How to Design for Accessibility When Building A New Website

A businessman assisting two of his colleagues at a computer

By Erica Statly on Oct 23, 2018

Web accessibility is important because it guarantees that the internet will be accessible to everyone, regardless of any disabilities. It is a way of ensuring that those who have vision impairment, hearing impairment, learning disabilities, limited movement, speech disabilities or photosensitivity can still easily and equally access websites. In order to make this happen, it’s important to keep accessibility standards in mind and design for accessibility right from the start. Use these 12 steps as a guide when designing your website to avoid any accessibility issues.

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7 Web Accessibility Testing Tools for Every Need

Two businessmen discussing computer project

By Erica Statly on Oct 16, 2018

Website accessibility compliance is no longer optional. Businesses large and small are increasingly involved in accessibility lawsuits due to a lack of web accessibility. To help protect your brand from lawsuits, we’ve put together a list of accessibility testing tools to make sure your website is fully accessible and adheres to common standards. These tools can test your site for common issues and determine if you are compliance with accessibility standards like WCAG 2.0, set by W3C, Section 508, the ADA, and more.

Web Accessibility Testing Tools for Every Need

The Importance of Website Accessibility

Website accessibility standards consider auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and visual needs when assessing websites. Additionally, websites must be accessible under all types of circumstances, including different users, environments, and conditions. Often, improving website accessibility also makes your website more useable for the following people and in the following situations:

  • Mobile devices
  • The elderly
  • Broken arms
  • Poor vision
  • Bright sunlight
  • Quiet rooms
  • Slow internet connection
  • Limited bandwidth

For those approaching web accessibility for the first time, it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, web accessibility testing tools have been created to help. Website accessibility testing is the step-by-step process of checking whether or not a website or mobile application is completely accessible for all users. There are both automated and manual testing options. This post will explore tools that can automate the process for you.

Find and solve accessibility issues with your site, step-by-step: Download the Ultimate Website Accessibility Checklist

Tool #1: Color Contrast

In order to make your website useable for those with colorblindness or poor vision, you must have a certain contrast between colors across your website. If an individual can’t distinguish the background from the foreground, the content is considered illegible and therefore not accessible.

Accessible Colors allows you to input the HEX code, size and weight of your text color, HEX code of your background color and the standard your website is required to comply with. It will then alert you to whether you are passing or failing for that particular standard, so you can make changes accordingly.

Another tool for this is Colour Contrast Check, which has you input the HEX codes for your foreground and background color and will give you results based on:

  • Brightness difference
  • Color difference
  • Contrast ratio
  • WCAG 2 AA Compliant
  • WCAG 2 AA Compliant (18pt+)
  • WCAG 2 AAA Compliant
  • WCAG 2 AAA Compliant (18pt+)

Tool #2: Flashing

If there is any flashing or flickering effects included on your website, it could trigger seizures from users on your site. That is a direct violation of website accessibility standards. To keep this in check, use tools like this Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool.

Tool #3: Alt-text

Alt-text describes images on a screen with text. So for the visually impaired who need screen readers to use a website, the screen reader registers the alt-text in place of the image. Without alt-text for all non-text elements on the page, your website could be subject to an accessible lawsuit.

Accessible Metrics will test your site for alt-text, among other accessibility concerns, and provide a full site report. Full site testing is not yet available to all users, however it is available through private beta.

The WAVE Chrome extension can test for alt text. You can evaluate your website accessibility standing right from your browser. No information will be sent to the WAVE server, guaranteeing you complete privacy.

Tool #4: Usability

Those who are disabled must be able to use your website easily. An easier way to think about usability is as the “user experience.” Usability refers to how your website functions as a user is trying to navigate through it. There cannot be any barriers in terms of usability for those with disabilities.

This can include obstacles like forms without labels, which prevents screen readers from reading forms to blind or low-vision users. It can also include navigation buttons that are not accessible through a keyboard or assistive devices, such as menus that activate on hover only, and not on click or focus.

Since usability has to do with comprehension and function, some of these obstacles cannot be automatically determined, and they require manual testing. However, some accessibility testing tools can test for a variety of usability issues. PowerMapper SiteCheck Usability Test, for example, checks your website usability against US Federal Usability, W3C Guidelines and Wikipedia accessibility guidelines.

Tool #5: Empty Links

Those who are visually impaired will struggle to understand the context of links on a website if there is not accessible text paired with the link. The link text allows a screen reader to interpret it and communicate back to the user. If your links do not have some form of text replacement they are considered “empty links” and violate website accessibility guidelines.

Check your website for empty links using a tool like the Online Website Link Checker or Accessible Metrics.

Tool #6: Screen Reader Test

A lot of web accessibility issues circle back to the use of screen readers. Therefore, it may be smart to do an overall test on your website to see how compatible it is with a screen reader. A simple tool to complete this task is JAWS (for Windows) or Voiceover (for Mac).

Tool #7: Ongoing Maintenance

Accessibility is going to be constantly changing because the world of technology is evolving so rapidly. Consistently using a tool like Accessible Metrics site scanner will show you potential accessibility issues and give you actionable solutions. Web accessibility testing is not a one time to-do, it’s an ongoing process. Keep up on overall compliance to protect your website.

It’s important to test your website to make sure it is fully accessible to everyone. These automated tools are a great start to making sure your site is safe from lawsuits. Download the Ultimate Website Accessibility Checklist to learn more about common accessibility risks and complete the testing process.

