Having an accessible website means that you are removing barriers that prevent interaction with your website by people with disabilities. Those disabilities might include sight impairment, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and hearing impairment. When your site is designed and developed correctly to comply with accessibility standards, all users will have equal access to information and functionality.
The US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended in 1986 and again in 1998 to cover all information technology, including computer hardware, software, and documentation. These amendments are known as “Section 508.” While currently applicable to government websites and applications, many state agencies and corporations have adopted these standards.
If you have an existing site, your first step in the process of becoming compliant is to evaluate your sites’ current accessibility conformance. You can do a quick and simple review of your site using a few basic checks and then use that information to decide on next steps. Here are a few basic tests that you’ll want to perform:
Page title – ensure all pages contain an appropriate title that appears in the browser window title bar.
Image text alternatives – all images on your site should contain alternative text. If an image is not used to convey information, they can have an empty alt tag.
Headings – ensure heading levels have a meaningful hierarchy.
Text size – try changing the text size of a page by zooming or pinching to ensure they are still readable.
Keyboard access – tab through a page on your site and ensure that it follows through in a logical progression.
Forms, labels, and errors – again, test the flow by tabbing through a form to ensure proper progression. Form labels
should be present for each field, and errors should be clear and specific.
Styles – most browsers provide tools to ‘turn off’ the styles for your site or page. Evaluate the layout to ensure the page information hierarchy conveys the same message and flow.
Performing this quick check can give you a good idea of your sites’ compliance, but you may want to follow that up with a more in-depth evaluation. You can do this yourself using a few of the many tools available, or work with organizations that provide website accessibility audits. If you don’t yet have a website or are redesigning an existing site, there are many accessibility features that can be easily implemented if they are planned for.
There is much information on the web about accessibility and it can seem a bit overwhelming. You’ll want to make sure that you are planning and implementing according to the latest standards and best practices. To help with this, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WIA) has provided this guide to help you plan, implement and sustain an accessible site.