An accessibility audit is an essential way for organizations to determine, update and maintain their websites accessibility. Organizations that should plan for accessibility audit are either in the public sector or committed to achieve accessibility through corporate policy. Other reasons to perform an audit are the lack of independent proof that a site is accessible, the need to meet WCAG level standards and you know your site is not compliant and wish to bring it up to date.
The accessibility audit process evaluates a websites level of accessibility based on the specific predetermined checkpoints an organization have set. The audit will result in a report outlining actions required to improve or ways to make sure a site meets accessibility.
There are a some simple quick ways to learn about accessibility to identify if your site contains any of the common accessibility issues. These simple checks require no special knowledge and are aimed to help understand some obstacles that people with disabilities can encounter.
Check 1: Alternative Text
Testing for the presence and relevant text on images is very important. Some users turn images off and without this text, they’ll see nothing and it allows screen readers to read the images text alternative to unsighted people. To test, hover your mouse over each important image and see if any text pops up. If the text is meaningless or not equivalent information to the image, this will cause confusion to someone using a screen reader.
Check 2: Navigate Using the Keyboard
Use the tab key on your keyboard to navigate around your site. If you can’t carry out functions and access content using just the keyboard, then people who can’t use a mouse will not have access to the information on your site
Check 3: Enlarge the Text
Using your browser setting, enlarge the text. If the text doesn’t enlarge or the layout begins to degrade, this prevents people with vision problem from easily reading content on your site.
When should you audit your site? The easiest way to create an accessible website is during the initial design stage. If this is specified from the beginning in the contract, incorporating this should cost nothing as the developer is obligated to carry them out. In this case the audit would happen during the creation phase as the features are implemented.
Existing sites can not so easily be altered with new feature to correct accessibility problems. If you wait until the site is build before considering accessibility, some of the design choices made may not be feasible and costly alternative may be required.
Websites have life cycles and these typical steps are: Plan > Specify> Design> Develop > Test > Deploy > Operate > Review. If the accessibility is built in to this plan, the site should make all deadlines
The scope of the audit can include as few as the top key pages to the entire site. Pages generated by a content management system will consist of two parts. The template that holds the content and the content its self.
The final accessibility audit report will provide:
- Background information that includes site goals, reason for audit, and summary of the audit requirements.
- Who performed the audit.
- What methodologies the audit used.
- What pages were sampled.
- The WCAG level that was used to measure.
- Prioritized action list, with suggested fixes and timeline.
- Appendix of audit detail.
In general if your not an organization in the public sector, it’s good practice to utilized Checks 1-3 once a year or as you ad new features to your site. Doing so will allow more users access to your site and make your entire site more user friendly. If your organization is in the public sector, you will be required to meet the WCAG level standards and plan at least 3 mini audits a year to make sure your site is compliant.
The resource for this article is an excellent reference tool for any organization wishing to make their site accessible and includes important resources to further understand the accessibility auditing process: a multi-part article, Introduction to accessibility auditing.