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The internet is for everyone - creating accessible online forms

Meet new website standards by offering accessible online forms. Our tips can help.

Accessibility is a core tenet of good modern web design. Ensuring your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, is standard across the web. Many places, such as the US, have legal requirements for web accessibility. Online forms are no exception. 

Accessible forms ensure that every user can access and properly complete your online form. Whether its purpose is event registration, feedback, job applications, or something else, enable anyone to use your forms with our form accessibility best practices.

61 million adults in the US live with some form of disability. The web is intended to work for all people, so web accessibility efforts are necessary to remove barriers to interaction and communication online. And accessibility doesn’t just impact people with disabilities. Accessible forms and websites also benefit people using mobile devices with small screens, older people with changing abilities due to aging, people with slow Internet connections or limited bandwidth, and others with situational or temporary disabilities that disrupt their capacity for web use in the short term.

If your website or online form isn’t accessible, you’re potentially excluding a large portion of the population from accessing your site or service.

In today’s world, we perform many tasks online. The Internet is a critical resource for education, work, healthcare, banking, and many other functions. An inaccessible website is similar to a business with no ramp or an inaccessible entrance. It bars some people from entering. When people are excluded from using these resources due to inaccessible websites or forms, they are effectively shut out of participating in these aspects of modern society. For example, an online registration form that isn’t accessible may prevent users with disabilities from registering for an event.

Everyone should have an equal opportunity to access online content. Embrace inclusivity by making your site and forms support individuals who are neurodiverse, visually impaired, or older. As good humans, making our online content accessible is the right thing to do.

Accessible form design and web design afford your business a wider audience who will have an enhanced experience on their journey through your website. An accessible design will also increase web traffic and customer engagement and lead to more conversions. It will impact usability for older people, those with limited access to technology, and those in rural areas or developing countries. Ignoring the needs of users with disabilities excludes a huge group of potential customers.

The World Federation of Advertisers estimates that the disability market influences over $13 trillion in annual disposable income. In other words, the accessibility of your website and online forms can make you money—or cost you money.

In general, web accessibility best practices are defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which sets international standards for web accessibility.

In addition to WCAG, there are established legal frameworks that ensure internet accessibility. For example, if you run an American government website, you’re bound by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not considered a broadly enforceable law but is often cited in civil suits filed against websites whose owners have not met accessibility standards, so it’s important to understand their standards as well.

There are four main criteria set forth in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2 requirements. Each of these criteria addresses a different accessibility need and offers ways to fulfill each one. The WCAG Quick Reference guide provides direction for meeting each of these criteria. Let’s take a high-level look at each one in terms of how it affects your online forms.

The first criterion for accessible form design indicates that users must be able to easily perceive page content. There are a few points in this section that are applicable to forms:

  • Provide text alternatives for any non-text content such as controls
  • If your form includes a video, ensure that it is appropriately captioned
  • Create content in a meaningful sequence
  • Don’t use color as the only means of conveying information
  • Ensure adequate contrast between text, background, and images

The second criterion indicates that users must be able to operate the core functionality of the form easily. As far as forms go, keep these points in mind:

  • Content should be simply navigated with a range of input devices
  • Content should be operable through the use of a keyboard interface
  • Headings, labels, and titles should be used to describe topics and the purpose of the content

The third criterion set forth by WCAG 2 is that content on a website should be simple, clear, and easy to understand. Overly complicated language or terminology can make it difficult for some users to understand what is being presented—particularly if they have cognitive impairments. Keep these points in mind when creating an online form:

  • Clear, concise language
  • Avoid idioms and jargon
  • Identify abbreviations
  • Keep reading level at or below lower secondary education level if possible
  • Ensure that error identification is described if an input error occurs
  • Use labels or instructions when content requires input
  • Provide context-sensitive help

The fourth and last criterion concerns making content robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide range of user agents, including assistive technology (e.g. screen readers). For online forms, consider these points:

  • Use appropriate markup languages, tags, and elements
  • SurveyMonkey ensures that your forms are properly compatible and programmed to function appropriately with assistive technology

When you’re ready to create your first accessible online form, keep in mind that disabilities can take many forms and can impact the way users can access and interact with websites. Because of this, there are many different ways organizations can ensure their websites and forms remain accessible to all. 

