Making sure your site meets accessibility standards not only ensures that you reach the widest possible audience, but also prevents lawsuits or legal penalties. Your site needs to be usable to people with visual, hearing, mental, or motor impairments. Making your site accessible has the added benefits of better SEO and increased usability even for users without impairments.
You can perform your own Accessibility Audit, or you can hire an accessibility expert to evaluate your site. Be aware that thresholds for acceptable accessibility can be subjective and are impacted by ongoing government rule-making and legal interpretations.
SCHEDULE TIME & GATHER MATERIALS
Live Site (Self Audit): 2-3 Days
Live Site (Using Accessibility Consultants): 2-3 Weeks
New Site or Site Redesign: The appropriate level of accessibility should be built into design
A near-complete version of your site
An Accessibility Evaluation tool (Recommended. See “Explore More Resources” panel below for links)
CARRY OUT THIS METHOD
Check your site for the following features first. These are easy to implement during the design process, and will cover most users’ needs.
For Hard of Hearing Users:
Closed Captions or subtitles on all video content.
Transcripts available for any audio content (i.e. podcasts).
For Users with Impaired Vision:
High contrast between text and backgrounds. Body text needs a 4.5:1 contrast ratio. Headings need 3:1. Use a contrast calculator like the one at Contrast Checker to check your colors.
Large enough text sizes and spacing for your typical user. Check line length as well.
“Alt” tags on any interactive or informative images. This is for users who require screen readers. Remove “alt” tags from decorative images.
Audio descriptions for any video content which relies on visuals.
No communicative coloring that depends on perfect color vision to see. Include alternate affordance signals, or adjust colors for colorblind users.
For Users With Motor Impairments:
Large buttons and clickable areas. User precision should not be necessary.
Intuitive tabbing order for interactive page elements. It should also be clear where the focus is.
For Users with Mental or Environmental Impairments:
Enough time to complete tasks on your site without data loss. If automatic session timeout is needed, give users enough time to complete tasks even with interruptions or cognitive impairments.
Contextual info from headers and breadcrumbs. Users with memory issues may lose their place.
Browser and system compatibility. The hardware or software someone uses may not be their choice. Your site’s design may be imperfect, but its usability must not be impaired.
Someone in-house can be trained as a resident accessibility expert to conduct this audit. As usability and accessibility standards change, they will need to refresh their knowledge.
Most usability tools are based on the W3Consortium’s WCAG, which you can find in its entirety.
Google has a course on Web Accessibility
Have your expert learn how screen readers work so they can test for inconsistencies or errors in your code. The following screen readers are available for download:
If no one is available in-house, you need help immediately, or if your site needs someone with more expertise, hire an accessibility expert. Companies like Interactive Accessibility and Accessible Web offer the services of general web accessibility experts, while disability-specific organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind have more specialized experts.
An accessibility auditor will provide a list of standards not being met and recommendations for meeting them.
Once those accessibility issues are addressed, conduct usability testing with disabled users.
TIPS AND RESOURCES
Try these tips
While there are myriad automatic accessibility checking tools, we do not recommend depending on them. A tool can tell you an “alt” tag is missing; it cannot tell you it is inaccurate. The errors they do catch are items that should be covered as a matter of course when coding. Accessibility is a human issue, and human empathy is needed to address it.