Unlocking Inclusivity: How to Test Your Websites for Accessibility

Did you know accessibility to websites is a legal requirement in many countries? It’s also fundamental to making your website inclusive.

It’s worth learning about accessibility, and how to test your website for it. We’ll go over some tools, techniques, and best practices to create an inclusive online experience.

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Even if you plan to hand the actual work off to someone else, it’s good to know what needs to be done. Not every developer does.

By testing your website for accessibility, you can open the doors to a wider audience, enhance user experience, and demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity.

Understanding Website Accessibility

Website accessibility refers to designing and developing websites that can be easily navigated and understood by people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments. In many cases, it’s about making sure your website can be relayed easily by screenreaders.

To make things easier, there are some basic accessibility standards and guidelines. By sticking to them, you can ensure that your website is accessible to the widest possible audience, including people who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers, voice recognition software, or alternative input devices.

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Why Bother?

Accessibility is not just about compliance; it’s about creating a better user experience for everyone. When a website is accessible, it becomes more user-friendly, intuitive, and efficient.

And generally, what benefits users with disabilities also creates a better experience for those without. By investing in accessibility, you can improve the overall usability of your website.

Isn’t it Just a Tiny Percent of People?

I’ve encountered the perception that disabled web visitors are a vanishingly small percent of visitors overall and they must be poor, so who cares?

Putting aside the lack of compassion in that view, here are some basic business problems with it.

  • People who are losing vision or hearing due to age are typically older, from generations that have money and like spending it. It’s not in your best interest to frustrate them away from your site.
  • They frequently have money to spend. I’m not sure why the idea persists that all disabled people are poor, but this is just not true.
  • Many disabled people prefer shopping online to the hassle of trying to access stores. Here’s your chance to give them an easy, satisfying shopping experience they’ll want to repeat.
  • The changes you make will often also enhance a bot’s view of your site, which can raise your search engine rankings. It’s really a win-win.
  • And finally, defending yourself against an accessibility lawsuit can cost $50,000 to $100,000, and many business insurance policies exclude it.

It really is easier to just make your websites accessible. Once you get used to it, it’s second nature.

Key Accessibility Guidelines and Standards

The first step is to familiarize yourself with the relevant guidelines and standards. The most widely recognized set of guidelines is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WCAG provides a comprehensive set of recommendations and best practices for making web content more accessible. The guidelines are organized into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, with AAA being the highest level of accessibility.

While the specific requirements may vary depending on your target audience and the nature of your website, aiming for WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance is generally considered a good starting point.

In addition to WCAG, there are other accessibility standards and regulations that may apply to your website, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada, or the European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive. It’s important to research the specific requirements that apply to your website and ensure that you are meeting them.

Accessibility Testing Techniques and Tools

Assessing the accessibility of your website can be a complex and multifaceted process, but there are various techniques and tools available to help you identify and address accessibility issues.

Manual Testing

Manual testing involves a hands-on approach to evaluating your website’s accessibility. This method involves using assistive technologies, such as screen readers or alternative input devices, to navigate your website and identify any barriers or challenges that users with disabilities may encounter.

Manual testing can be time-consuming, but it provides valuable insights into the real-world user experience and can uncover issues that automated tools may miss.

Some common manual testing techniques include:

  1. Screen Reader Evaluation: Use screen reading software, such as JAWS, NVDA, or VoiceOver, to navigate your website and assess how well the content and functionality are conveyed to users who rely on these tools.
  2. Keyboard-only Navigation: Assess your website’s usability by navigating it using only the keyboard, without the use of a mouse or touchscreen. This helps identify any issues with keyboard accessibility.
  3. Color Contrast Checking: Visually inspect the color contrast between text and background elements to ensure that the content is easily readable for users with visual impairments.
  4. Assistive Technology Testing: Invite users with disabilities to test your website and provide feedback on their experiences. This can help you uncover unique accessibility challenges that may not be evident through other testing methods.

Automated Testing

Automated accessibility testing tools can be a powerful complement to manual testing. These tools can quickly scan your website, identify a wide range of accessibility issues, and provide detailed reports to help you prioritize and address the problems. Some popular automated testing tools include:

  1. WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool): A free, web-based tool that evaluates web pages for accessibility issues and provides detailed reports. It has browser extensions, too. This one is my favorite because it’s easy to understand.
  2. Lighthouse: An open-source, automated tool built into Google Chrome’s Developer Tools that can assess a website’s accessibility, performance, SEO, and more. Limited, but useful.
  3. aXe: A suite of accessibility testing tools that can be integrated into your development workflow, including browser extensions and command-line interfaces.
  4. SortSite: A comprehensive web testing tool that checks for accessibility issues, broken links, and other website problems.