We’re going to outline some of the more prominent ways you can improve accessibility in your web forms. Keep in mind that there are many more, but for now let’s start with these form accessibility best practices. 

One of the easiest ways to ensure that your content is readable by those with limited vision is to use text and other page elements that are properly contrasted with the form background. Higher contrast levels make it easier to read the text for all users, and it also improves readability for individuals with color blindness.

SurveyMonkey offers classic and standard themes you can choose for your forms that are compliant with Section 508 standards. Just look for the accessible survey icon when choosing a theme.

Our Heritage, Arctic, Iceberg, Pastel, Aqua, and Charcoal themes comply with Section 508 standards. These themes can be found under the style tab in the form builder.

Users with visual impairments often use screen reader technology to read and interact with online content. The technology reads the form content aloud and also provides information about other elements on the page. 

For screen readers to function properly, they need to be able to discern and communicate to the user what a form field is looking for. Don’t assume that placeholder text within the form field is enough. A label must be added directly adjacent to the field to clearly identify what information should be provided. In addition, all form controls, including fields, checkboxes, and radio buttons, should have an accompanying <label> attribute within the page code.

SurveyMonkey ensures that all forms created with our online form builder have all the correct coding in the backend.

Screen readers and other software have come a long way, but they still aren’t great at interpreting the contents of images or videos. You may want to avoid using these assets in your forms to make them more accessible.

In cases where an image or video is necessary, include descriptive alt text. Alt text is an attribute you can add to your image or video that will be read aloud to those using screen readers. It should describe the appearance or function of the image or video on the form. 

Alt text should be very descriptive. For example, for an image of a stack of waffles, you could simply use “waffles” as your alt text. A better version would be “a stack of Belgian waffles with butter and syrup.” The second provides a more accurate description of the image and is more helpful to the user who has limited vision.

Some fields on your form will be required, and others may be optional. While you may choose to use a different color to indicate required fields, this won’t be effective for all users. 

Required fields are marked with an asterisk by default in SurveyMonkey, and it’s important to explain in your survey introduction that fields with asterisks are required fields.

As an example, let’s look at feedback forms. Regardless of the type of feedback you’re looking for, it’s a good idea to make some of the questions optional. A customer feedback form may ask for particulars about the user’s experience with Brand A. These questions need to be answered, so should be required. At the end of the survey, the user may be asked if they have any further comments about their experience with Brand A. This should be an optional field, so if they have no more to add to what they’ve already included in the form, they can skip the question and still submit the form without encountering errors.

Screen readers and other accessibility tools are less reliable when on-screen content changes quickly. The “one question at a time” format will show online form fields one at a time, revealing a new field after the one is completed. This rapidly changing format is not compatible with most accessibility tools and will end up frustrating to users. Instead, group questions by theme and only use multiple pages if necessary.

  • Matrix of dropdown menus
  • Click map
  • Accepting payments page
  • Multilingual surveys (screen readers won’t be able to choose the preferred language for a dropdown)
  • Forced ranking for matrix/rating scale questions

Why follow form accessibility best practices? Basically, because there are potential consequences you’ll have to face if your form isn’t accessible. The two most impactful are form abandonment and legal action.

As we’ve mentioned, there is a large number of people with disabilities in our population. When your content is accessible, you can connect with a larger audience, which leads to more people encountering and using your online form. If individuals cannot use your form properly, they will abandon it, causing you to lose their feedback, registration, or other input.

While laws around web accessibility aren’t generally enforceable, some organizations will file lawsuits against the owners of websites that don’t meet accessibility standards. These suits have increased in recent years. To avoid these legal issues, ensure that your forms are as accessible as possible.

To make the most of your online form, use SurveyMonkey to ensure it’s accessible to the largest number of people. Follow our form accessibility best practices and tips to create a successful form.

Speaking of forms, we have an online form builder to help you build and share your registration, feedback, complaint, payment, and other online forms with ease. You build and customize forms for any purpose and use integrations to accept payments, automate workflows, and more. 

All it takes to get started is a SurveyMonkey account. To create more surveys with your team, choose the plan that’s right for you today!

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