Accessible website design is a long-term commitment, not a one-time project. However, you’ll still want to set clear goals and track your success — after all, if you’re not able to monitor your progress, your results will be limited. Fortunately, the world of accessibility has established rules and standards, which can provide a roadmap for measuring your success.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) contains detailed success criteria organized into three categories of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). For Level AAA conformance, a website must meet all of the success criteria including Level A and Level AA criteria. Likewise, for Level AA conformance, a website must conform with Level AA and Level A criteria. All website accessibility audits should utilize the latest official version of WCAG.
In this article, we’ll explain how to use WCAG to establish goals, track progress, and maintain a more accessible website.
Start by setting a reasonable goal for website accessibility
One of the primary advantages of the WCAG framework is that it allows developers (and designers, and content creators) to track their progress with clear metrics. If you’ve set a goal for Level AA conformance, a WCAG website audit will indicate areas that need improvement to meet your goals. After remediation, you’ll be able to audit again — and if the issues have been resolved, you’ll see the improvements reflected in the report.
Setting a goal for website accessibility is fairly straightforward. