Is your Website Accessible?
In part 1 of our three part series on Website Accessibility, we discussed what website accessibility is and why you should care. Now let’s dive a little deeper so you can determine if your website is accessible.
What makes a site accessible?
As we discussed in part one, there is a private entity that developed the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is currently the standard to follow in terms of Accessibility. But it’s written in a way that is very technical, so our goal with this post is to simplify the meaning of accessibility for you. In no way does this post replace the guidelines—it’s meant as an introduction to what you need to be thinking about as a website owner.
Let’s break down the general components of website accessibility. There are three main categories that accessibility can be grouped into:
1. Is your site accessible for the vision impaired?
2. Is your site accessible for the hearing impaired?
3. Is your site accessible for the physically impaired?
There are two types of impairment that in this category: Blindness or low vision, and Color Blindness.
For a person who is blind or suffers from low vision, websites need to be readable by screen readers (apps and programs that verbalize a website), and be in logical structural order for the screen readers to properly do their job. This means all text on the site needs to be in written, HTML text format. Photos on a website also need to have what are called alt tags so that screen readers can indicate to a person with a vision impairment what the images are.
For a person who is color blind, contrast in color needs to be at a certain level in order for all the text, imagery, logos, and more to be readable. Additionally, color should not be used to convey information.
If you have any content on your site that is audible (sound recordings, video, music, etc.), it needs to be transcribed or captioned on the site. For instance, if you embed a YouTube video that you’d put together on how to boil an egg, anything that you say in that video either needs captions within the video or a transcription that can be read.
There are some people who cannot use a mouse. Loss of limbs or manual dexterity challenges make using a website difficult. For this reason, you must be able to navigate your website without the use of a mouse. This means you should be able to tab through the website using keyboard-only access, and should also be able to stop or slow down things like sliders on a homepage without a mouse.
A final rule in website accessibility (but really, just a good rule to follow for 2019!) is to not have any flashing content on your website, as it can affect people with Epilepsy.
How do I know if my website is accessible?
The above guidelines all sound clear and easy to understand, but if you aren’t a developer, or you aren’t well-versed in how a website is built, how do you know if you need to address any issues on your website?
There are many tools available to audit your website’s accessibility. The myriad of tools are made for different types of checks, different operating systems, and different web browsers. Some are programs, some are plugins, some are just internet-based tools. It’s also worth noting that the tools are by no means 100% accurate.
One of the more popular tools, which doesn’t require installing a program or plugin (although they do offer an extension), and tests for multiple types of accessibility, is the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. Simply enter your web address in the field at the center of the page, and see what errors, alerts, and flags come up. You’ll need to review each and every page of your website using this tool as it reviews one page at a time. And you’ll also need to review multiple types of errors and flags.
Using this free tool, though, is a start. It’s a place where you can at least understand whether your site is completely in-accessible (as would be the case with, for instance, a flash website), or has many or just some errors.
Use these tools, and use them often
The benefit to a tool like this is that you can use it often. Website accessibility isn’t something that you do once, and never think about again. It’s important to keep your website content up to date, add new material, and keep it relevant. In doing so, you are adding new pages, new text, new images, and more that will need to be equally accessible. Part of having an accessible website is auditing it regularly, and building new content that is still accessible.
Another option to know if your site is accessible is to hire a consultant. A quick search of Website Accessibility Consultants brings up a plethora of options. This is an industry that has grown thanks to the rise in litigation.
One advantage to a consultant is that they will be doing live testing on your site. This means they will actually be interacting with the site as a disabled person might, and testing the actual functionality of your accessibility. They can help to put together a plan for making your site accessible, and in many cases, can help to implement that plan.
Additionally, you will find many “judgement calls” that need to be made in website accessibility that a consultant can help with. If you read part 1 of our series, you’ll remember that there are no actual guidelines or laws specifically stating the websites need to be accessible (though this has not curtailed litigation). Without a law on the books, there are many instances that come up that may leave you wondering what is OK and what isn’t.
The downside is cost. A consultant is not going to be free, of course. And in many cases, your work with a consultant may need to span many months, and potentially be indefinite, due to the continual testing that needs to be performed on websites.
The next step: Making your site accessible
Once you have an understanding of the shape your website is in, the next step will be to do something about it. Look for our final post—part three—where we discuss some of the ways to make your site accessible!