People vary in their ability to see, hear, read text and use the mouse. For example, at least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability that may make it harder for them to use a website. Many more have a temporary disability.
So when we think about making a quality website, we should focus beyond technical performance metrics, bugs and good looks. The standard of quality should also include usability and accessibility so that the site can be used by as many people as possible.
For Visual Framework sites we recommend the WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility level. This is both the legal level required by the European Union (and other national governments) and it is a level that should impose a reasonable amount of effort on develop and design. As the Digital Accessibility Centre summarizes: “AA is accepted as a very good commitment to accessibility”.
Read at all on web accessibility and you'll see: "WCAG", "AA" and "AAA". The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is set of widely recognised recommendations for making websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities. The WCAG primer explains these guidelines and how to use them.
An accessible start
This is not a topic we can fully cover in 1000 words, so how can you get started?
- Good: Use an automated testing tool
- Better: Refer to checklists
- Best: Real human testing
- WAVE, the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, is a free service and browser extension to find common errors.
- Accessibility Insights is a desktop, mobile integration and browser extension from Microsoft.
- Set up a screen reader and use it to test your site.
You can find many more tools at The Accessibility Project.
Automated online tools and browser extensions can help immensely, but they are not everything. We need also to spend time familiarising ourselves with the challenges and techniques, read on for more ideas and approaches.
In addition to lots of good advice, The Accessibility Project has a comprehensive checklist. This checklist uses WCAG as a reference point and can help you check your WCAG compliance. Although the checklist cannot guarantee that your site is accessible, addressing the issues called out in this checklist will help improve the experience for everyone who uses your site.
When working with your UX colleagues (or doing your own UX planning and testing) spend time trying to recruit testers and participants who have impairments.
In conclusion ...
- Anticipate the needs of these users and test for them with tools
- Include users in your testing
- Let users get in touch: be sure to have a contact address for feedback on bugs and problems
And remember it's about more than colour: Often discussed is the AA and AAA accessibility of colour contrast but accessibility is equally about type size, spacing and if text can be read aloud.