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Website Accessibility – A Renewed Focus and How to Get Started

A growing diversity and inclusion trend is welcome news to help ensure accountability of executives in business and encourage honest conversations and more effective teams. An important aspect of diversity and inclusion is website accessibility.

There is certainly a renewed focus based on both a social and regulatory perspective—especially highlighted by the recent number of lawsuits of companies whose websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  And a renewed focus is very much needed given most companies/industries do not comply with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards.  WCAG is an internationally accepted standard for web accessibility developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WebAIM annually conducts an accessibility evaluation of the home pages for the top 1,000,000 websites worldwide.  As of February 2022, 96.8% of home pages had WCAG 2.0 failures.  Noted in the study, while these are only automatically detected errors that align with WCAG conformance failures, this means that the actual WCAG 2.0 A/AA conformance level was certainly lower as automatic testing cannot detect all possible WCAG failure types.

So how does one get started regarding website accessibility?

Many companies engage with expert consultants/agencies to undertake this in some key steps that should include:

1. Determine the Scope: Depending on the goals and objective of the initiative, the target WCAG Conformance Level needs to be decided. This may be related to an organization’s goal or commitment, or it could be for compliance with a regulatory requirement such as section 508 in the United States or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Ontario.

Budget constraints are a common challenge that organizations face in projects such as those for WCAG Conformance.  WCAG Conformance Testing and Remediation, when performed appropriately, is a complex, detail-oriented process which is primarily manual (though some portions of it can utilize automation and tools to assist) and requires extensive effort.  To help with budget and timelines, a Risk-Based approach can be utilized using a sampling strategy in the selection of Content Items to be included in the Scope of WCAG Conformance Testing.

Some of the criteria to consider when selecting a risk-based sample set include:

  • Main Webpages (Home Pages, webpages that are linked on the Home Page)
  • Accessibility-Relevant Items (Content specifically relevant to people with Disabilities, like an Accessibility Plan, etc.)
  • Webpages with Different Types of Content (Images, Buttons, Dropdowns, Audio, Video, Tables, Carousels, etc.)
  • Webpages with Essential Functionality
  • Webpages from Different Templates that utilize similar Structure, Design, Layout, Components, Objects, etc.
  • Web Traffic Analytics Data (ex. Highest Number of Visits, Longest Visit Time)
  • Selecting of a Single Language for Multilingual Websites where only the Text Changes when Language is Toggled

If a truly “representative” sample can be selected for Testing, this may facilitate the identification of the majority of WCAG Conformance Defects existing in the content without having to Test every single webpage, document, etc.  This approach could result in significant cost/timeline savings in the WCAG Conformance Testing aspect of the initiative, but there is still some risk that things can be missed.  The only way to ensure 100% coverage is to test 100% of the Content.

2. Assessment: This is a detailed analysis of the web content to identify and confirm all the web content in scope and identify the test cases based on the WCAG 2.0 Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Guidelines that are applicable for each piece of content (test plan). This will be rolled up into a quotation estimate that outlines the solution, scope, and cost.

3. Formal Testing: Test execution to validate against the target WCAG conformance (e.g., all applicable WCAG 2.0 guidelines) across all content on all devices, platforms, and browsers.  The best practice approach is a combination of manual, computer-assisted and automation tools.  Results will be captured in a conformance report which will outline defects and recommendations.

4. Update Web Content: In many cases, it will be the creative and web design teams that will make the required changes.  Again, best practices for remediation will require a team that combines the business owner, creative and marketing, website development and quality assurance.  There should be 2 steps performed in the remediation process: remediation planning and remediation execution.
Remediation Planning is important to be performed to ensure that the most efficient approach is executed during remediation (for example, only making fixes to content objects once for multiple defects, versus going in over and over to apply fixes for different defects).  Involving a QA Team will ensure that defects are fixed right the first time while avoiding breaking other guidelines and success criteria while applying the fixes to the targeted ones.

5. Final Formal Accessibility Testing Cycle: This step consists of two parts–testing to confirm the fixes to ensure conformance as well as to ensure that new defects were not introduced during remediation.  Full (100%) WCAG conformance can only be confirmed with a full WCAG test cycle.

The adage that identifying defects earlier in the software development lifecycle means they can be remediated earlier, and therefore cost less to remediate holds true with WCAG conformance. Accessibility testing can be added to Agile production cycles and testing with people with different disabilities added to test sprints.

Every organization must determine the best approach for their requirements.  Nonetheless, website content accessibility is not going away, and the expectation will only grow…with clear signs from lawsuits to Mattel, maker of Barbie, unveiling its first doll that uses hearing aids that is part of their diverse 2022 Fashionistas line.

Contact us to find out how you can become WCAG/AODA compliant.