Website accessibility testing is a critical, yet often overlooked, part of a web development project. Neglecting this crucial step can have serious consequences, including potential violations of federal and state laws. However, the significance of website accessibility extends far beyond its legality, as it touches the lives of users of all abilities. It fosters inclusivity, equal access, and improved usability. Above all, it aligns with the moral imperative of creating a digital environment that accommodates everyone.
In this blog, we’ll explore why website accessibility is essential and how it contributes to a more inclusive online experience. More importantly, we’ll provide you with testing resources to ensure your website complies with accessibility standards of all levels. As a web development company, we have personally conducted many of these tests before launching a new website to serve as a reliable gauge of accessibility and what areas need improvements. Join us as we take a look at some straightforward and cost-effective methods for testing the accessibility of a website.
Understanding Website Accessibility
When designing a website, the level of its accessibility plays a major role in the outcome of how the website appears and performs. Even the most subtle adjustments in colors and back-end development can make a huge impact on the website’s usability. It’s not just about how the website is visually perceived. Instead, the site should be operable by everyone and comprehensible to users of all abilities.
If you choose to disregard the general website accessibility standards, you can run into some serious consequences, both legally and financially. From a potential lawsuit to diminished SEO performance, neglecting website accessibility can only lead to an overall poor user experience. To avoid any of these potential setbacks, it is important to fully understand its principles and conduct your own accessibility tests.
The Benefits of Website Accessibility
Website accessibility is not just a legal requirement to check off your list. Instead, it should be looked at as a practice that produces significant advantages for both website owners and users. It promotes inclusivity, enhances user experiences, and can positively impact your brand and business growth. Let’s explore some of the top benefits:
- Avoid Legal Issues: By respecting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), your business can steer clear of any legal trouble, like lawsuits and hefty fines.
- Enhance User Experience: Whether users have disabilities or not, an accessible website improves the overall online experience for every user. It provides clear navigation, readable content, and thoughtful design elements– all of which contribute to a less frustrating experience.
- Expand Your Reach: Making your website accessible to everyone allows more people to be able to visit your website. Expanding your reach to a broader audience will increase customer engagement and website traffic.
- Boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Websites optimized for accessibility often experience higher search engine rankings and greater visibility. Minor improvements, like adding alt text for images, can significantly improve the website’s SEO performance.
- Embrace Ethical Responsibility: Beyond your role as a business, there’s a moral imperative to do what is ethically right. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility shows that you care about creating equal opportunities. Whether users explicitly notice it or not, it fosters customer satisfaction and goodwill.
Website Accessibility Standards and Guidelines
Throughout the web design process, developers run a series of tests to ensure a website functions seamlessly across various web browsers and screen resolutions. However, professional and experienced web development companies will go one step further by conducting a website accessibility test to ensure they meet the established / recommendedstandards and guidelines. Let’s take a look at some of the most important guidelines to follow and what exactly they mean.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG addresses a spectrum of disabilities, including blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, certain learning disabilities, and cognitive limitations. Their web content guidelines must be accessible across a variety of devices, like desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. The WCAG guidelines are structured around 4 key principles, often abbreviated as POUR:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components can’t be invisible to any of the user’s senses
- Operable: The interface can’t demand interactions that a user is incapable of performing.
- Understandable: Users should be able to comprehend the information and operation of the user interface.
- Robust: As technology evolves, the content needs to remain accessible across a variety of devices and models.
To accommodate different situations and user needs, WCAG 2.0 guidelines are divided into three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict), Level AA (mid-range), and Level AAA (the highest). It’s important to note that conforming to higher levels automatically implies conformance to lower levels.
- Level A: This level sets the foundational criteria that are required for every website. Non-compliance with Level A standards can lead to serious accessibility issues that may prevent users with disabilities from accessing the site.
- Level AA: Websites adhering to Level AA standards are considered reasonably accessible for most users. For most websites, achieving Level AA conformance is the goal.
- Level AAA: Content that meets Level AAA conformance is considered optimally accessible. However, achieving Level AAA can be extremely challenging, as it requires meeting every guideline in WCAG. Some Level AAA criteria are notably strict, and certain types of content may need help to conform to every guideline at this level.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Enacted in 1998, Section 508 is a federal law that mandates federal agencies to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to electronic information and data, leveling the playing field with those who do not have disabilities. Non-compliance with Section 508 constitutes a violation of federal law, carrying legal implications that can be substantial.
Tools and Resources for Accessibility Testing
If you’re looking to start running accessibility tests on your website, start here with our list of resources. These resources are designed to pinpoint areas where your website needs improvement before it goes live. What’s even better is that many of these tests will come with free trials, downloadable PDF audits, or browser extensions. Here are some of our favorite, easy-to-use resources:
- PageSpeed Insights – https://pagespeed.web.dev/ (see Accessibility section of report)
Manual Accessibility Testing
If you’ve already conducted an automated accessibility test but are still running into issues or want to ensure a more thorough assessment, manual accessibility testing is an invaluable step. Here’s a checklist of key aspects to consider:
- Keyboard Navigation: Verify that all interactive elements, links, and form fields are accessible and operable using only a keyboard. The focus order needs to be logical and consistent across the website.
- Image Alt Text: Examine all images and check they have descriptive and relevant alternative text (alt text) to convey their content and purpose to users who cannot see them
- Semantic HTML: Review the HTML structure to confirm the use of semantic elements (headings, lists, and landmarks) that provide structure and context to the content.
- Form Controls and Labels: Inspect forms for proper labeling of form fields, checkboxes, radio buttons, and dropdowns. Labels should be associated with their respective form controls.
- Focus Indicators: Check that interactive elements have visible and clear focus indicators. Users navigating with a keyboard rely on them to understand where they are on the page.
- Color Contrast: Evaluate the color contrast of text and background elements to ensure readability, especially for users with visual impairments. Confirm that the text meets minimum contrast ratios.
- Video and Audio Transcripts: For multimedia content, provide transcripts that include spoken content, descriptions of visual elements, and relevant context.
Each of these key aspects has more extensive details to consider, so it’s essential to refer to a comprehensive checklist before conducting a manual test. This approach will allow you to pinpoint and address issues that automated tools might overlook.
Mobile Accessibility Testing
Website accessibility doesn’t stop at the desktop—it’s only one part of the equation. Ensuring your website is accessible on mobile or tablet devices is just as important, and perhaps even more so today. With 56.8% of searches and website traffic coming from mobile devices in 2023, it’s clear that more people are using their phones for online activities. Therefore, mobile accessibility is a critical aspect of website accessibility.
So, how does mobile accessibility differ from traditional website accessibility?
Mobile accessibility includes many of the same features as website accessibility but introduces additional challenges due to touch screens, voice commands, and the smaller screen sizes of mobile devices. To create a website that is accessible on mobile devices, specific practices need to be implemented. Websites that aren’t mobile-accessible can suffer from poor SEO results because search engine algorithms prioritize mobile-friendly sites.
Website Development Services in Clearwater | Websults
For more than two decades, Websults® has been dedicated to crafting accessible, personalized websites that cater to our client’s vision. Our comprehensive services include thorough user testing and accessibility testing to ensure your website’s compatibility across all devices. Additionally, we are committed to optimizing your website for top-notch SEO performance. When you choose to collaborate with Websults®, your website is in reliable hands.
At Websults®, we believe in delivering web solutions that produce real bottom-line results for our clients. With experience in web development, SEO (Google), and web hosting, we work closely with clients across a variety of industries to provide customized web solutions that meet accessibility standards.
Contact us today for a FREE consultation and see how we can help you achieve your web development goals!