Addressing the struggles of making sites accessible and usable

Accessibility and Usability Vin Diagram

Credit: Unknown

 

A question was asked at an Accessibility Special Interest Group meeting along the lines of, “Do we have access to a report that shows all the accessibility issues for our sites?” A comment was then made, “I just don’t know where to start.” I immediately reflected back to when Erick Beck and I gave a presentation along with representatives from SiteImprove of the various components of the SiteImprove suite. The same type of question was asked during the Q&A section. I felt it was time to write an article to share with the entire web community on campus my thoughts on bringing every site into compliance making our sites usable.

Triage known issues

The first step I recommend is triaging known issues on all your sites collectively and establishing a plan. Start by looking at reports, whether in SiteImprove or another reporting tool, and find similarities or patterns. For example, if you notice a contrast ratio issue on all your reports and the same theme is used on each site, then a simple CSS fix to the theme and your theme’s source files will resolve the issue.

Identify teaching opportunities

If you see a lot of issues on alternative text, such as filenames used as alternative text, use it as a teaching moment. Send a polite email to your content contributors stating that you have noticed a lot of images added with the filename used as the alternative text. Provide simple steps to correct the issue and avoid mentioning the rules or policies associated with it. Please do not misunderstand me and think that I do not believe the accessibility rules and policies are not important. The rules and policies are important but, the idea here is to gingerly tell those who contribute content to the site to be mindful of certain things. We don’t want to beat them into the ground with the rule book.

Make the content usable

Instead of embedding an image containing paragraphs of text, tables and supporting images, make the image accessible by making it usable. We all agree that we want Google, Bing and any other search engine to index our site. Why should we then mask our content within an image? We want visitors to be able to find something on a page. Why should we put all our text in an object that can’t be searched? We want those looking at our site with a mobile device to read what we have to say without pinching to zoom in and out. Why include it in an image that scales automatically making the text difficult to see? Extract the content from the image and place it on the page so that everyone can read it making is usable and accessible.

Remember, the end goal is to have our sites accessible by making them usable. Try your best not to feel overwhelmed or frustrated.

  • Start by triaging the reported issues and establish a plan.
  • Identify the issues that pertain to a theme or template where one fix resolves the issue in several places.
  • Use your analytics to identify your top 25 or 50 most visited pages and resolve all the issues on those pages.
  • Work your way down to the fourth, fifth and sixth level pages eliminating the issues reported by your scanning tool.
  • Finally, you can review your site to check the tabbing order or if the appropriate landmarks are being used as both of these items need human interaction to verify they are within the guidelines.

Help is on the way!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! The odds are high that someone has been in the same circumstance and can help you along the way. Join the accessibility sprint on July 14th where the goal is to bring people and technology together to improve the usability of our sites. This is a great opportunity to interact with others across campus who are also making updates that impact accessibility!

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