarks to help screen reader users navigate your site more easily.
  • Implement a “skip to main content” link at the beginning of your page to allow users to bypass repetitive navigation.
  1. Lack of Heading Structure

Proper heading structure is crucial for screen reader users to understand the organization of content on a page. Many modern designs prioritize visual hierarchy over semantic structure, leading to accessibility issues.

How to avoid:

  • Use HTML heading tags (H1-H6) to create a logical document outline.
  • Ensure headings are used in order, without skipping levels.
  • Avoid using heading tags solely for styling purposes.
  1. Inaccessible Custom Controls

Custom-designed controls like sliders, toggles, and dropdowns often lack proper keyboard support and ARIA attributes, making them unusable for many users with disabilities.

How to avoid:

  • Ensure all custom controls can be operated with a keyboard.
  • Use appropriate ARIA roles, states, and properties to convey the control’s purpose and state to assistive technologies.
  • Consider using standard HTML controls when possible, as they often have built-in accessibility features.
  1. Overlooking Users with Cognitive Disabilities

Many accessibility efforts focus on visual, auditory, and motor impairments, often overlooking the needs of users with cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorders.

How to avoid:

  • Use clear, simple language and avoid jargon.
  • Break content into smaller, manageable chunks.
  • Provide options to customize the reading experience (e.g., adjustable text size, line spacing, or color schemes).
  • Include visual aids like icons or images to support text content.

Creating an accessible website is an ongoing process that requires attention to detail, empathy for users with diverse needs, and a commitment to inclusive design principles. By addressing these common pitfalls, you can significantly improve the accessibility of your web designs, ensuring that your content is available to the widest possible audience.

Remember, accessibility benefits everyone, not just users with disabilities. An accessible website often results in better usability, improved SEO, and a more positive user experience for all visitors. As web designers and developers, it’s our responsibility to create digital spaces that are truly inclusive and welcoming to all users, regardless of their abilities or the devices they use to access the web.

By integrating accessibility considerations into every stage of your web design process, you can create beautiful, functional, and inclusive websites that stand out in today’s digital landscape. Start addressing these common pitfalls today, and take a significant step towards a more accessible web for everyone.

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