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Why Semantic HTML is the Cornerstone of Web Accessibility

By December 4, 2023No Comments4 min read

Web accessibility means enabling equal access and equal opportunity to website information and functionality for people with disabilities. With over 1 billion people globally living with disabilities, ensuring websites accommodate impairments is both a moral and legal obligation. 

Semantically organizing page structure and content through descriptive HTML elements boosts accessibility in critical ways. When leveraged properly, semantic tags provide inherent context, relationships, and roles conveying core meaning. This allows assistive technologies utilized by people with impairments to smoothly interpret and interact with pages by “understanding” layouts.

Learn why semantic structure sits at the foundation of accessible web design and development – benefiting both disabled users and boosting SEO through superior content clarity.

Semantic HTML Fosters Independence 

People experiencing disabilities related to vision, mobility, hearing, and cognition utilize specialized software like screen readers, braille keyboards, switch access devices, speech recognition tools, text magnifiers and more to use digital interfaces. 

These assistive devices rely heavily on appropriate HTML semantics to accurately convert, convey, navigate, and interact with web content into alternative formats. For example, screen readers used by blind users literally read website text out loud while enabling navigation by key elements like buttons, links, headers and form fields.

By structuring content and UI controls properly with semantic HTML, pages become directly legible to those devices – allowing people with disabilities to independently access and understand information on terms comfortable for their needs.  

Common Semantic Elements That Boost Accessibility

Writing semantic code means using HTML elements in ways that reinforce their intended meaning, like:

<form> – Conveying an interactive user control 

<table> – Organizing tabular data

<img alt=”Provides image description”> – Describing non-text elements  

<nav> – Defining site navigation links

<header> – Marking introductory content 

<main> – Indicating primary page content   

When built correctly using descriptive elements, websites inherently meet several core criteria of web accessibility guidelines like WCAG 2.1 allowing assistive devices to make sense of layouts and interactions.

Semantic Structure Improves SEO

Beyond accessibility gains directly aiding impaired users, semantic HTML also improves organic visibility and traffic by strengthening on-site SEO signals. 

Search engines crawl pages looking for meaningful content structure and relationships to understand relevancy. Logical page architecture via header hierarchy, properly embedded multimedia, and descriptive element usage provides clearer page meaning. Pages become intelligible without accompanying visuals.

This allows search bots to interpret page focus, categorize content, and pick up keywords – driving higher quality traffic by matching searcher intent with relevant topics. Pages lift higher in results.

So semantic code optimizes for both search engine comprehension and content digestibility for visually-impaired audiences. Two birds, one stone.

Key Semantic Practices to Adopt

Follow these guidelines to ingrain proper semantic structure:  

  1. Run HTML Validator checks ensuring compliant code free of errors.
  2. Declare page language for screen readers via <html lang=”en”> 
  3. Identify page regions like headers, navigation and main content using <header>, <nav> and <main> tags.
  4. Clarify relationship semantics with <section> parent/child content grouping.
  5. Support tabular data accessibility via Complete table markup patterns including <caption> descriptions. 
  6. Attach alternative text descriptions to multimedia using the alt attribute to convey non-visual information.
  7. Implement descriptive link text avoiding uninformative phrases like “click here” or “read more”.  

Performing even basic semantic improvements makes websites more universally usable for disabled audiences while increasing organic traffic – ultimately driving additional business value.

Priotitize Accessibility with Semantic HTML 

Structuring web content and UI elements using appropriate semantic HTML tags gives deeper meaning and relationships to page organization – fostering website clarity. This yields direct accessibility gains allowing impaired users to independently interact with browser-based software. And enhanced organic visibility perks don’t hurt either.

So whether chasing improved social equity or hard ROI gains, semantic code sits at the core of quality web experiences – for all people.

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