What to Expect in Your First Accessibility Check

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Whether your website has just gone live or has been around for a while, ensuring its accessibility will bring you a suite of benefits. Accessible websites appear in more search engine results, expand your audience, and perform better in different website performance metrics. This article will discuss the concept of accessibility, the process of performing an accessibility check, and common issues you might encounter during an accessibility check. We will also talk about the role of an accessibility checker during this activity.

What is website accessibility?

Website accessibility is a set of best practices that make visiting and using websites easier and more convenient for individuals with disabilities such as visual impairments, hearing issues, and cognitive and motor disabilities. These best practices, including support for screen readers and  improved readability, are codified in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of accessibility guidelines that is accepted globally. Most accessibility laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, use the WCAG as a yardstick against which they can measure a website’s accessibility posture through an accessibility check or audit. 

How do you perform an accessibility check?

There are two methods you can use to perform an accessibility check: manual and automated. A manual check involves a live user recreating a series of scenarios that measure your website’s accessibility. For example, a user with visual impairments can attempt to navigate your website using a screen reader or a keyboard. While this testing method can yield detailed results, it won’t be able to capture all WCAG success criteria, especially if the errors are embedded within the code. It’s also not very practical to perform on websites with thousands of pages.

On the other hand, an automated accessibility check uses an accessibility checker. This software looks through your website’s HTML code, locates potential accessibility issues such as missing alt text or inadequate color contrast, and generates a report that lists all issues that it has found organized according to WCAG success criteria. While using an accessibility checker is both cheap and highly scalable, experts suggest using a combination of both manual and automated methods, particularly to assess the website’s user experience. 

What to watch out for when conducting an accessibility check

Accessibility checking is very useful for uncovering common accessibility issues that aren’t readily apparent to untrained users. These issues comprise a significant proportion of accessibility issues across all websites. As a result, resolving these issues can bring your website closer to being compliant with the WCAG success criteria.

1. Unorganized text

Many people seem to think that formatting text content is as simple as assigning different typefaces and font sizes for body text, headings, and titles. However, screen readers and keyboard shortcuts do not recognize these differences in formatting and will tend to treat unorganized text as body text, which means users will find it difficult to navigate through your website. Adding heading and subheading tags to your content’s HTML code will help screen readers locate where sections start and end, allowing users to skip to content that’s relevant to them.

2. Missing or incorrect image alt text

Alt text is a text description of an image that is embedded into your website’s HTML code. While web developers have made a lot of progress towards providing alt text to most images, these tend to be too generic, resulting in users with visual impairments not being able to tell between two or more images with small but significant differences. A manual accessibility check will help you identify image alt text that can use a bit more detail.

3. Low color contrast

Readability is one of the most important aspects of website accessibility. Many users have color perception issues that keep them from distinguishing text from its background. The WCAG specifies a color contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. As a point of reference, black text on a white background has a contrast ratio of 21:1, which means you still have a lot of room to experiment with color combinations that have sufficient color contrast while complying with company branding guidelines.

Accessibility checking: Useful insights for digital inclusivity

Website accessibility is no longer an option. It is now part of accessibility regulations in most countries. Ensuring WCAG compliance will not just protect you from potential lawsuits; it will also expand your audience, improve website performance, and signify that your organization is serious about digital inclusivity. Performing a website accessibility check is the first step towards building a digital space where everyone is welcome to participate. By identifying potential accessibility issues on your website, you can start taking actions that will elevate the user experience and provide an inclusive environment for users with disabilities.

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