In our article last week, we outlined the difficulties that the digital industry is facing with regards to conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/). We have been very pleased to receive feedback from this post and it is apparent that there are many people who are passionate about this subject and achieving the high standards required to make the web accessible for all.
We have been using automation to test accessibility for more than 12 years, during this period we have assessed more pages than anybody else globally. Every quarter we run checks on thousands of sites for the INDEX. With all this data and the internal technical knowledge that we hold, we are able to have a well-considered approach to this topic.
If you are unsure on how using the Internet poses difficulties to people with access needs, I ask you to go onto a website you regularly visit, disable your mouse/trackpad and instead navigate yourself around the website using keyboard. You can use the tab, shift+tab, enter, space and arrow keys to navigate the site. Note to yourself how you find this experience; are you able to use all the functions of the website and can you see which part of the page you are on (is there a visible indicator)? Compare this now to the experience you receive when you use your mouse, was there anything that you can do with the mouse that you couldn’t when navigating around with just the keyboard? This is just one element of accessibility and it is not fair or right that members of society are unable to use websites because laws are not being abided to. We are all entitled to good access to the web.
Last week, we outlined how we wanted to create a list of 10 things that should be dealt with as a priority to improve accessibility, which will all be understandable, manageable, measurable and achievable. By creating this list, we hope organisations will be able to improve the basics of their site to make it more accessible which one day might lead to a fully accessible website.
Please note, our list relates specifically to automated testing, and is not intended to include additional manual checks that should also be carried out.
10 Ways to Improve Website Accessibility
From the feedback we received from the article, information from clients, users and other industry experts we have considered the checkpoints of WCAG 2.0 and come up with this list of the 10 things that should be dealt with to improve accessibility.
By each item are listed the WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria that relate to that item. All of the items have Success Criteria at level A, i.e. the highest priority level. Note that the order of the items is not significant, in particular they are not ordered “most important” to “least important”.
1. Unique identifiers must exist once and once only (1.3.1)
IDs (e.g. <h3 id=example> must not be used more than once in a page. IDs that are referred (e.g. <label for=example>) to must exist.
Access keys (e.g. <a accesskey=A>) must not be used more than once.
2. Headings must use the appropriate markup (1.3.1)
Headings should be marked up using <h1> to <h6>.
3. Links must contain textual content (2.4.4, 2.4.9, 4.1.2)
Links must contain textual content, either directly or indirectly (e.g. <img alt=”…”>).
4. Form controls must have explicitly-associated labels (1.1.1, 1.3.1)
The labels for form fields must use the <label> HTML element.
5. <frame> and <iframe> elements must have title attributes (2.4.1)
Each frame must have a title to facilitate frame identification and navigation.
6. Images and image-map areas must have appropriate text alternatives (1.1.1)
<img>, <area> and <input type=image> elements must all have appropriate values for their alt attributes. In the case of decorative <img> elements, the appropriate value can be the empty string but it must still be explicitly specified.
7. Text alternatives must be genuine alternatives not placeholders (1.1.1)
Alternative text should not be placeholder text (e.g. “spacer”) or an automatically-generated value with no genuine usefulness (e.g. the filename of the image).
8. Do not use meta redirects (2.2.1, 2.2.4)
i.e. do not use <meta http-equiv=refresh content=”5; url=/newpage.html”>
9. Do not use meta refresh (2.2.1, 2.2.4, 3.2.5)
i.e. do not use <meta http-equiv=refresh content=”5”>
10. Every page must have a meaningful title (2.4.2)
All pages must have exactly one <title> element containing the page title.
The page title should not be generic placeholder text such as “untitled document”.
We are not suggesting that automation is the only answer but it is the only one that can be used continually and on a large scale across an entire site. It is essential that both automatic and manual testing are used in order to achieve genuine accessibility for a site.
WCAG 2.0 is a very large and complicated set of guidelines, with hundreds of associated techniques. There is a very real danger of site designers and content authors being put off any consideration of accessibility issues by the seemingly-impenetrable barrier this creates. Our list provides an introduction to the wider issues, and a way in to allow authors to start making real, tangible and measurable improvements to accessibility today.