Navigation. Your navigation bars should be simple and easy to follow. If possible, have your designer create a “sticky menu” that will follow users as they scroll down the page, eliminating the need to scroll up the page to get to another place on your site.
Page types. Law firm websites are typically composed of six basic page categories. Using the individual page types correctly will make navigation much easier for your site visitors.
- Home: The home page provides a brief introduction to the firm and the firm’s practice areas.
- Practice areas: These pages are used to address each specific practice area in enough detail for potential clients to know if a firm handles the type of situation for which they need representation.
- Firm overview and/or professional bios: These pages provide clients with the opportunity to get to know the firm and the attorneys on a more personal level.
- News or updates: These pages are used to update potential clients on events occurring within the firm.
- Blog: Blog pages are used to provide more informal content on the firm’s practice areas, areas of general interest, and events in the legal community.
- Contact: This page provides a place for the firm’s contact information, including address, phone number, and fax number.
Page structure generally. As I am a marketing copywriter by trade, this area is my sweet spot. Start with a short introduction addressing the topic at hand and a gentle plug for your firm. Use the body of the page to dive into the particular topic being discussed and give the potential client a nice overview of the issue. Wrap up each page with a “call to action” asking the potential client to call you or e-mail you to learn more about how your firm can help.
Bullet and number lists. This is a simple tip: Use them. Using bullet points, numbered lists, and indentation makes things easier to read on the Internet. This is particularly true for users with visual impairments. Reading long blocks of text on the Internet is difficult, even for people with normal vision.
Page length. Keep your page lengths reasonably short: Aim for 300 words to 550 words each. If you write pages longer than that, you risk losing your readers.
Now that you have a handle on your basic website design and content structure, you can jump into the different ways to improve the user experience for disabled visitors.
Disabilities That Affect User Experience
Cornell University provides through its Disability Statistics website (disabilitystatistics.org) an overview of the disabled population in the United States, including accurate statistical information about specific disabilities and their prevalence in different states. (I encourage you to check out this site; understanding the prevalence of specific disabilities in your target market can be extremely helpful.) Of the disabilities detailed on this website, the following are most likely to affect the user experience:
- Blindness and vision impairments
- Mobility/dexterity impairments
- Deafness and hearing impairments
- Photosensitive epilepsy
A simple Google search will reveal a number of recommendations for improving your website’s usability for disabled visitors, but I have found the recommendations from the World Wide Web Consortium (w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility) with respect to website design and accessibility to be well supported and helpful; I have used these recommendations to guide the suggestions I make throughout this article.
Blindness and Vision Impairments
You may be surprised to learn that more than 2 percent of the U.S. population lives with some sort of visual disability. Cornell University defines a visual disability as blindness or serious difficulty seeing even with glasses.
Because the Internet is typically a visual means of communication, vision impairment can greatly impact a potential client’s use of your website. To connect with this population, your best bet is to use some or all the tools discussed below.
- Text enlargement. For many visually impaired individuals, being able to enlarge the text of a website with their computer’s zoom feature (without affecting the layout of the entire site) can be extremely helpful. An easy way to do this is to ask your designer to create different style sheets that are responsive to a visitor’s zoom use. Your designer can also create a feature on your site that allows users to manually change the font size and save their preferences as a cookie. For instance, WordPress sites can use a plug-in such as WP-Font-Resizer (wordpress.org/plugins/wp-font-resizer) to add this function to a law firm website.
- Enabling mobile site design on a desktop. Mobile sites are sometimes easier to read and navigate because some of the interesting but non-essential design elements have been stripped away. Text is typically larger to allow for easy reading on a mobile device, and the menu bar is normally condensed and reorganized to make locating the desired page simpler. By allowing your visitors to enable the mobile design on a desktop computer, you may eliminate many of the barriers visually impaired users typically encounter.
- Contrast, thick fonts, and highlighting. For many visually impaired individuals, websites designed with high-contrast colors are easier to navigate. Additionally, thick fonts are easier to read than thin ones. You should also allow users to highlight elements on your site; highlighting often creates additional contrast that helps your users view specific elements.
