7 Best Practices for Building Accessible Web Applications

Web accessibility is crucial for creating an inclusive and user-friendly experience on the internet. It ensures that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with web applications, as well as contribute to them. Designing accessible web applications also benefits other users by providing better usability, compatibility, and maintainability. In this blog post, we will explore seven best practices for building accessible web applications. We will provide code examples and explanations to help you understand and implement these practices effectively, whether you are a beginner or an experienced developer. So, let's dive in and learn how to make the web a more accessible place for everyone.

1. Use semantic HTML

Using semantic HTML elements helps convey the meaning and structure of your content to both the users and the browsers. This is especially important for screen reader users, as it helps them navigate through your web application with ease. Here are some examples of semantic HTML elements:

  • <header> for header content
  • <nav> for navigation
  • <main> for main content
  • <aside> for sidebar content
  • <footer> for footer content
  • <article> for individual articles or blog posts
  • <section> for grouping related content

Example

Here's a simple example of how to use semantic HTML elements in your web application:

<!DOCTYPE html> <html lang="en"> <head> <meta charset="UTF-8"> <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0"> <title>Accessible Web Application</title> </head> <body> <header> <h1>Company Name</h1> <nav> <ul> <li><a href="#home">Home</a></li> <li><a href="#about">About</a></li> <li><a href="#contact">Contact</a></li> </ul> </nav> </header> <main> <article> <h2>Welcome to our website</h2> <p>...</p> </article> <article> <h2>About Us</h2> <p>...</p> </article> </main> <aside> <h3>Latest News</h3> <ul> <li>...</li> <li>...</li> </ul> </aside> <footer> <p>Copyright &copy; 2023 Company Name. All rights reserved.</p> </footer> </body> </html>

2. Ensure proper contrast ratios

It's essential to have sufficient contrast between text and its background to ensure that users, including those with low vision or color blindness, can read your content easily. As per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the minimum contrast ratio for normal text should be 4.5:1 and for large text, it should be 3:1.

You can use online tools like WebAIM's Contrast Checker to test the contrast ratio of your text and background colors.

Example

Here's an example of how to set the text and background colors with a proper contrast ratio:

body { background-color: #ffffff; /* white */ color: #333333; /* dark gray */ }

In this example, the contrast ratio between the white background and the dark gray text is 13.6:1, which exceeds the minimum requirement.

3. Use ARIA attributes and roles

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) attributes and roles help provide additional information about the behavior and structure of your web application, making it more accessible to users with disabilities. They are especially useful when you're working with custom controls, dynamic content, or elements that do not have built-in accessibility features.

Here are some examples of ARIA attributes and roles:

  • aria-label: Provides a human-readable label for an element that may not have a visible label
  • aria-labelledby: Associates an element with one or more other elements that provide its label
  • aria-describedby: Associates an element with one or more other elements that provide its description
  • role: Defines the role of an element in the application (e.g., button, checkbox, dialog, slider)

Example

Here's an example of how to use ARIA attributes and roles in a custom dropdown menu:

<div role="button" tabindex="0" aria-haspopup="true" aria-expanded="false" aria-label="Menu"> <span>Menu</span> <div role="menu" aria-hidden="true"> <a href="#" role="menuitem" tabindex="-1">Home</a> <a href="#" role="menuitem" tabindex="-1">About</a> <a href="#" role="menuitem" tabindex="-1">Contact</a> </div> </div>

In this example, we've assigned a role of button to the menu trigger and a role of menu to the container with the menu items. We've also used aria-haspopup and aria-expanded attributes to indicate that the menu is expandable and whether it is currently expanded or not. Additionally, the aria-label attribute is used to provide a label for the menu trigger, which may not be visible to all users.

4. Ensure keyboard accessibility

Users with motor disabilities or those who prefer using the keyboard for navigation need to be able to access all interactive elements of your web application using only the keyboard. To ensure keyboard accessibility:

  • Make sure all interactive elements are focusable using the tab key
  • Use the tabindex attribute to control the focus order of elements
  • Implement keyboard event handlers for custom controls, such as Enter and Space for buttons, and arrow keys for sliders or menus

Example

Here's an example of how to make a custom button accessible using the keyboard:

<div role="button" tabindex="0" aria-label="Click me" id="customButton">Click me</div> <script> const customButton = document.getElementById('customButton'); customButton.addEventListener('keydown', (event) => { if (event.key === 'Enter' || event.key === ' ') { event.preventDefault(); customButton.click(); } }); </script>

In this example, we've assigned a tabindex of 0 to the custom button, making it focusable using the tab key. We've also added a keydown event listener to handle the Enter and Space keys, triggering a click event when either of these keys is pressed.

5. Provide alternative text for images

Users with visual impairments rely on screen readers to access the content of web applications. To ensure that your images are accessible, always provide alternative text using the alt attribute. This text should describe the image's content or purpose, helping users understand its context.

Example

Here's an example of how to provide alternative text for an image:

<img src="logo.png" alt="Company Logo">

In this example, we've added the alt attribute tothe image tag with a value that describes the purpose of the image. In this case, it's the company logo.

6. Use descriptive link text

When creating links in your web application, it's essential to use descriptive text that clearly indicates the link's purpose. Avoid using ambiguous phrases like "click here" or "read more", as they do not provide enough context for users, especially those using screen readers.

Example

Instead of writing:

<p>For more information about our products, <a href="products.html">click here</a>.</p>

Write:

<p>Learn more about our <a href="products.html">products</a>.</p>

In the second example, the link text "products" clearly indicates the purpose of the link, providing more context for all users.

7. Test your web application for accessibility

Testing is a crucial part of building accessible web applications. By testing your application, you can identify and fix any accessibility issues that may have been overlooked during development. Some ways to test your web application for accessibility include:

  • Using automated testing tools like axe or Lighthouse
  • Performing manual testing using keyboard navigation and a screen reader, such as NVDA or VoiceOver
  • Conducting usability tests with users who have disabilities to gather their feedback and insights

Example

To test your web application using the Lighthouse tool in Google Chrome:

  1. Open the Developer Tools by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I (Windows/Linux) or Cmd+Opt+I (Mac).
  2. Navigate to the Lighthouse tab.
  3. Click the Generate report button.
  4. In the generated report, review the Accessibility section for any issues and recommendations.

Remember that while automated testing tools can help identify many accessibility issues, they may not catch everything. Manual testing and user feedback are essential for ensuring a truly accessible web application.

By following these seven best practices, you can create web applications that are not only accessible but also provide a better experience for all users. Always consider accessibility as an integral part of your development process and strive to improve your skills and understanding of accessible design principles. With your efforts, you can help make the web a more inclusive and user-friendly place for everyone.

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