In today’s fast-paced digital world, accessibility has become a vital aspect of any online presence. With the increasing reliance on technology for communication, commerce, and information, it has become essential to ensure that websites, applications, and digital content are accessible to all people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. This is where the concept of an accessibility audit comes into play.
An accessibility audit is a systematic evaluation of a digital platform’s accessibility features and compliance with established accessibility standards. It involves a thorough examination of various elements, such as website structure, design, navigation, and content, to identify potential barriers that may hinder individuals with disabilities from accessing and using the platform effectively.
The significance of conducting regular accessibility audits cannot be overstated. Firstly, it ensures compliance with legal requirements and accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which have been adopted by many countries, including the UK. By meeting these standards, businesses not only avoid potential legal issues but also demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and equal access to information for all individuals.
Regular accessibility audits help identify and rectify any barriers that might exist within the digital platform. These barriers could include inadequate alternative text for images, lack of keyboard navigation support, or poor colour contrast, all of which can significantly impact users with visual impairments, mobility limitations, or cognitive disabilities. By addressing these issues promptly, organisations can enhance the user experience, foster customer loyalty, and expand their reach to a broader audience.
This blog post will provide a comprehensive outline for conducting an effective accessibility audit. By following the suggested guidelines and best practices, organisations can ensure that their digital platforms are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. Ultimately, this will contribute to a more inclusive digital landscape, where disabled people can fully participate and engage in the online world.
Principles of Web Accessibility
The principles of web accessibility are commonly referred to as the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). These guidelines provide a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible to disabled people.
The four main principles of WCAG are:
1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive, such as providing text alternatives for non-text content, using captions for videos, and ensuring content is readable and distinguishable.
2. Operable: Users should be able to operate the interface and navigate through the website, regardless of the input method they use. This involves making all functionality available through keyboard navigation and avoiding content that could cause seizures or physical reactions.
3. Understandable: The content and interface should be clear and easily understandable. This includes using plain language, providing clear instructions and feedback, and organising content in a logical and consistent manner.
4. Robust: The website’s content must be compatible with a wide range of user agents, including assistive technologies. This ensures that people using different devices and technologies can access and interact with the content effectively.
Legal Obligations and Benefits
In the UK, several laws and regulations govern web accessibility. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against disabled people and requires service providers, including website owners, to make reasonable adjustments to ensure equal access. Additionally, under the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018, public sector websites and mobile applications must meet certain accessibility requirements.
Ensuring web accessibility not only fulfils legal obligations but also brings numerous benefits. Accessible websites open up opportunities for businesses and organisations to reach a larger audience, including disabled people who make up a significant portion of the population. It also enhances user experience for all users, improves search engine optimisation, and fosters a positive brand image by demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity.
Impact of Inaccessible Websites
Inaccessible websites can have a detrimental impact on disabled users. They may encounter barriers that prevent them from accessing information, products, and services independently. This exclusion can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, and exclusion from society. Inaccessible websites may also limit educational and employment opportunities for disabled individuals, hindering their ability to fully participate in society.
In addition to the negative impact on disabled users, inaccessible websites also have significant consequences for businesses. One important aspect to consider is the potential loss of the “purple pound,” which refers to the spending power of disabled individuals and their families. According to the UK government, the purple pound is estimated to be worth around £274 billion per year.
By having inaccessible websites, businesses are missing out on a substantial market opportunity. When disabled users are unable to access information or make purchases independently, they are less likely to engage with a company’s products or services. This not only leads to a direct loss of potential customers but also damages the reputation of the business among disabled individuals and the wider community. In today’s digital age, where online presence is crucial for success, excluding disabled customers can significantly hinder a company’s growth and profitability.
Businesses that fail to provide accessible websites may face legal implications. In various countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, there are laws and regulations in place that require websites to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Failure to comply with these accessibility standards can result in legal actions and fines, further impacting a company’s reputation and finances.
Inaccessible websites also affect businesses’ ability to attract and retain talented disabled individuals as employees. When job seekers with disabilities encounter barriers during the application process or struggle to access critical information about a company’s policies and practices, they may be discouraged from pursuing employment opportunities. By excluding disabled individuals from the workforce, businesses miss out on a diverse pool of talent and perspectives, limiting their ability to innovate and compete in the market.
