The Planning, Evaluation, Repair and Maintenance Process
Evaluating Web Site Accessibility
- Page 1: The Importance of Planning for Accessibility
- Page 2: The Importance of Human Evaluation
- Current page: Page 3: Evaluating Web Site Accessibility
- Page 4: Web Accessibility Evaluation and Repair Methods
- Page 5: Monitoring and Maintaining Accessibility
Step 1. Validate Your HTML
This first step happens to be one of the most difficult, especially for people who are not very comfortable with HTML. It is, however, a very important step toward web accessibility. Proper, standards-based HTML lends itself toward accessibility. Assistive technologies rely on proper HTML more so than most web browsers. Valid HTML has many other benefits as well, including a decreased likelihood for cross-browser differences or incompatibilities and better support for emerging technologies.
To validate the accessibility of your page's HTML, use the W3C's HTML validator - external link. The results are often overwhelming at first. Most people are not even aware of the intricate rules and standards for HTML use. Even if you are using professional web development software programs it is likely that your page will not validate as proper HTML when first validated. Be sure to read the explanations as to why the page does not validate as proper HTML. Learn about the common HTML mistakes and do what you can to fix them.
Creating proper HTML is a challenge, but one that every web developer should take upon him or herself. When you understand the rules of HTML, you are much more likely to design more usable and accessible web content.
Step 2. Validate for Accessibility
No automated accessibility evaluation tool can find all of your content's accessibility errors. Automated programs can only evaluate a few of the many possible accessibility issues that can arise in a particular web site.
Once you have created proper HTML within your page, many of your accessibility issues will be gone, because proper HTML requires many accessibility techniques, such as
alt text. The next step is to find other accessibility issues that may be present in your page. This is where automated accessibility tools come into play.
The WAVE accessibility tool is a great place to start - wave.webaim.org - external link. The WAVE provides useful information about accessibility features and errors within your page. It is designed to facilitate the design process by adding icons to a version of your page. The icons represent structural, content, usability, and accessibility features, or problems within your content. You can easily see the exact location within your page where an error is present.
The WAVE (or any other software-based validator) cannot check all accessibility issues, but it checks nearly everything that can possibly be checked in an automated process. As soon as you have fixed the errors and applicable warnings from the Wave, you may want to validate your page using other accessibility validators, such as WebXACT - external link to get another look at accessibility feedback. If you need to validate or audit the accessibility of an entire site, there are many evaluation tools you can use, including HiSoftware's line of products - external link or InFocus - external link.
Step 3. Check for Keyboard Accessibility
This step is very easy. Simply access the page and make sure that you can navigate through the entire web page using the tab key (or equivalent). Ensure that every link and form item is accessible and that all forms can be filled out and submitted via the keyboard. If any content is displayed based upon mouse actions, make sure the content is also available using the keyboard.
Step 4. Test in a Screen Reader
It is a great idea to have a copy of a screen reader available for testing. JAWS and Window Eyes provide trial versions that work for 40 minutes at a time. IBM Home Page Reader, while an excellent, easy-to-use, and inexpensive screen reader, does not have a trial version that can be used to test your own site. First, listen to the entire page without stopping.
- Did everything make sense?
- Did the screen reader access all of the content?
- Was the alternative text for images appropriate and equivalent enough to convey the content and meaning of the image?
- Was the reading order of the content logical?
Now try navigating the page with the screen reader.
- Are link labels descriptive?
- Were forms accessible via the keyboard?
- Were form labels included?
- If the page includes data tables, were data cells associated with headers?
- Did the navigation structure make sense?
- Was there an option to navigate within lengthy pages of content?
- Was content structure, such as headings and lists, correctly implemented?
- Was any multimedia accessible (i.e., did video have captions, audio have transcripts, Flash have an alternative, etc.)?
Step 5. Check Your Pages for WCAG Compliance
Become familiar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - external link. The WCAG are a very complete set of accessibility guidelines. They are so complete that sometimes it is nearly impossible to comply with them. Though some of the guidelines are rather vague and some are outdated, they will give you a good idea of what it takes to be truly accessible. Manually evaluate your page against these guidelines. The WCAG guidelines are broken into three priority levels, based upon level of importance or impact on accessibility. At a minimum, you should meet the Priority I and Priority II guidelines. The Priority III guidelines are more of a wish list for accessibility, but contain some very important items that should be included whenever possible. The WAVE - external link can alert you of non-compliance with many of the WCAG guidelines.
Step 6. Conduct User Testing
One of the best ways to determine the accessibility of your pages is to get feedback from individuals with disabilities. Most are very willing to give you feedback if it will help increase the accessibility of your content to the disability community. Sometimes features of the site that you believed would increase accessibility end up being very confusing or inaccessible. Be willing to make changes based on user testing. Especially seek feedback on your navigation structure and use of language. These two things can pose huge accessibility barriers to a large group of individuals. As soon as their recommendations for changes have been made, have them test again and see if things are better. Encourage feedback from all of your site visitors.
Step 7. Repeat This Process
Web accessibility is a continual process and one that should be evaluated often. Each time you update or change content, quickly run through the previous 6 steps. You will quickly get very good at them and eventually you will understand how to both evaluate and create accessible web content.