How accessible is your website?
Always start by running an accessibility check on your institution’s website. Several organizations, such as WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind), offer free automated ways to analyze the site’s accessibility. WebAIM’s WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation) tool scans your website and highlights both good design and potential areas to fix. There are also multiple browser extensions that constantly scan webpages for accessibility, such as Accessibility Insights, axe, or ARC. While all three have free services, axe and ARC also include paid features.
Keep in mind that automated tools do not replace human quality control. You should always manually check your website’s accessibility before and after making changes. Indiana University has a step-by-step guide on manual reviews. WebAIM also offers hands-on evaluations for a fee, in addition to consulting and training services. And the Web Accessibility Initiative’s WCAG report tool helps create a cohesive report of how your institution’s website complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Once you have conducted a thorough audit and made changes to your website, you can certify its accessibility. If the site conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, you can add WCAG logos to demonstrate that it does so. Organizations that work with the U.S. Federal government, as well as those that don’t, can fill out a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) and include it on their website. This demonstrates compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, a U.S. federal law that mandates electronic accessibility. Third-party companies such as WebAIM can also provide Statements of Accessibility, often as part of a larger, paid evaluation.
Useful tools for all occasions
The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI) has collected tutorials for many elements of accessible website design. The A11y Project is another all-encompassing site that offers resources and browser tools, and an auditing checklist. Their comprehensive list of articles and resources can answer practically any accessibility-related question. As you work to build a more accessible website, these two sites will offer answers to nearly all of your questions. Most of their content is available at no cost.
UserWay also provides accessibility services, most notably their Accessibility Widget. This AI-powered tool provides a one-size-fits-most solution to offer on-demand elements like color contrast and dyslexia-friendly fonts. It does all of this without changing your website’s code. AccessiBe offers a similar service, although theirs includes specific profiles that adjust for a given disability with a single click. You can preview both widgets on the companies’ websites. Note that both options charge for the widget, although they do offer some free resources.
Other aspects to consider
Screen readers and headings
Screen readers are tools that convey your website aurally for people with low or no vision. They rely on proper headings to accurately describe a page’s content. WebAIM has summarized how screen readers work. Their article also provides advice on how to effectively design a website for screen readers to dictate.
Ensure that your website is accessible for users with colorblindness, as well as those with low visibility. Both groups rely on high contrast between colors to see digital content. Colorblindly, an extension for Chrome, simulates color blindness and can help identify problems on your website. DesignMantic also offers a helpful guide on what to do (and not do) when designing for color blindness. And WebAIM has a tool to easily compare two colors and judge if they have sufficient contrast.
Keyboard-only controls and speech recognition
Many users prefer to primarily use the keyboard instead of the mouse. As a result, make sure a visitor can access your institution’s website with just the keyboard. WebAIM provides a good overview of how to best set up these controls.
The website will also attract visitors who do not use the keyboard at all and instead prefer speech recognition (also called voice recognition). As the Web Accessibility Initiative lays out in its page on the subject, robust keyboard controls are essential for speech recognition. Making sure that a user can access all of your website’s content through the keyboard helps significantly in planning for speech recognition.
Consider using a dyslexia-friendly font on your website. Unlike most typefaces, which mirror letters like “b” and “d,” these dyslexia-friendly fonts usually contain irregular characters that users with dyslexia can more easily distinguish. Fonts like Arial and Comic Sans already come with most word processors, and accommodate dyslexic users better. But other options, such as Dyslexie font (paid) and OpenDyslexic (free) have also emerged as typefaces specifically designed for dyslexia.
Accessible images and videos
Due to the higher level of detail involved in making images and videos accessible, you can find specific points related to those forms of media on their own page.