- Text-to-speech options. Many visually impaired individuals use text-to-speech products that allow them to surf the Internet with ease. I encourage attorneys looking to reach visually impaired and disabled individuals to allow potential clients to hear their website by creating the option within the site. Your web designer can help you explore your options, but if you are using WordPress, one popular plug-in is TTS Engine Post to Speech (wordpress.org/plugins/tts-engine-post-to-speech). It is worth taking a look at.
- Color choices. One of the most prevalent visual impairments is color blindness. Although color blindness doesn’t always amount to a disabling condition, it can greatly impact an individual’s ability to successfully navigate a website. According to A.D.A.M. Inc. (tinyurl.com/3ukuhmn), color blindness affects one in ten men (but significantly fewer women). The most common type of color blindness is the inability to distinguish between red and green. Some color-blind individuals also have difficulty seeing blue and yellow colors. In the most extreme cases, the individual doesn’t see colors but varying shades of black and white. To allow color-blind clients to use your website, avoid using red and green color combinations or blue and yellow combinations in your navigation bar or to indicate different choices. You should also avoid using color exclusively to differentiate between important pieces of information. If color plays an important role in an image or info-graphic, explaining the information conveyed in alternative, embedded text will be extremely helpful for color-blind clients.
Many web users have difficulty with dexterity as a result of age or physical disability. Implementing a few easy design features can make your site much easier to use for people with limited dexterity.
- Navigation via keyboard or single-switch device. For some web users, operating a traditional mouse is not an option. Coding your website so that it can be navigated using a keyboard or single-switch device makes the website accessible to a wider number of users. This can be an especially welcome addition to your site for clients who are adapting to limited dexterity after a severe accident or illness. Many of these clients are not used to relying on others for assistance, and the ability to navigate your website themselves and choose their own attorney will be a welcome relief.
- Enlarged clickable areas. Clicking on small areas can be extremely difficult for users with limited motor skills. You can get a sense of the resulting frustration by navigating a website that isn’t mobile friendly from your smartphone and clicking on an embedded link. If you are anything like me, you may find that you have to zoom multiple times before you can click the desired link. Eliminate such frustrations for your clients on your website by simply increasing the size of clickable areas. This option cannot be emphasized enough. It can be immensely helpful both to people with limited dexterity and to those with little experience using a mouse or touchpad.
Deafness and Hearing Impairments
With the increased prevalence of audio files and videos on websites, you need to be aware of deaf and hearing-impaired clients who may not be able to access the content you provide in this manner.
- Transcription and/or closed captioning. By providing transcriptions and closed captioning for audio and video files, you can reach a greater number of potential clients. This can be especially helpful for podcasts and radio interviews that would otherwise be totally inaccessible for deaf or hearing-impaired potential clients.
- Sign language. Another option is to have a sign language interpreter in each of your videos or recreate each video featuring a sign language interpreter. By creating a sign language–specific video, you get the increased value of using a video on your website while allowing hearing-impaired potential clients to access the information.
Some web users have a particular sensitivity to strobe lights or rapidly moving images. Websites can aggravate this condition through the use of flashing lights and rapidly scrolling images. The Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (trace.wisc.edu) provides some helpful suggestions for making your website safe for users with photosensitive epilepsy and provides a tool for web designers to test the design of certain websites. If you are looking to employ flashing lights or images to catch your user’s attention, you should test the design using the Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool (PEAT; trace.wisc.edu/peat) to ensure that it is safe for all users. There are also other tools available online for your designer to use, depending on the programing language being used to build your website.
Make It Easy for Potential Clients
As you can see, there are a number of design choices you can make and tools you can employ to assist disabled individuals who visit your website. By focusing on your disabled visitors, you ensure everyone can use your site—and increase the likelihood of landing your next case. Good luck with the new designs. I can’t wait to see what your sites look like!