Accessibility is about making things accessible to everyone in simple language
The Internet is a big part of our daily routine. According to Statista, as of January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide - 59.5 percent of the global population. Of this total, 92.6 percent (4.32 billion) accessed the internet via mobile devices.
There are millions of websites being built continuously for various purposes, but not all websites are accessible. This is where Web Accessibility comes into the picture. Web Accessibility means making the website accessible to everyone i.e about everyone’s unique needs.
In 1999 the Web Accessibility Initiative, a project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 1.0. On 11 December 2008, the WAI released the WCAG 2.0 as a Recommendation. WCAG 2.0 aims to be up-to-date and more technology-neutral.
Though web designers can choose either standard to follow, the WCAG 2.0 has been widely accepted as the definitive guidelines on how to create accessible websites. In 2012, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were also published as an ISO/IEC standard: "ISO/IEC 40500:2012: Information technology – W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0".
Although WCAG 2.0 by W3C is all wonderful information created by the most knowledgeable accessibility folks, it is very extensive and takes a long time to go through. To aid with that, there are multiple tools available in the market. When choosing an automated testing tool one of the most important criteria is to make sure that the tool focuses on testing the browser DOM(Document Object Model).
Essentially this means the tool either resides in the browser as a plug-in or has its own headless browser. One such tool is Siteimprove, which I have personally worked with and have had a good experience with.
In case you do not have access to an automated testing tool there are several things that anyone can do to validate accessibility on a website.
Use your keyboard to navigate through the website
This is the most effective and easiest way to validate accessibility on any website. There are various combinations of keys that can be used to test if the website is accessible. Many people with disabilities are unable to use a mouse or trackpad and rely on using the keyboard daily.
Keyboard accessibility is required for users who are blind, low-vision, or who have motor control disorders. At the same time testing the keyboard controls you can make sure if the focus sequence is correct as it is equally essential for general usability and critical for users with low vision or users with motor control disorders. Refer to this link to see some common keyboard controls.
Use a computer screen reader program
Screen reader programs scan the whole page and read any kind of text out load at the user’s request, pausing at punctuation and providing the user with options to click, read or skip any content that is displayed on the screen of a computer or a mobile device, including website content, icon labels, documents, spreadsheets, file menus and more. Screen reader accessibility helps people with low visibility, blind, as well as people who are illiterate or have a learning disability.
Turn off images
You can turn off images from your browser settings. Different browsers have different settings, but mostly all browsers have the option to do so. By doing so you will be able to check if the content makes sense without the images if any content goes missing when the images are turned off or if any controls disappear. Images are good for usability and accessibility. Users with cognitive disorders can benefit from images but the website should not rely upon images for any important UI controls.
Captions or transcripts
If the website uses videos, always check for captions or transcripts. The users should be able to turn on/off the captions, check if there is an audio description, or control in the player to turn on/off the audio description. In case the video has a lot of audio see if there is a transcript available on the page or link close to the video player that goes to a transcript. Media accessibility helps a large number of people with low vision, hard of hearing, and users with cognitive disabilities.
Webforms are the most interactive method of measuring conversion on a website. There is a lot that goes into testing the webforms for accessibility but the most basic check is to check the field labels. There should be one to one relationship between the label and the control.
Click on the label next to an input or text area, does the cursor go into the field, click on the label next to a radio button or checkbox, does that select the adjacent option. Labelling of the forms is the most important check on forms, in terms of best practice.
These are some common checks that can be performed on any website to check accessibility. If these features are not passing then the website requires some fixes.
Other than all this, if you do not have access to one of these accessibility checkers, the best way is to put yourself in the shoes of users who may experience difficulties and use the website as they would gain a better understanding of how accessible your site actually is. You will be able to gain a lot of insight into your website’s accessibility standards.