Need for Inclusivity and Equal Access
It is essential to prioritise inclusivity and equal access for all users, including disabled people, when designing and developing websites. Every individual deserves the right to access information and services online without facing unnecessary barriers. Not only this, but for public sector , it’s a legal requirement to adhere to WCAG 2.1 AA. By ensuring web accessibility, we create a more inclusive and equitable digital environment, empowering disabled people to fully participate in the digital age.
Preparing for an Accessibility Audit
When preparing for an accessibility audit in the UK, it is important to consider the relevant guidelines and standards that are widely recognised in the country. One such benchmark is the WCAG 2.1 AA, which outlines specific requirements for web accessibility. Familiarise yourself with these guidelines to ensure compliance.
Additionally, it is crucial to understand the assistive technologies commonly used by disabled people. This may include screen readers, magnifiers, speech recognition software, and alternative input devices. Gain knowledge about how these technologies work and interact with web content to ensure they are compatible with your website or application by downloading these and using them.
Identifying common accessibility barriers and challenges faced by disabled people is another crucial step. This can include issues related to visual impairments, hearing disabilities, motor disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and more. Consider elements such as colour contrast, keyboard accessibility, alternative text for images, closed captions for videos, and clear navigation.
Establishing clear goals and objectives for the accessibility audit is essential. Determine the specific aspects of your website, application, or content that you will be assessing, and ensure they align with the accessibility guidelines and standards you have researched. Consider both technical aspects and user experience to provide a comprehensive evaluation.
Familiarise yourself with the UK rules and laws related to accessibility, such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018. Understand the legal obligations and responsibilities that businesses have regarding accessibility to ensure compliance with the law.
Consider involving disabled people in the audit process. Their insights and perspectives can provide valuable feedback and help identify accessibility issues that may not be apparent to those without disabilities. Consult disabled specialists or organisations that represent their interests to ensure a comprehensive and inclusive audit.
Evaluating Website Structure and Navigation
It’s important to evaluate the structure and navigation as part of your web accessibility audit. When evaluating the structure of a website, it is important to consider how well the content is organised and presented. The website should have a clear and logical structure that allows users to easily find the information they are looking for. This can be achieved through the use of categories, subcategories, and a hierarchical structure that follows a logical order.
Furthermore, the navigation menus should be intuitive and easy to use. They should be clearly visible and accessible to all users, including those who navigate the website using a keyboard rather than a mouse. It is important to test the website’s keyboard accessibility to ensure that all functionality can be accessed without the need for a mouse. This is particularly important for individuals with disabilities, as they may rely on keyboard navigation.
Heading hierarchy is another important aspect to consider. The website should use proper heading tags (e.g., <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.) to indicate the hierarchical structure of the content. The headings should be used in a logical and consistent manner, with the main heading representing the main topic of the page and subheadings representing the subtopics. This helps improve your digital accessibility for users who use screen readers to navigate the website and understand its structure.
Descriptive link text is crucial for providing users with clear and concise information about the destination of a link. It should accurately describe the content that the link leads to, rather than using generic terms such as “click here.” This is important for disabled people who may rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies to understand the purpose of a link. It is also useful for people with intellectual disabilities who may struggle to put the link in context.
In terms of web accessibility, it is recommended to include skip navigation options on the website. This allows users to bypass repetitive navigation elements and directly access the main content of the page. Skip navigation options are particularly helpful for disabled people who may have difficulty navigating through a large number of links or menu items.
Assessing Visual Design and Colour Contrast
When assessing visual design and colour contrast in your web accessibility audit it is important to consider various factors. Firstly, it is crucial to evaluate the colour choices used in a design to ensure sufficient contrast. This is particularly important for individuals with colour vision deficiencies, as they may have difficulty distinguishing between certain colours.
It is essential to check for alternative text for images, icons, and media. Alternative text, also known as alt text, is a descriptive text that can be read by screen readers for visually impaired users. By including alt text, designers can enable these users to understand the content of images and other visual elements.
Another aspect to assess is the appropriate use of font sizes and styles. WCAG recommends using legible and clear fonts, with an appropriate size for easy reading. Designers should ensure that the font size is adjustable by users, allowing them to increase or decrease it according to their needs. The use of appropriate font styles, such as bold or italics, should also be considered to enhance readability. Using a percentage size for fonts is a way to make them responsive and adaptable to different screen sizes and resolutions. By setting font sizes in relation to the parent element or the viewport, you can ensure that the text scales proportionally.
