The internet has brought us all closer together. Whether blogging and vlogging, or simply engaging with social media — we’re just a swipe, tap, or click away from diverse global cultures. All the more important, then, to make certain that all people who want to use a website should be able to do so.
This is where web accessibility becomes vital. Designers use the knowledge of what physical, mental, emotional, even socio-economic issues people might face. Then they use web tools in order to make certain that there are minimal potential difficulties in online spaces.
Approaches to accessibility include high-contrast colors for easy readability, alt text on images, and designing forms for use with screen readers. There is, of course, the legal responsibility for business owners here. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), online spaces are included as public areas and owners must make reasonable adjustments to ensure accessibility.
Indeed, a Florida Federal Court found that the internationally mandated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were industry standard, and found that failure to adhere to this violated the ADA (Gil v. Winn-Dixie, 2017). That said, WGAC compliance should be about more than avoiding fines.
Aside from our legal and ethical duties, there are also commercial reasons for WCAG compliance. An inaccessible website narrows your potential customer base and can harm your reputation. So, let’s take a look at how best to go about auditing for accessibility in order to provide the best online experience for everyone.
The best approach to accessibility tends to be one that is holistic. When you’re auditing your site for potential obstacles or areas for improvement, it’s not wise to simply look for places to stick band-aids.
Your audit needs to be taken from the perspective that you’re looking to make significant, permanent change so that everybody has an equal opportunity to navigate your site. This isn’t an easy task, so it requires robust planning.
You need to:
- Define Your Goals.
It usually isn’t sufficient to have a general goal of making your website accessible to everyone. It’s a big area to cover and without some definition, it can quickly become overwhelming. Be specific. What are you looking for? Will you be focusing on certain areas of your website initially?
- Set Budget and Resources.
Depending on the size and complexity of your website, there may well be costs involved. Businesses may even need to bring in external consultants. Don’t forget that time is also a resource you should be budgeting for, particularly if you’re a lone operator. Understand what needs to be achieved, and formalize what it will cost you.
- Create a Timeline.
Set a start and deadline date for completion of the initial audit, and milestones for each aspect. Leave room for the inevitable adjustments. When it comes to auditing your website for accessibility, this timeline also needs to take into account future changes. You need to plan for regular additional audits and testing.
A key aspect of your auditing process is testing each element of your website or blog. This is something that needs to be undertaken not only for your initial audit but every time you make significant or structural changes to your pages. This can seem daunting, but it’s actually quite simple.
One approach is to use artificial intelligence (AI) or an automated testing platform. Services such as accessiBe can be plugged into your content management system (CMS) of your site or blog, and scan your pages every 24 hours. The software measures aspects that hinder accessibility: visibility, compatibility with screen readers, and whether image alt texts are in place.
However, such platforms don’t suit everyone’s budget. This is where your testing may need to take a systematic form, alongside some empathy. Research the full scope of accessibility issues that people may have with a website, and seek to replicate this on your current pages. Some approaches here include:
- Disconnect Your Mouse.
This helps to simulate some of the challenges of people who have motor control and
chronic pain challenges (they may not be able to use a mouse), alongside those with visual impairments who find it difficult to see a mouse pointer. Gauge the ease with which you’re able to navigate using only the keyboard. Are you able to interact with every part of your site?
- Check Text Resizing.
There will be visitors to your blog or site who may need to resize the text in order to read it comfortably. Use multiple different browsers, and switch on the text-resizing option, or in some cases, the text-only zoom option. Confirm that all text is visible at all sizes and that there aren’t any overlaps.
- Adjust Color Contrasting.
Some users, those experiencing dyslexia in particular, use computers with graphics settings set to a high contrast mode. Select this option on your own computer, and see if you can navigate your site easily, with all text distinguishable from the background.
As with any aspect of a business, your web accessibility can — and should — benefit from consumer data. Through analyzing insights into how consumers use websites, we can better understand our customers’ perspectives. Knowing a little more about customer behavior can help us to engage more meaningfully with our audience. It’s no different for web accessibility.
Even with the best will in the world, you are not likely to be able to think of every possible accessibility challenge that your users might face. Tools such as Google Analytics can provide you with data that show areas of your website that deter visitors, or even provide age demographics so that you can better make adjustments for elderly users. However, it’s often better to solicit feedback directly from your demographic.
Use your site and social media channels to explain to your audience that you are striving to make your pages a more inclusive online space. Invite them to become involved with both your audit and ongoing testing. Encourage them to let you know where they’ve found difficulties and why. This not only gives you information to work with, but you’re also helping to maintain a meaningful dialogue with your customer base.Hree
At this stage, there are no good excuses for websites and blogs not to be accessible. The knowledge and tools to audit websites and make improvements are readily available to us all. However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a one-and-done situation. We must make continuous efforts to keep our online spaces positive and inclusive in an evolving digital landscape.