Accessibility auditing – how to get started with web accessibility

Published: 22.4.2020
Categories: Accessibility
Reading time: 6 min
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What if your digital services were available for everyone? And I mean for everyone. What would the benefits be and how to get started with accessibility? After reading my article you know solid answers for both. And even a bit more.

With the introduction of the digital accessibility law in Finland, accessibility is now one of the hottest topics in IT. Most people have at least heard of web accessibility, and might even know the principles Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust.

In this article, I give a brief introduction to why improving accessibility makes so much sense to all digital services, not just the ones that are legally obligated to. I will also go through how to get started with the accessibility evaluations – whether you need a full audit for a legally binding certificate of the accessibility of your site or a lighter version of the audit aka partial review.

Why improve the accessibility of your service?

  • You may legally have to - In Finland, the digital accessibility law applies to government officials, public sector service providers, private organizations that are at least 50% publicly funded, and certain private-sector service providers (such as banks). The Finnish law actually has more coverage than the EU directive, which sets the minimum standards for all EU countries.
  • Accessibility can boost your business – There are roughly a million people in Finland alone that need some form of accessible service. Many people with disabilities also prefer to shop and take care of everyday tasks online, which can be easier and faster in digital environments.
  • Accessibility means good usability - Investing in accessibility improves the overall usability of your service, which benefits all users. There are many accessibility principles, like consistency and understandability, that help us all navigate a service more easily. So taking these into account, accessibility creates a better experience for everybody.
  • It’s the right thing to do – Let’s face it, making your services accessible to all people is just the right thing to do. As humans, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and we should try to accommodate those as best as we can. Often a remarkable number of potential users can be included with just a few accessibility accommodations.

Getting started

If you have an existing online service, the best way to start improving its accessibility is to invest in evaluation, whether it is a full audit or partial review. An accessibility evaluation helps you understand what the overall state of accessibility of your site is, and it identifies the currently existing accessibility issues. A good evaluation also prioritizes the issues based on their severity, giving you an organized task list for future improvements.

The basis for all web accessibility evaluations in the EU is the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 Level A and AA success criteria. In addition to WCAG, our evaluations include some general usability principles as well as guidelines for different content types, such as PDF and other document formats.

For multiple reasons, no evaluation can ever be a 100% complete description of every accessibility infringement on the site. With existing services whose accessibility hasn’t been tested before, there can be so many infringements that catching them all would require more than great time resources. It’s wiser to prioritise testing. Today’s evolving services and changing technologies also mean that a once-accessible feature can be broken, so to create a truly accessible service, audits should be made into a regular part of continuous development.

Tools and techniques

Nowadays there are many automated accessibility testing tools, such as Siteimprove and the Axe extension for Chrome and Firefox. These tools are extremely good at evaluating the technical accessibility of the service, but there are still many aspects that require human evaluation. For example, it’s still very hard for an algorithm to estimate whether a user has enough ways to navigate the site, or whether the site’s links are named in an understandable manner. At Wunder, we combine the best of both worlds: our specialists use automated tools where machines work best, and their own expertise as both accessibility professionals and humans where machines fall short.

So what is the appropriate extent of an evaluation? That really depends on the service. If your service is very large or complex, like the sites of large cities and universities often are, it’s a good idea to plan the focus and extent together with the service provider. It should be determined, for example, if some parts of the site are going to be left out of the evaluation, if there are downloadable files whose accessibility should also be evaluated, or if you have analytics data about the ways your users use the site. This way the evaluation can focus on the right things and you get the maximal use out of the findings.

For medium to small-sized services, a ready-made evaluation package is usually enough. Different service providers have different kinds of packages, and at Wunder, the accessibility team has designed these two evaluation types for the most common client needs.

Full accessibility audit

Wunder’s full audit is an extensive five-day evaluation that focuses on determining whether the service complies with the legally-required WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA criteria. This means that the site is tested by an accessibility expert using automated tools, heuristic evaluation, and manual testing. Wunder's full test bench includes a variety of desktop and mobile operating systems, browsers, modes, and digital assistive technologies such as screen readers. 

The result of a full audit is a report in the client's preferred language, where all found accessibility infringements are listed and prioritised by their severity. This type of evaluation is appropriate when you need to find and fix every possible issue, as well as when you need to add a legally-binding accessibility statement to your service.

All organisations covered by the Finnish digital accessibility law are legally required to provide an accessibility statement explaining the current status of the site. If there are any accessibility issues on it, it also has to explain what they are, and include a plan to fix them. The final report of a full audit includes the data necessary to create this statement. As a best practice, the accessibility statement should be based on an evaluation done by a third-party contractor, not the service provider itself nor the company that has developed the service.

Partial accessibility review

Lighter than the full audit, an accessibility review focuses on improving the general accessibility of the service. This type of evaluation works well for organizations that don’t currently have legal accessibility obligations but want to be more inclusive and improve the quality of their service. Partial reviews work great as a regular part of continuous development or as a measure that prepares the service for a full audit.

A partial review is like a full audit, in many ways. We still test compliance against WCAG 2.1 Level AA using automated, heuristic, and manual methods; however, we use a limited version of our test bench, including only certain chosen operating systems, browsers, modes, and digital assistive technologies. Just like in full audit, the partial review leads to a final report where all found accessibility issues are described and prioritized by severity.

However, while a full audit aims to evaluate compliance against legal requirements, the main purpose of a partial review is to improve the accessibility of the service in an agile way. The findings can be used to create a task list for the site’s developers, and our accessibility experts provide specific recommendations on how to fix each issue according to best practices.

Accessibility in Wunder

Wunder has highly skilled accessibility specialists and developers who are experienced both in performing accessibility evaluations and building accessible services from scratch. We are committed to promoting accessibility culture both inside Wunder and out in the digital world. Contact us, and we gladly tell you more.

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