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5 Most Common Website Accessibility Barriers

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Headings & Layout, Navigation, Alternative Text and Tags, Structure of Forms, and Non-HTML Content

Developing a website to comply with website accessibility standards will include an approach based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The guidelines are designed for those with disabilities who would otherwise be unable to use the website they were hoping to navigate. For those with visual impairments, many issues may inhibit a user from using a website. The layout, headings, navigation, non-HTML content, missing, or inaccurate alt text affect the ability to use screen readers or other applicable technology properly.

Typically relying on keyboard commands, screen readers provide information about icons, files, folders, and other text found on the screen. All operating systems include a screen reader, and many can read all or parts of visible text on a page. To fully comply with a screenreader, however, a website must be created with website accessibility in mind. Technology supporting those with disabilities rely on well structured, accessibility enables code. Errors in code or faulty creation can triggers errors in screen readers and other technology used.

Here are a few of the most common compliance barriers for users with visual impairments:

Headings & Layout

Proper use of web headings is critical in allowing the user to find what they are looking for on a page. Rather than using headings decoratively, placing them in a descending order that is logical will increase the likelihood of an impaired user interpreting the web page correctly. Screen readers vary in complexity and ability to understand CSS or HTML. This can create issues when a screen reader must determine what sequence the text is presented. Screen reader technology also allows users to search for text on-screen, while these users rarely will read an entire web page. With this in mind, structuring HTML in a logical order that reads left to right/top to bottom will increase the likelihood of compliance with screen reader technology.


Navigation is not detected by screen readers, meaning if not labeled accordingly, it will trigger a screen reader to read the text forcing a user with visual impairment to listen to the navigation over and over again each time a new page loads. Creating navigation that is website accessibility allows the screen reader to skip over this text.

Alternative Text and Tags for Images

Alternative tagging on imagers must convey the content of the image. Images within a website can comply with accessibility standards, as long as tagging and descriptions are used correctly. Shorty and concise descriptions allow users to navigate content quickly as needed. Imagery with repeated alternative text should be avoided as screen readers will read each image descriptor, over and over again. Decorative images must be labeled accordingly, and having missing alternative text will negatively impact your web presence. Alternative text with no information, or a null attribute, will announce a non-descriptive image, which will create confusion for the user. If the image is critical in understanding the context of the page, the user will be unable to use the web page.

Structure of Forms

Labeling forms on a page is critical in enabling the use of the feature for those users with visual impairments. Forms are often a common barrier for users with disabilities as they are commonly misrepresented by screen reader technology. To fully comply with accessibility standards, clearly label each text box, button, and any use of captchas, as well as an alternative function enabling audio. Any errors made by the users must be prompted, by displaying error text to the user if a form error occurs.

Non-HTML Content

Additional content, including on websites, including PDF presentation, typically includes compliance barriers for those users with disabilities. Tagging PDFs for navigation by a screen reader is possible, while other document types offer technology within the software.

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