For example, instead of setting a specific point size like `font-size: 14px;`, you can use a percentage value like `font-size: 100%;` or `font-size: 1em;`. This means the font size will be relative to the parent element or the default font size of the browser.
Additionally, you can use media queries to further adjust font sizes based on different device sizes. By defining different font sizes for different screen widths, you can optimize the readability and usability of your website on various devices.
By using percentage-based font sizes and incorporating responsive design techniques, you can create a more flexible and accessible user experience across different devices and screen sizes.
Testing for Keyboard Accessibility
One crucial aspect of an accessibility audit is verifying that all interactive elements can be accessed and operated solely through keyboard input. This is particularly important for disabled people, who rely on keyboard navigation for accessing and interacting with websites. Paralysed people, people with tremors and other motor disabilities may not be able to use a mouse, so use a keyboard instead.
To verify keyboard accessibility, it is necessary to test the tab order and logical focus progression of interactive elements. Tab order determines the sequence in which users can navigate through different elements using the Tab key. By ensuring a logical and intuitive tab order, disabled people can easily navigate through various interactive components on a website. Additionally, evaluating the effectiveness of keyboard shortcuts, if applicable, is important. Keyboard shortcuts can enhance accessibility by allowing users to perform certain actions quickly. However, it is crucial to ensure that these shortcuts don’t create conflicts with commonly used screen reader shortcuts.
Forms play a significant role in many websites, making it essential to pay attention to their usability with a keyboard. Disabled people should be able to navigate through form fields, select options, and submit forms using only keyboard input. It is important to ensure that all form elements, such as input fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, and dropdown menus, are accessible and operable via a keyboard alone. Providing clear and concise instructions and error messages is also crucial to assist disabled users in successfully completing forms.
Analysing Content Accessibility
Reading age is a key aspect to consider when assessing content accessibility. It is essential to use language that is easy to understand and avoids complex jargon or technical terms. The average reading age in the UK is around 9 years old, so it’s important to ensure that content is written at a level that can be easily understood by a wide range of individuals. This is particularly important when creating content for websites, documents, or other forms of communication that are intended for a diverse audience.
There are various tools and guidelines available to help assess the reading age of content. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is one commonly used tool that calculates the readability of a piece of text based on factors such as sentence length and word difficulty. Other readability formulas and tests, such as the Gunning Fog Index or the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG), can also be used to determine the reading age of content.
By ensuring that content is written at an appropriate reading age level, individuals with lower literacy levels, learning disabilities, or English as a second language can more easily access and understand the information being presented. This promotes inclusivity and allows a wider audience to benefit from the content being provided.
Another important consideration is the availability of captions and transcripts for audio and video content. Captions provide text alternatives for spoken content, enabling deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to understand the information. Transcripts, on the other hand, provide a written version of audio or video content. Including these accessibility features ensures that individuals who may not be able to hear the content can still access the information effectively.
When it comes to downloadable documents, alternative formats should be provided, particularly for PDFs. PDFs can pose difficulties for individuals using assistive technologies such as screen readers. Therefore, it is crucial to offer alternative formats, such as HTML or Word documents, that are more accessible.
Conducting User Testing
User testing is indeed a crucial step in conducting an accessibility audit, as it helps identify any barriers and challenges that disabled users may face when interacting with a website, application, or any other digital product. To ensure a comprehensive assessment, it is important to involve disabled people in the testing process. Here are some key considerations:
Reach out to disabled individuals who represent the target audience of the product being tested. This may involve partnering with disability advocacy organisations, online communities, or social media groups. It is important to avoid tokenism and seek a diverse range of participants with different disabilities.
Make the testing process accessible and inclusive. Provide multiple options for participation, such as in-person, remote, or asynchronous testing. Consider accessibility needs, such as providing sign language interpreters, captioning, or assistive technologies as required.
Expertise and compensation:
Recognise and value the expertise of disabled participants by compensating them for their time and contributions. This compensation not only acknowledges the value of their insights but also helps address any financial barriers they may face in participating.
