An accessible website is key to telling your story
By Timmy Fredriksson
When it comes to modern accessibility standards, users and regulators demand more from listed companies. To withstand scrutiny, there are some easy wins! With a bit of development, some new content routines and tweaks to brand guidelines, everyone will be able to access the corporate website.
There's a lot to consider when reading up on web accessibility, but the arguments for taking it seriously are compelling. Aside from upcoming regulations, accessibility measures tend to be good for UX and SEO, and it's also a positive step in the company's diversity work. Perhaps even more importantly, the company's story will further shine through as understanding and communication will be greatly improved when everyone can access it.
The law and WCAG
This is something the European Union agrees upon as well. The Web Accessibility Directive, part of the European Accessibility Act, came into force at the end of 2016, making sure that public sector bodies' web and app services adhere to a certain accessibility standard. The EU is working to expand this beyond the public sector.
A new directive, called the Directive on the Accessibility Requirements for Products and Services, is on its way. The Directive is created to harmonise with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an accessibility resource based on user research. This directive includes all companies' digital products and services within the EU. The only exception are so called "microenterprises", companies that employ fewer than 10 people and have an annual turnover of less than €2 million. It will be fully enforced in 2025, but membership countries may apply this law earlier.
Put simply, if you have more than 10 employees and have an annual turnover larger than €2 million, you should start to address the accessibility of your services.
Accessibility in Webranking
Since last year, our Webranking research has included scores for accessibility based on Lighthouse audits. Lighthouse audits primarily focus on users navigating via keyboard or using a screen reader, so most of Lighthouse's criteria checks HTML and CSS to make sure content is tagged properly. It also contains a contrast checker, ensuring that the contrast between text and background colour is in a range that makes it readable for as many stakeholders as possible.
Lighthouse scores are on a similar level as last year. Out of 876 ranked companies, 96% received the base score (50 or more) compared to 95% last year. For the higher score level of 90 or more, 27% passed compared to 32% last year. So far so good, although there is room for improvement.
Corporate websites aren't accessible
Accessibility is so much more than keyboard navigation and contrast, and we have broadened Webranking accordingly by incorporating a more rigorous approach to what is acceptable to score. This new approach is based on the EU directive and WCAG's guidelines.
First of all, to make videos with speech accessible for everyone, they should have closed captions. Closed captions are subtitles added to the video, with the option to turn them off and in the best case, the ability to have them translated. This helps visitors who can't hear, or don't want the volume up, because they can read the dialogue instead. Closed captions are preferably available both in the spoken language and in English. When looking at Careers content in Webranking, only 16% of companies provide their employee testimonial videos with closed captions, meaning fewer job applicants could potentially use these. In the worst case, a company's progress on their diversity commitments could be harmed due to a failure to facilitate everyone's ability to assimilate the content.
Looking at webcasts, which are particularly interesting to the capital market audience, the numbers are bleaker. Last year, 24% of companies had webcasts available without login either directly on their website or linked to an external hosting service. This year, that number is as low as 6% due to most of the available webcasts lacking closed captions. Once again, the stakeholders are the ones left with the short straw as companies risk being seen as un-inclusive.
Second of all, text in images is a struggle to deal with for screen readers. The texts will not be picked up as they're embedded within an image and more often than not companies don't provide a proper alt text for their images. Providing an image of the company's governance chart isn't that uncommon, but making it accessible is rarer: only 40 of the 876 ranked companies provided a governance chart where the details included were actual text.
Where to start in becoming accessible
These recommendations will achieve more than simply making your site accessible. Some will improve your SEO, but they will all improve your UX, and make your content easier to find and use. In doing so, your website will facilitate more effective and inclusive communication. Seeing as the directive is based on WCAG's four principles of accessibility (a website should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust), we've summarised a condensed selection of criteria from WCAG that would make a big difference to your audiences:
- Alt texts and non-text content: alt texts are a principle of accessible web design, and should be provided for all images containing content. This enables screen readers to translate the information to speech and, as a bonus, is great for SEO as well. Alt texts provide an extra opportunity to use keywords! Don't solely rely on alt texts though - look at the content to find the best solution. Sometimes a diagram or a chart is best explained in text as well as a summary in the alt text. Texts on images can also be made so that the text is HTML, which is definitely worth looking in to.
- Captions: by adding captions to all video material, whether it's live or pre-recorded, you ensure that the content is inclusive for everyone. Whether it's someone with hearing loss or someone commuting without headphones.
- Contrast: contrast that's too low between text and background is an example of a presentation that can give all visitors a hard time. Whether they have impaired vision, colour-blindness, forgot their glasses or have a sun glare on their screen, keeping the contrast at a sufficiently high level will benefit all stakeholders.
- Resizable and adaptive content: regardless of device, your website should adapt to the screen used and have the option to zoom in on content whilst still being usable.
- Keyboard accessible: all parts of the website should be reachable through keyboard navigation. This helps everyone, from those unable to operate a mouse and screen reader users, to those who have a sore wrist from clicking through information all day.
- Timing: try to avoid timed events at all times. Issues with completing a task in time can occur due to a variety of reasons, be it being unable to move fast enough or the distraction of a quick question from a colleague.
- Button and font sizes: things that are hard to read and use are an annoyance. Whether someone has a hard time with accuracy, or struggles to see and browse on mobile, make buttons and fonts large enough to use and view regardless of the device.
- Consistent navigation: keeping the navigation functionality across the whole website so that it looks and works in the same way means stakeholders won't have to re-learn how to use your site.
- OCR enabled PDFs: even though PDFs are deemed "unfit for human consumption", there are ways to make them accessible for screen readers and text-to-speech software. The format is called optical character recognition (OCR) and makes texts highlightable in PDFs. The best case scenario, though, is to create webpages for the content, making it available without downloads and loading times. There are several arguments for making your annual report digital for example.
Tools to help you along the way
There are several tools that can help on the way to creating an accessible website. Lighthouse and SiteImprove audit websites and give hands-on tips on what to change to up the accessibility of the site, with lists of links to where issues are and suggested improvements.
Delivering video through YouTube provides automatic caption creation if the spoken language is English. This gives stakeholders the option to turn captions off if wanted and keeps content publicly available, which boosts transparency.
There are plenty of contrast checkers available online, most of which are really simple to use and are based on WCAG's recommendations. Write in the colours of your website and get your results. There are even Google Chrome plugins available if you need to check contrasts often.
Our Webranking standard report includes accessibility criteria and our Webranking plus report can extend to include a deep dive into your site's accessibility, where we check how it fares against the most important of WCAG's criteria.