The Art and Beauty of an Accessible Website

The Art and Beauty of an Accessible Website

The Heart of Web Design

Imagine Steve Jobs meticulously crafting the inside of a computer, knowing that even if no one else sees it, it matters. This attention to unseen detail mirrors the importance of accessibility in web design. An accessible website isn't just about looking good; it's about ensuring everyone can use it, no matter their abilities. In the same way that Jobs cared about the parts of a computer that users wouldn't normally see, we should care about the aspects of our websites that many users may not notice—unless they need them.

Jobs once said, “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back”[^1]. This philosophy of internal beauty is directly applicable to web design: the hidden details, like accessibility features, are just as important as the visible ones.

Developer Negligence

Too often, developers focus solely on the visual appeal of a website, neglecting accessibility. This oversight can create significant barriers for users with disabilities. For example, a beautiful website with a sleek design might be completely unusable for someone who relies on a screen reader if it lacks proper accessibility features. A button, no matter how elegant, is useless if it cannot be identified or operated by all users. This lack of consideration not only excludes a portion of potential users but also reflects poorly on the developer's attention to detail and empathy.

Understanding Accessibility Laws

Laws and guidelines like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are in place to ensure websites are accessible to everyone. These regulations are not just legal requirements but also ethical imperatives, guiding us to create inclusive digital spaces. Ignoring these laws can lead to legal consequences, but more importantly, it means failing to provide an equitable web experience. Adhering to these standards shows a commitment to inclusivity and respect for all users.

Merging Accessibility and Clean Code

When developers think about accessibility from the start, they write better code. Consider a simple button on a website. If the button is coded with clear labels and can be easily navigated using a keyboard, it enhances the experience for all users, including those with disabilities. This kind of thoughtful coding makes websites more robust and user-friendly. Accessibility isn't an add-on; it's an integral part of good design. Clean, semantic code that prioritizes accessibility from the beginning is not only more efficient but also more effective.

Example: Accessible Button Code

Incorrect Code:


This button lacks an aria-label and doesn't specify its purpose clearly for screen readers.

Correct Code:

<button aria-label="Submit the form" tabindex="0" type="submit" title="Submit the form">Submit</button>

This button includes an aria-label for screen readers and a tabindex to ensure it can be navigated via keyboard.

Designing Beyond Personal Experience

A button might seem like a straightforward element, but if it's not accessible, it can exclude users. Just because it looks and works fine for you doesn't mean it's usable for everyone. For instance, a button without proper contrast might be invisible to someone with color blindness, or a button that can't be tabbed to is useless for someone who relies on keyboard navigation. Designing with empathy means considering perspectives beyond your own and ensuring that every element, no matter how small, can be used by everyone.

Example: Ensuring Proper Contrast

Incorrect Code:

button {
    background-color: #0053ba;
    color: #a5a5a5; /* Poor contrast */

This button uses a color with poor contrast, making it hard to read for some users.

Correct Code:

button {
    background-color: #0053ba; /* Ensure this color has enough contrast */
    color: #ffffff;

This button uses colors with sufficient contrast, making it easier to read for all users. Use tools like WebAIM's contrast checker to verify that your color choices meet accessibility standards.

Testing Tools and Techniques

Testing your website for accessibility is crucial. Use tools like screen readers to experience your site as a visually impaired user would. Employ accessibility checkers to identify issues. Manual testing is also essential—try navigating your site using only a keyboard to ensure all functions are accessible. Regular testing and updates are necessary to maintain accessibility standards, as new content and features can introduce new challenges.

Example: Testing with a Screen Reader

  • Use screen readers like JAWS, NVDA, or VoiceOver to test your site. Navigate through your site and listen for issues like missing labels or unclear navigation paths.

Inspiring Examples of Accessible Websites

Example: Descriptive Link Text

Incorrect Code:

<a href="contact.html">Click here</a>
  • This link text is vague and provides no context to screen reader users.

Correct Code:

<a href="contact.html">Contact Us</a>
  • This link text is descriptive, providing clear context to all users, including those using screen readers.

The Inner Beauty of the Web

Steve Jobs believed in the importance of inner beauty, even if it's unseen. This philosophy applies to web design: accessibility is the inner beauty of a website. It's the care and attention to detail that ensures everyone can enjoy and use the site. As developers and designers, we have a responsibility to make the web accessible for all. By taking accessibility standards into account, the art that is your website or app can be appreciated by everyone. Just as Jobs valued the unseen parts of his creations, we should value and prioritize the unseen aspects of our websites that make them accessible to everyone. By doing so, we honor the true spirit of design—creating something beautiful inside and out.

Additional Details on the Importance of Accessible Code and Content

Accessible code and content are critical for several reasons:

Inclusivity: Ensures that people with disabilities can access and use your website. This includes individuals with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments.

User Experience: Accessible websites offer a better user experience for everyone, including those using different devices and technologies.

Legal Compliance: Helps avoid legal issues by complying with accessibility laws and standards.

Reputation: Demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility and can enhance your brand's reputation.

Broader Audience: Opens your website to a wider audience, potentially increasing traffic and engagement.

By focusing on accessibility, you not only create a more inclusive web but also improve the overall quality and usability of your site for all users. This is the true art and beauty of web design—crafting digital experiences that everyone can enjoy.

[^1]: Steve Jobs quote about craftsmanship and unseen details. Source: Steve Jobs’ Top 25 Most Motivational Quotes