When coming up with a design for a new website, most business owners focus on the fundamentals – they want a slick user interface and a beautiful layout, and they want the web pages to be populated with plenty of quality content.
While these elements are certainly important, they aren’t the only ones that can have a meaningful impact on your website. You also have to consider if your website is compatible with screen readers and keyboard-based navigation functions.
What Is a Screen Reader?
Screen readers are programs that make it easier to navigate a website. More specifically, they are programs that allow visually impaired or blind users to move through a website with greater ease. Screen readers are often activated by pressing certain keys, which allows a few different types of opportunities:
- Reading displayed text aloud. A user can input a specific set of instructions and tell the screen reader how to process the content displayed on the screen, and they can instruct the program to read a single sentence or all the lines displayed onscreen at that moment.
- Spell out specific words. Apart from reading the displayed text aloud, the screen reader can process those lines in other ways. For instance, they can focus on a word and spell it out. That feature proves helpful often because many words in the English language are pronounced similarly.
- Find a link quickly. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, screen readers can also be used to find specific bits of text. That should allow users to quickly find a link that they may have passed over earlier.
- Sort through dropdown options. Screen readers also offer an easy way to sort through the options of a drop-down menu. When the menu shows up, the screen reader can read the highlighted text, so users know if it’s the option they need.
- Locate their cursor. A user can also locate their cursor with the help of a screen reader. It’s a nice feature that makes navigation more manageable for blind and visually impaired individuals.
What are Keyboard-Based Navigation Functions?
Like screen readers, some functions can be added to a website to simplify keyboard navigation. Those functions are hugely helpful to people with physical disabilities who are unable to use a mouse. That’s why they need to be included if you want to design or redesign your website.
To accommodate keyboard-based navigation functions, your website must be compatible with certain features. First and foremost, complete keyboard accessibility is a must. Users should be able to access every single element of your website using just their keyboard. If there is an element there that cannot be accessed with the keyboard, you have to update it.
There are certain keys that are particularly important:
- The arrow keys are among them. Users rely on those to move through links or adjust elements of their computer.
- The tab key is also used often for navigation. It allows users to skip from one link to another quickly. Website designers must be careful when integrating new functions into the tab key, though. They have to be certain that the way the tab moves is logical so users will not get confused.
- Enter and escape keys are similarly important, but their focus is not necessarily on movement. The enter key is often used for opening a link while the escape key allows users to back out of a menu.
The Web Accessibility Initiative also highlights the importance of giving users a way to jump between paragraphs using keyboard controls. Those controls are suitable substitutes for the scrolling capabilities provided by a mouse.
Why Are Screen Readers and Keyboard-Based Navigation Functions Important?
Adding screen reader compatibility and accommodating keyboard-based navigation functions will require a supplemental investment of time and resources, but for business owners, integrating these features into your business’s website is well worth it for several reasons:
They Make Your Website More Accessible
The number one reason you should want those features for your website is that they significantly improve accessibility. Without them, visually impaired individuals and people with disabilities may be unable to access your website. As mentioned in an interview between CNBC and web accessibility leader accessiBe, only two percent of existing U.S. websites are actually accessible, even though an estimated one in four adults has a form of disability.
It’s all about inclusivity. If you’ve created great pieces of content or you’re selling products that you believe are of high quality, you should want as many people as possible to see them. You can make that happen with the help of screen readers and keyboard-based navigation features.
They Boost Your Website’s Visibility
Aside from improving accessibility, you should also consider integrating screen readers and keyboard-based navigation features because they can boost traffic.
Per Usability.gov, previous case studies have shown that websites perform better in search results if they provide accessible features. Search engine visibility can be crucial for new businesses trying to get established in their industry. Lean on accessibility-focused features to get a boost in that regard.
They Improve Your Business’ Reputation
Businesses need to establish their reputation early on. You want to be known for providing high-quality goods and services.
Developing a reputation as a business that prioritizes accessibility is a good idea as well. Make all your interested customers know that your website has been designed with accessibility in mind. Assure them that doing business with you will be a pleasant and beneficial experience for them.
Screen readers, navigation functions, and other accessibility-minded features are also constantly evolving. They will continue to improve and become more usable as companies invest further in their development. Be the beneficiary of that by featuring them on your website.