Facilitation and consent:
Ensure that the testing process is facilitated by individuals who are knowledgeable about accessibility and user testing. Obtain informed consent from participants, clearly explaining the purpose of the testing, their rights, and any data handling procedures.
Empathy and respect:
Create a safe and respectful environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their experiences and perspectives. Encourage open and honest feedback, and actively listen to their insights, suggestions, and concerns.
By including disabled people in the testing process and valuing their unique perspectives and experiences, an accessibility audit can provide a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of the product’s accessibility. This helps in identifying and addressing barriers, improving the overall user experience for disabled individuals.
Based on the results from user testing, it is crucial to iterate and refine the website. This iterative process ensures that the website becomes more accessible and user-friendly with each iteration. By addressing the specific issues identified during user testing, the website can be improved to meet the accessibility needs of disabled individuals in the UK.
What tools do I need to conduct an accessibility audit?
To conduct an accessibility audit, you will need a combination of automated testing tools and manual testing. Here are the tools you need and some considerations regarding their use:
Automated Testing Tools:
Tools like WebAIM’s WAVE, axe, and AChecker can automatically scan web pages for accessibility issues and provide reports. These tools can quickly identify common accessibility violations. Browsers like Chrome and Firefox have built-in developer tools that include accessibility auditing features. They can help identify issues, inspect accessibility properties, and test responsive design.
Pros of automated testing tools:
- They can scan a large number of pages efficiently.
- They can detect common issues and provide a starting point for remediation.
- They can provide real-time feedback during development.
- They allow inspection of specific elements and their accessibility information.
Cons of automated testing tools:
- They may generate false positives or miss certain issues.
- They cannot detect all types of accessibility problems, such as those related to usability or cognitive accessibility.
- They require some technical knowledge to use effectively.
- They may not cover all aspects of accessibility, such as keyboard navigation or screen reader support.
Manual testing involves using human judgment to evaluate accessibility beyond what automated tools can accomplish. It includes tasks like keyboard navigation testing, screen reader testing, colour contrast evaluation, and more.
Pros of manual testing:
- It can identify issues that automated tools might miss, such as complex interactions or cognitive accessibility problems.
- It helps evaluate the overall user experience and usability.
- It can be time-consuming and labour-intensive.
- It requires experienced testers who understand accessibility guidelines and assistive technologies.
Accessibility Health Score:
There is no standardised accessibility health score, but some tools provide accessibility reports with scores or grading systems. These reports often combine automated and manual testing results to give an overall assessment of accessibility. Some popular tools for generating accessibility reports include Lighthouse, Siteimprove, and Monsido.
Documenting Findings and Implementing Changes
Once the audit is complete, it is essential to document the findings in a comprehensive report.
The report should provide a clear and concise summary of the audit findings, highlighting any accessibility issues that were identified. These issues should be categorised and prioritised based on their impact on users, ensuring that the most critical barriers are addressed first.
In addition to documenting the accessibility issues, the report should also propose actionable solutions. These solutions should be based on relevant accessibility guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It is crucial to ensure that the proposed solutions are feasible and practical for implementation.
Once the report is complete, it is necessary to collaborate with web developers and designers to implement the necessary changes. This collaboration is essential to ensure that the proposed solutions are integrated into the website effectively. It is important to work closely with these professionals to address the identified accessibility issues and make the website more inclusive.
After implementing the changes, it is important to monitor and reassess the website periodically to ensure ongoing accessibility. This involves testing the website with assistive technologies and conducting user testing to identify any new barriers that may have been introduced. Regular evaluations will help to ensure that the website remains accessible to all users.
Conducting accessibility audits is crucial in fostering an inclusive digital environment within the UK. By ensuring that websites and projects adhere to accessibility guidelines, we can create a space that is accessible to all, including disabled people.
It is essential for readers to prioritise accessibility when developing their websites or projects. By making accessibility a top priority, we can guarantee that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can access and use digital platforms easily and without barriers. This not only benefits disabled individuals but also improves the overall user experience for all users.
If you lack the time or expertise to undertake an accessibility audit, we are here to help. Our team specialises in conducting thorough audits, ensuring that your website or application meets accessibility standards. What sets us apart is that our in-house specialist is not only experienced in accessibility but is also disabled, allowing us to provide a comprehensive and high-quality audit. Contact us today, and we will ensure your digital platform is inclusive for all users.