One of my favorite tools for generating an accessible color palette for a new site is VennGage’s generator. Plug in a color you like, and it shows you colors that go with it, and how they look with white or black text. Or if you use a black or white background, as I do, you can assume the colors that work with black text will work on a black background, and ditto with white.

While automated tools can be extremely helpful, it’s important to note that they have limitations and may not catch all accessibility issues. Manual testing and user feedback remain crucial for a comprehensive accessibility assessment.

Integrating Accessibility Testing into Your Workflow

I make accessibility testing part of my website development and maintenance workflow. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I haven’t had to think about it in probably 14. I think of it as a normal part of web design.

This can involve the following steps:

  1. Establish Accessibility Policies and Procedures: Create clear guidelines and policies that outline your organization’s commitment to accessibility and the specific steps to be taken during the website development and maintenance processes.
  2. Incorporate Accessibility Testing into the Design and Development Phases: Conduct accessibility checks and evaluations at various stages of the website creation process, from the initial design phase to the final implementation.
  3. Automate Accessibility Testing: Integrate automated accessibility testing tools into your integration and deployment pipelines to catch issues early and prevent mistakes.
  4. Regularly Monitor and Maintain Accessibility: Regularly re-evaluate your website’s accessibility, address any new issues that arise, and ensure that your website remains compliant with the latest accessibility standards.
  5. Provide Accessibility Training for Your Team: Ensure that your developers, designers, and content creators are well-versed in accessibility best practices and understand their role in creating an inclusive online experience.

Addressing Accessibility Issues

Once you’ve identified accessibility issues on your website, the next step is to address them. This may involve a range of actions, depending on the specific problems you’ve uncovered.

Common Accessibility Issues and Solutions

  1. Poor Color Contrast: Ensure that the color contrast between text and background elements meets the WCAG guidelines for readability.
  2. Lack of Alternative Text for Images: Provide accurate and descriptive alternative text (alt text) for all images, so that screen readers can convey the content and purpose of the images to users.
  3. Inaccessible Forms: Ensure that form fields are properly labeled, instructions are clear, and users can navigate and submit forms using only a keyboard.
  4. Insufficient Heading Structure: Use appropriate heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to create a clear and logical document structure, making it easier for users with screen readers to navigate your content.
  5. Poorly Structured Tables: Ensure that data tables have proper markup, including table headers and cell associations, to enable screen readers to correctly interpret the content.
  6. Lack of Keyboard Accessibility: Ensure that all functionality on your website can be accessed and operated using only a keyboard, without the need for a mouse or touchscreen.
  7. Inaccessible Video and Audio Content: Provide captions, transcripts, or audio descriptions for all multimedia content to ensure that it is accessible to users with hearing or visual impairments.
  8. Unclear or Confusing Navigation: Ensure that your website’s navigation structure is intuitive and easy to understand, with clear labeling and consistent placement of navigation elements.
  9. Insufficient Zoom and Magnification: Ensure that your website’s content can be easily resized and magnified without loss of functionality or content.
  10. Lack of Accessibility Statements or Contact Information: Provide clear information about your website’s accessibility features and a way for users to report any accessibility issues they encounter.

Prioritizing and Addressing Accessibility Issues

When addressing accessibility issues on your website, it’s important to prioritize the most critical problems first.

  1. Conduct a Comprehensive Accessibility Audit: Use a combination of manual and automated testing to identify all accessibility issues on your website.
  2. Prioritize Issues Based on Impact and Severity: Categorize the identified issues based on their impact on users with disabilities and the severity of the problem.
  3. Develop an Accessibility Roadmap: Create a plan to address the identified issues, starting with the most critical problems and working your way down to the less severe ones.
  4. Allocate Resources and Assign Responsibilities: Ensure that you have the necessary resources, both in terms of budget and personnel, to address the accessibility issues in a timely manner.
  5. Continuously Monitor and Improve: Regularly re-evaluate your website’s accessibility, address any new issues that arise, and ensure that your website remains compliant with the latest accessibility standards.

Accessibility is not that difficult

If you use a top quality theme and plugins, your website may already be compliant. If not (and I’ve been surprised by some top quality plugins and themes!), these tools will help show you how to fix the issues.

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Last Updated:

July 8, 2024

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