Everything You Need to Know About Section 508 Compliance for Websites

Young man working with a tablet

By Sam Stemler on Oct 9, 2018

Throughout the U.S. and throughout the world, the number of laws requiring equal web and electronic accessibility for all are growing. In the U.S., Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is at the forefront. While it does not apply to privately owned websites, such as individuals’ or private businesses’, it does require accessibility for all federal websites and electronic materials. Section 508 was updated in January 2017 to take new technologies into account, and to improve enforcement. Federal agencies and groups had a year to comply with the update, and should now be in compliance. We’ve compiled the highlights and details of the Section 508 update to give you everything you need to know about Section 508 compliance for websites.

Everything You Need to Know About Section 508 Compliance for Websites

What does Section 508 Require?

Section 508 is intended to make electronic government resources available to people with disabilities. It was originally added to the Rehabilitation Act in 1998, and then updated in 2017. Section 508 includes electronic government resources needed or requested by the public as well as employees, so it affects internal and public-facing federal websites and resources equally.

Section 508 explains and defines key areas that must be accessible. The following subsections are quoted or paraphrased from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Appendix A to Part 1194.

  • Communications: This includes a wide range of messages, forms, surveys, announcements, notices of benefits, web pages, training materials and more that communicate information to an employee or user.
  • Hardware: “A tangible device, equipment, or physical component of [information communication technology] ICT, such as telephones, computers, multifunction copy machines, and keyboards.”
  • Software: “Programs, procedures, rules, and related data and documentation that direct the use and operation of ICT and instruct it to perform a given task or function. Software includes, but is not limited to, applications, non-Web software, and platform software.”

Generally, the bar for accessibility compliance in Section 508 is measured against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG 2.0 AA provides direction for many accessibility rules worldwide.

What Does Section 508 Compliance Look Like for Websites?

The new Section 508 update measures compliance against WCAG 2.0 AA, the same standard used in most of the world. Like Section 508, WCAG 2.0 AA does not give specific tasks that webmasters must fulfill to make a website compliant and accessible. Instead, the rules outline what accessible websites should do, with a focus on functionality instead of form. This gives webmasters the power to implement a solution works best for their needs.

The following are some of the most common website accessibility obstacles and concerns addressed in WCAG 2.0 AA:

  • Design: The design of your website is essential to accessibility. Your design decides how pages are organized, your color scheme, navigation buttons and much more. Starting with an accessible design can make Section 508 compliance much easier.
  • Navigation: To be accessible, your website should be navigable with a keyboard, as many assistive devices work similarly to a keyboard. For example, your navigation menu should be activated on click instead or (or in addition t0) hover.  It’s also helpful to have multiple navigation options for large websites, such as a site map or search bar.
  • Text: Text should be relatively large and clear. Users with sight challenges should be able to magnify the text without altering the functionality of the site or the meaning of the content.
  • Pictures: Pictures should not contain essential information, unless the information is also conveyed through alt text. This is particularly important for charts and graphs or buttons.
  • Video: Videos should contain accurate subtitles.

Who Does Section 508 Apply to?

Section 508 applies to ICT of all federal agencies and the federal contractors who produce it. While it does not cover states or state governments, many states have adopted accessibility guidelines modeled after Section 508.

Though Section 508 provides specific rules governing ICT used by federal agencies, Section 504 extends the Rehabilitation Act to ensure equal access to any federal assistance. This includes any group which receives federal funding, such as many schools, libraries, and airports, among others. Section 504 does not make specific mention of ICT, but instead requires governing departments to enforce accessibility internally. For example, the U.S. Department of Education is in charge of administering Section 504 in schools. The accessibility of ICT through groups which receive federal funding and fall under the purview of Section 504 will be decided by the governing department, most likely with guidelines similar to Section 508.

Are There Exceptions?

There are some exceptions to Section 508. National security systems are explicitly exempt from Section 508. Some equipment used only for maintenance, repair, or monitoring are also explicitly exempt from Section 508.

What About Systems and Content Before the Update?

All systems and content that was in compliance with the original Section 508 standards before the 2018 update will still be acceptable under the “safe harbor” clause. ICT in compliance before January 18, 2018, when the update went into effect, will still be acceptable. However, any ICT updated after this time must be in compliance with the new rule.

Who Enforces Section 508?

The 2018 update to Section 508 imposes more specific accessibility rules for federal contractors. As federal contractors must adhere to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the enforcement and regulation through contracts will be administered through FAR.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (AKA the Access Board) is responsible for researching and developing Section 508 guidelines. The Access Board is also responsible for future reviews and updates to account for changes in technology.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Government-wide Policy will provide assistance to federal agencies creating or updating content or systems, and developing procurement guidelines.

The recent update to Section 508 focusing on functionality and foundational support through WCAG 2.0 AA brings web accessibility forward in the United States. Federal agencies provide a model for web accessibility compliance, and Section 508 provides a framework for equal access. Just as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act forged a path for the Americans with Disabilities Act to require equal access to private business, Section 508 may eventually become a compliance model for web accessibility for private enterprise as well.

4 Key Takeaways from 2018 Web Accessibility Lawsuits

A wooden gavel rests on its sounding block in front of a row of law books

By Erica Statly on Oct 2, 2018

Over 1,000 lawsuits related to web accessibility were filed from January to July 2018. The government is putting their foot down on anti-discrimination laws and the internet. Many brands are feeling the heat from these laws as the grey area on websites and accessibility for the disabilities is being addressed. This article breaks down what web accessibility is, assesses some 2018 lawsuits, and discusses key takeaways so you can protect your business.

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