At Mediacurrent, we hear a lot of questions — from the open source community and from our customers — about website accessibility. What are the must-have tools, resources, and modules? How often should I test? To address those and other top FAQs, we hosted a webinar with front end developers Ben Robertson and Tobias Williams, back end developer Mark Casias, and UX designer Becky Cierpich.
The question that drives all others is this: Why should one care about web accessibility? To kick-off the webinar, Ben gave a compelling answer. He covered many of the topics you’ve read about on the Mediacurrent blog: introducing WCAG Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, some the benefits of website accessibility (including improved usability and SEO) and the threats of non-compliance.
Adam Kirby: Hi everybody, this is Adam Kirby. I'm the Director of Marketing here at Mediacurrent. Thanks everyone for joining us. Today we're going to go over website accessibility frequently asked questions.
Our first question is:
Are there automated tools I can use to ensure my site is accessible and what are the best free tools?
Becky Cierpich: Yes! Automated tools that I like to use —and these are actually all free tools— are WEBAIM’s WAVE tool, you can use that as a browser extension. There's also Chrome Accessibility Developer Tools and Khan Academy has a Chrome Plugin called Tota11y. So with these things, you can get a report of all the errors and warnings on a page. Automated testing catches about 30 percent of errors, but it takes a human to sort through and intellectually interpret the results and then determine the most inclusive user experience.
What's the difference between human and automated testing?
Becky Cierpich: Well, as I said, the automated tools can catch 30 percent of errors and we need a human on the back end of that to interpret. And then we use the manual tools, things like Chrome Vox or VoiceOver for Mac, those are some things you can turn on if you want to simulate a user experience from the auditory side, you can do keyboard only navigation to simulate that experience. Those things will really help you to kind of drive behind the wheel of what another user's experiencing and catch any errors in the flow that may have come from, you know, the code not being up to up to spec.
Then we also have color contrast checkers. WEBAIM has a good one for that and all these are free tools and they can allow you to test one color against another. You can verify areas that have too little contrast and test adjustments that'll fix the contrast.
What do the terms WCAG, W3C, WAI, Section 508, and ADA Title III mean?
Mark Casias: I'll take that one - everybody loves a good acronym. WCAG, these are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This is the actual document that gives you the ideas of what you need to change or what you want to a base your site on. W3C stands for World Wide Web Consortium - these are the people who control the web standardization. WAI is the Web Accessibility Initiative and refers to the section of the W3C that focuses on accessibility.
Finally, Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, well it was added to that act in 1998, to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and IT accessible to people with disabilities. ADA Title III is part of the Americans with Disabilities Act which focuses on private businesses, it mandates that they need to be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.
What are the different levels of compliance?
Tobias Williams: Briefly, the WCAG Web Content Accessibility Guidelines tell us that there are three levels - A, AA, and AAA, with AAA being the highest level of compliance. These are internationally agreed to, voluntary standards. Level A has the minimum requirements for the page to be accessible. Level AA builds on the accessibility of level A, examples include consideration of navigation placement and contrast of colors. Level AAA again builds on the previous level - certain videos have sign language translation and improved color contrast.
To meet the standard of each level there are 5 requirements that are detailed on the WCAG site. Every every actionable part of the site has to be 100% compliant. WCAG doesn't require that a claim to a standard be made, and these grades are not specified by the ADA but are often referenced when assessing how accessible the site is.
Should we always aim for AAA standards?
Ben Robertson: How we approach it is we think you should aim for AA compliance. That's going to make sure that you're covering all the bases. You have to do an internal audit of who are your users and what are your priorities and who you're trying to reach. And then see out of those, where do the AAA guidelines come in and where can you get the biggest bang for your buck? I think that the smart way to do it is to prioritize. Because when you get to the AAA level, it can be a very intense process, like captioning every single video on your site. So you have to prioritize.
What Drupal modules can help with accessibility?
Mark Casias: Drupal.org has a great page that lists a good portion of these modules for accessibility. One that they don't have on there is the AddtoAny module that allows you to share your content. We investigated this for our work on the Grey Muzzle site and found this was the most accessible option. Here are some other modules you can try:
- Automatic Alternative Text -The module uses the Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services API to generate an Alternative Text for images when no Alternative Text has been provided by user.
- Block ARIA Landmark Roles -Inspired by Block Class, this module adds additional elements to the block configuration forms that allow users to assign a ARIA landmark role to a block.
- CKEditor Abbreviation - Adds a button to CKEditor for inserting and editing abbreviations. If an existing abbr tag is selected, the context menu also contains a link to edit the abbreviation.
- CKEditor Accessibility Checker - The CKEditor Accessibility Checker module enables the Accessibility Checker plugin from CKEditor.com in your WYSIWYG.
- High contrast - Provides a quick solution to allow the user to switch between the active theme and a high contrast version of it. (Still in beta)
- htmLawed - The htmLawed module uses the htmLawed PHP library to restrict and purify HTML for compliance with site administrator policy and standards and for security. Use of the htmLawed library allows for highly customizable control of HTML markup.
- Siteimprove - The Siteimprove plugin bridges the gap between Drupal and the Siteimprove Intelligence Platform.
- Style Switcher - The module takes the fuss out of creating themes or building sites with alternate stylesheets.
- Text Resize - The Text Resize module provides your end-users with a block that can be used to quickly change the font size of text on your Drupal site.
At what point in a project or website development should I think about accessibility?
Becky Cierpich: I got this one! Well, the short answer is always and forever. Always think about accessibility. I work a lot at the front end of a project doing strategy and design. So what we try to do is bake it in from the very beginning. We'll take analytics data and then wecan get to know the audience that way. That's how you can kind of plan and prioritize your features. If you want to do AAA features, you can figure out who your users are before you go ahead and plan that out. Another thing we do is look at personas. You can create personas that have limitations and that way when you go in and design. You can be sure to capture those people who might be challenged by even things like a temporary disability, slow Internet connection or colorblind - things that people don't necessarily even think of this as a disability.
I would also say don't worry if you already have a site and you know, it's definitely not compliant or you're not sure because Mediacurrent can come in and audit, using the testing tools to interpret and prioritize and slowly you can get up speed over time. It's not something that you have to necessarily do overnight.
How often should I check for accessibility compliance?
Tobias Williams: I’ll take this one - I also work on the front end, implementing Becky’s designs. When you're building anything new for a site, you should be accessibility testing. test work, During cross-browser testing, we should also be checking that our code meets the accessibility standards we are maintaining.
Now that's easy to do on a new cycle because you're in the process of building a product that currently exists. I would say anytime you make any kind of change or you're focused on any kind of barrier of the fight, I would run a quick accessibility check. And then even if you don't address the changes straight away or at least you're aware of that, you can document them and work on them later. As far as an in-production site where you have a lot of content creators, or where independent groups work on features it is also a good idea to run quarterly spot checks.
I've seen these on a few sites, but what is an accessibility statement and do I need one?
Becky Cierpich: An accessibility statement is similar to something like a privacy agreement. It's a legal document and there are templates to do it. It basically states clearly what level of accessibility the website is targeting. If you have any areas that still need improvement, you can acknowledge those and outline your plan to achieve those goals and when you're targeting to have that done. It can add a measure of legal protection while you're implementing any fixes. And if your site is up to code, it's a powerful statement to the public that your organization is recognizing the importance of an inclusive approach to your web presence.
What are the legal ramifications of not having an accessible website?
Ben Robertson: I'll jump in here, but I just want to make a disclaimer that I'm not a lawyer. Take what I say with several grains of salt! This whole space is pretty new in terms of legal requirements. The landmark case was Winn-Dixie, the grocery store chain — it was filed under title III of ADA Act and they lost. It was brought up by a blind customer who could not use their website. The court order is available online and it's an interesting read but basically, there were no damages sought in the case. The court ordered that
they had to have an accessibility statement that said that they would follow WCAG 2.0. That's a great refresh for site editors to make sure that they're following best practices. They also mandated quarterly automated accessibility testing.
I really think if you have these things in place already, you're really gonna mitigate pretty much all your risk. You can get out in front of it if you have a plan.
If I have an SEO expert, do I need an accessibility expert as well?
Tobias Williams: I'll explain what we do at Mediacurrent. We don't have one person who is an expert. We have a group of people. We have several developers, designers and other people on the team who are just interested in the subject and we meet once a week, we have a Slack channel where you just talk about accessibility. There are people who are most familiar with different aspects of it and that allows us to be better rounded as a group.
I can see somebody being hired to be an accessibility expert but I think that the dialogue within a company about this issue is most important. The more people who are aware of it, the better. You can prevent problems before they occur. So, if I'm aware of the accessibility requirements of an item building, I'm going to build it the right way as opposed to having to be reviewed by the expert and then making changes. The more people who are talking about it and were involved in it and I'm the general level of knowledge, it goes a long way. We don't need to have experts as much as we need to have interested people.
As a content editor, what's my role in website accessibility?
Mark Casias: Your role is very important in website accessibility. All the planning and site building that I do [as a developer] won't mean a thing if you don't attach an image alt tag to your images or you use a bunch of H1 title tags because you want the font size to be bigger and things like that. Content editors need to be aware of what they're doing and its impact on accessibility. They need to know the requirements and they need to make sure that their information is. keeping the website rolling in the right direction. Check out Mediacurrent’s Go-To-Guide for Website Accessibility for more on how to do this.
Some of the technical requirements for accessibility seem costly and complex. What are the options for an organization?
Ben Robertson: Yeah, I totally agree. Sometimes you will get an accessibility audit back and you just see a long list of things that are red and wrong. It can seem overwhelming. I think there's really a couple of things to keep in mind here is that one, you don't have to do everything all at once. You can create an accessibility statement and you can create a plan and start working through that plan. Two, it really helps to have someone with experience or an experienced team to help you go through this process. There can be things that are a very high priority that are very easy to fix and there can be things that may be a low priority.
You can also think about it this way: if you got a report from a contractor that something you're building was not up to code, you would want to fix that. And so this is kind of a similar thing. People aren't going to be injured from using your website if it's inaccessible but it's the right thing to do. It's how websites are supposed to be built if you're following the guidelines, and it's really good to help your business overall.
How much does it cost to have and maintain an accessible site? Should I set aside budget just for this?
Adam Kirby: You will want to set aside a budget to create an accessible site. It is an expense. You're going to have to do a little bit more for your website in order to make sure it's successful. You're going to have to make changes. How much does it cost? That will vary and depend on where you are with your site build; if it’s an existing site, if you're launching a new site, the amount of content on your site and the variability of content types. So, unfortunately, the answer is it just depends.
If you need help with an accessibility audit, resolving some known issues on your site, or convincing your leadership to take action on website accessibility, we’re here for you.