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Five quick checks for your website’s accessibility

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, an initiative to get people to talk, think and learn about digital accessibility.  

So why not try out these five steps to see how well your site is meeting the accessibility requirements

GAAD is aimed at the design, development, usability, and related communities and it has broadly similar aims to the World Usability Day initiative sponsored by the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA): raising awareness through events and information about digital accessibility.

In recognition of GAAD, it is worth trying out some accessibility ‘quick checks’ to review and improve the accessibility of your website. 

The defacto standards of website accessibility are the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and some regional variations such as the Section 508 in the USA. 

These guidelines are the product of extensive collaboration among the world’s leading accessibility researchers and developers.  

The guidelines and their supporting techniques are necessarily extensive and potentially intimidating, so as a relatively quick check into your site’s accessibility, why not try out some of these techniques?

Five quick checks on your site’s accessibility

1. Unplug your mouse

Don’t use your mouse, but instead use the tab key to move through the links and active elements on your site, and use the space bar or return key to select items.  

Are you able to see which active are has the current focus? Can you access all areas of the site or are there some parts that are revealed only through the hovering of a mouse? 

2. Check your multimedia

More and more online content is through video and audio podcasts, and this also needs to be accessible.  

Check if you are providing captions, transcripts, or audio descriptions to make these available to those who are deaf or with hearing impairments.

3. Try out a screen reader

Blind users have a variety of assistive technologies to use, but the site needs to meet them halfway by providing content that can be read by the screenreader.  

Some screenreaders can be quite expensive but you can try out the free open source NVDA screenreader to see how your site sounds when read through.  

Alternatively for Firefox users, the Fangs extension provides a decent visualisation of the text that would be spoken by a screenreader.

4. Check your colour contrast 

There are some good colour contrast analysers available online that allow you to easily check whether there is enough contrast between foreground text and its background to allow people with vision impairments to read the text.   

5. Run an accessibility tool 

A variety of accessibility checking tools are available such as my personal favourite WAVE or accessibility toolbars which can help you perform many of the checks above.  

Be aware that these tools will not find all of the accessibility issues, since many require a deeper review of the code itself, but they will point you in the right direction and help you find some of the more easily identified issues. 

The steps above won’t necessarily find all of your accessibility issues, but it will help you capture some of the accessibility quick wins for your site. For further technical information check out the W3C’s WCAG guidelines and the related WAI- ARIA guidelines if your site features lots of AJAX, dynamic content and other rich internet application cleverness.

Finally, enjoy Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and try to make it along to a local event near you to learn more.

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