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Checking Accessibility

How do I check that my digital content is accessible?

Creating accessible digital content is a critical requirement for mainstream organisations to support people with disability. However, content in an organisation is rarely created in isolation – often there are many people working on content, and the level of digital access awareness will vary from person to person. As such, it’s possible that accessibility issues can creep into work practices, even if the organisation has a broad understanding of digital access.

As such, it is important that a testing mechanism is put in place to ensure that digital content remains accessible. The purpose of this process is to prevent accessibility issues from unintentionally slipping through an organisation and cause issues for people with disability.

In the case of documents such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, there is a handy accessibility checker tool that can identify issues that need fixing. More information on this feature can be found in the WCAG and documents section of this resource. However, for web content, the auditing process requires a bit more work.

To undertake an audit of a website, you will need to consider a four-stage process. The stages are as follows:

  • The use of a screen reader to experience the web content in a similar way to a blind person. This will help in identifying the critical issues that a user is likely to face. For more information see the Practical Exercise section which allows you to try using a screen reader on your preferred device.
  • Visually check the web content for issues such as clutter and colour contrast.
  • Use an automated testing tool to identify some specific accessibility issues.
  • Write an audit report so you can share your findings with the relevant people that can fix the issues.

To provide structure around the auditing process, the W3C WAI have created the Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) 1.0

Evaluating Accessibility

WCAG-EM in five steps

If a mainstream organisation wishes to create an audit report, the W3C WAI have created the Website Accessibility Conformance Evaluation Methodology (WCAG-EM) 1.0 to help with this process.

WCAG-EM is based around five steps to help in structuring the testing. The five steps are as follows.

Step 1: Define the Evaluation Scope
This step is about establishing what tools will be used for the testing, and to what level of conformance the test will focus on.

Some good questions to consider as part of the scoping process are:

  • Will I be testing to WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 or WCAG 2.2?
  • Will I be testing to conformance level A, AA or AAA?
  • What operating systems will I test on?
  • What assistive technologies such as screen readers, will I use for my test?
  • What web browsers will I test on?
  • What automated tools will I use?

As different assistive technologies work in different ways, establishing the scope will help to get consistent results and make it easier to measure the accessibility of your content over time.

Step 2: Explore the Target Website
This step is about considering what types of pages need to be checked. Some questions worth considering for this step include:

  • What type of website am I testing?
  • What types of content are critical to this website?
  • What sections do visitors use the most?

Step 3: Selecting a sample.
Auditing every webpage on a website could be very time-consuming, so WCAG-EM recommends that you take a sample of pages based on the sections you identified in Step 2. There are three types of elements that can be tested:

  • Static web pages: a specific sample page that represents a webpage.  Examples may include the home page, contact page, video gallery page and content page.
  • Processes: in addition to checking pages, you will also need to check that it is possible for a user to complete a task such as performing a search, purchasing a ticket or completing an online form This is where using a screen reader to try completing a task can be particularly useful.
  • Non-web:  this generally includes the testing of documents and/or software. The WCAG and documents section can provide some help in making documents accessible before they are put on the website.

Step 4: Audit the Selected Sample
Now that you have selected the pages to test, the testing can begin. This is the point where you can now use assistive technologies such as a screen reader, visual checks and automated testing tools to confirm if the content is compliant with the WCAG standard.

Step 5: Report the Evaluation Findings
The final step of WCAG-EM is to write up all the findings into an audit report. This is often structured as a pass/fail scenario against each of the WCAG success criteria with some explanatory notes.

Testing Accessibility

Online tools

To help speed up the testing process, there are tools which can scan a webpage to see if it is WCAG compliant. There are many different automated tools that can help with this process. Three popular free tools include:

To use one of these tools:

  • Go to the website of the tool using the link above
  • In the URL box, put in the webpage address and select the button to proceed.
  • A report outlining the accessibility of the tested webpage will appear.

While these tools are helpful, it’s important to acknowledge that there are several limitations:

  • The tools do not test all success criteria in WCAG. As such, it is important to understand that there are likely to be accessibility issues that are not reported.
  • The tool will still say ‘fail’ whether there’s one error or a hundred, so it is difficult to gauge how good or bad the website is as it will nearly always say there’s lots of issues.
  • Free tools such as the ones listed here are generally limited to one webpage, so testing may be time-consuming depending on how many pages you are planning to test. Commercial tools are generally able to test multiple webpages.

That said, the tools can be useful in helping to identify specific issues such as missing alternative text or a missing form label.