Accessibility is an often overlooked but extremely important part of any website. Not only to comply with AODA, but also because we want everyone to be able to use our sites! Here are 5 things that we do to make sure our websites are accessible.
Just like a document, written content on the web is made up of headings and paragraphs. HTML provides specific tags for these headings and paragraphs that have semantic meaning. That means that when content is read by a screen reader, the screen reader provides context by letting the reader know what kind of text they are reading.
Users are also able to jump from heading to heading within a page. But just like a well vs. poorly organized paper, the contextual information only makes sense if these tags are used correctly. If you strip away all the extra visual information, a well structured page should resemble an outline — with only one main heading, and then the next heading levels flowing in a logical order.
We check all our pages for this logical structure:
A second key component of accessibility is to ensure that keyboard users are able to navigate the pages. There are many reasons that someone may not be able to use a mouse, and we need to make sure that anyone who relies on a keyboard does not become frustrated with our site and leave the page. If you are curious about keyboard navigation on the web, you can do a little experiment and try navigating a couple of your favourite sites using your tab key. You can tab to move from one interactive element to the next, and shift + tab to move to the previous.
How did it go? Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
These are all questions that we ask as we test our sites, and we ensure that any problems we find are flagged and fixed.
Alt text is one of the most important accessibility features on a site. It provides a text description of any image in your site. This description is read by screen readers, but it also provides a fall back if an image file is not loaded or if a user has turned off images (for example if they have a slow connection or limited data).
Alt text can either be provided in the content of a page within the context of the image, or we can use something called the alt attribute if we do not want this content to be visible. Every image must have an alt attribute, even if it contains no content. If it does not, a screen reader will attempt to read the image path name, and it is usually unintelligible! Thankfully WordPress handles this for us, so you don’t have to worry about this happening to any users.
Even though WordPress ensures that we don’t confuse our users, we still want to make sure that any image that has semantic meaning and doesn’t have a contextual description has appropriate alt text. We want any non-sighted users to have as complete an experience of your site content as your sighted users! We go through each page and ensure that every image that conveys content has appropriate contextual content or text in the alt attribute.
Read more about why alt text is important.
Next we run automated accessibility tests. These will check for issues with poor color contrast, missing context from buttons and links, as well as some semantic and structural issues. While automated testing can’t catch everything, when we combine it with manual testing, it provides another line of defense in our accessibility checks.
Finally, we utilize VoiceOver in order to do a full functional test of the site using a screen reader. This step is really important because no amount of automated testing can truly replicate the user experience!
Here are some questions that we ask as we test sites:
If you are curious about what it is like to navigate the web with a screen reader and you have a device with MacOS, you can try this too by going into System Preferences->Accessibility->VoiceOver and Enable VoiceOver. The button for VoiceOver Training will teach you how to use it. You can then try navigating through some of your favourite sites.