We were recently hired to run an accessibility audit for a large, public sector client. They wanted an assessment of how well visitors with disabilities navigated their sites, as well as identifying tactics to improve on deficiencies in the user experience. Making websites as accessible as possible is a key obligation and success measure for all sites, but particularly those with a mandate to serve the public.
What is an accessibility audit?
An accessibility audit is a review of a site to see how well users with disabilities can use it. We used guidelines and standards provided by the client to determine whether specified accessibility issues passed or failed; for the issues that didn't pass, we offered suggestions as to how to make them more accessible. Those guidelines were informed by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative and other requirements defined during the project.
A quick accessibility fix can be as easy as adding alternative text to an image, or fixing broken links. Keep in mind there are also guidelines as to what the alt text should be, such as how it should convey the meaning and purpose of the image. For example, "a dog" is weak alt text if there’s more to the image’s context. A better alt text would be "a guide dog and its owner walking on a cement path in a park at dusk". Chapter Three provided guidance that included best practices for fixes, not just a listing of accessibility fails, which many automated tools solely provide.
Why should I care about accessibility?
It's easy for users with normal vision to click around a site; our eyes zoom in on pictures and our mouse goes towards buttons to click. But how do users with disabilities navigate the same site? For example, if there's a power outage, it's easy for normal sighted users to go to a website, type in their zip code into a text box, and move an interactive map around to find out what the estimated repair time would be. But how would a user with visual impairments be able to get to the text box and scroll around the map? Can users who use keyboard navigation also access the textbox and map as easily? What alternatives need to be considered, if any, in such a scenario?
For users with visual impairments, we check for things like enough color contrast between the text and background color, along with text size and spacing. (Check out: https://www.whocanuse.com if you're curious as to what some of these visual impairments look like.) Likewise, users who don't use a traditional mouse to navigate around a site need functioning keyboard accessibility, like using Arrow and Tab keys to get around features, pages, and content. We want sites to be accessible for everyone, whether it's for commerce, information, or just for fun.
How did we do it, and what did we deliver?
We consulted compliance guidelines and recommendations such as WCAG2.1, Section 508, and the U.S. Access Board’s Guide to the ABA Accessibility Standards (especially section 194.22 - regarding Internet Information and Applications) along with issues, guidelines, and requirements provided by the client. By using both manual and automated testing, we look at the site from a user's perspective to see how they maneuver throughout the site, including issues such as navigation, content accessibility for screen readers and color contrast issues. Many of these deficiencies can be cataloged with automated tools such as Wave tests, which found instances where color contrast failed.
After completing a point by point test against each of the accessibility measures, we provided our comprehensive deliverables and did several follow-up presentations to the client. Our collaboration and guidance will continue as the issues we’ve identified are corrected by the client web team.
It's important to remember that accessibility is an ongoing process; new content and features will need periodic auditing and new staff and content editors will need training as part of onboarding and maintaining strong standards. If you'd like to learn more or need some help making your site more accessible, get in touch with us!