Websites for healthcare and medical centres are right at the forefront of services. So why are so few of them accessible?

Accessibility means making sure you don’t pose barriers for people with disabilities. It’s inclusive. Good design means including everybody.

Most people understand accessibility in terms of physical access, like wheelchair ramps. Accessibility also relates to websites and online documents.

As health and medical services, it’s important that we don’t provide obstacles for the people we are trying to help.

Why we need accessible websites

According to the Australian Network on Disability, 1 in 5 Australians has some kind of mental, physical or sensory disability at any time.

Staggeringly, 45% of us are predicted to experience some form of disability during our life.

There are legal reasons for being accessible, too. Just prior to the Sydney Olympic Games, SOCOG was successfully sued for failing to make its website accessible.

There is also the Disabilities Discrimination Act (1992) which requires equal access for people with disabilities. It is a basic human right and is supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In Australia, all governments (State and Federal) and government agencies and sub-contractors need to comply with accessibility standards.

If that doesn’t convince you it’s worth it, here is a series of business cases why accessibility is good for the bottom line.

Conditions that can affect the way people use a website

There is a range of conditions that can affect how a person may interact with your website.

Vision: colour blindness, impaired vision or blindness.  According to Vision 2020, there are an estimated 575,000 people with vision impairment in Australia.

Use good contrast, especially for text. The easiest to read is black text on a white background. There are loads on online tools, such as the Color Contrast Analyzer Chrome extension you can install (for free) right into your browser to help you check your contrast in text and background images.

Hearing: affecting a person’s ability to hear.

Worth thinking about in terms of videos or audio. Do you have captions? Do you automatically start playing clips? It’s best to turn autoplay off.

Motor skills: it can be difficult for people with tremor, Parkinson’s disease, neuropathy to make precise mouse moves.

Do you use big buttons? Is your site navigable with a keyboard instead of just a mouse?

Photosensitivity: seizures can be triggered by flashing lights.

Cognitive disabilities: understanding content can be difficult for people with dementia or dyslexia, for example. Use easy to understand language and short sentences. Spell out acronyms.

Best practice is to achieve W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

Technology that assists users

People with any condition that impacts their ability to use a standard website have access to a growing range of assistive technology.

These can include screen-readers (watch a real example), voice-to-text software, voice browsers, screen magnifiers, refreshable braille displays, and others.

There are also plugins that enable changes, made by the user, to font sizes, colours, hiding parts that are less relevant, remove animations, and other features. A good one for WordPress is WordPress Accessibility Helper

In fact, when it comes to choosing the right platform, WordPress is at the vanguard of accessibility with its own Make WordPress Accessible team.

Why it benefits your healthcare website to be accessible

Having an accessible website not only means that more users can access your information easily.

It can also have flow-on benefit to your Search engine optimisation (SEO). This means you will be more easily found by search engines like Google, Bing, and others.

Test and remediate your website

Keyboard Testing

Most kinds of assistive technology use the keyboard, so check that your site is keyboard-friendly. Usually, the TAB key and the shift and arrows help the user get around the site. Check your own healthcare website with these keys (not the mouse).

A free tool to check for you is http://wave.webaim.org/

Alt text

Can you imagine flicking through a photo album and seeing page after page of empty squares of paper? This is the experience for a person using assistive technology if there is no alt text.

All images need a text description in case a user cannot see the image. The alt text should be an accurate description of what the image contains.

Structure

Headings: So that a website makes sense to assistive technology, use H1, H2 and H3 tags in the correct hierarchy.

ARIA Landmarks Also, areas where the content changes while the page is loading is called ‘dynamic content’. As you can imagine, it can be confusing for an assistive device.

You can tag these items with an ARIA landmark so that the device understands that the area is dynamic content. WordPress themes that are accessible-ready will be able to add these ARIA landmarks for you.

Forms need to be clearly labelled for each field.

Tables are not a good way to format a page. Tables are best avoided (unless you are displaying tabular data where there is a clear Header row).

Clear descriptions

As mentioned above, using plain language that is easy to understand makes your website content more accessible. Spell out acronyms and don’t assume knowledge.

Resizeable and Reflowable Sizes

It is better to avoid specifying absolute sizes in pixels for text. Instead, a solid WordPress theme will be responsive to devices and rescale according to the user’s needs.

In summary

Under Australian government rules, it isn’t just website that need to be accessible. It’s also all publicly available documents, including Word and PDF. Fortunately, much software has accessibility tools to help with the process.

Healthcare and medical websites are at the forefront of essential health services. We have a duty of care to our clients and patients to make it easy for them to do business with us. But there are also benefits to our business when we do.

It is a way of simplifying and future-proofing our code.

Image credit: Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

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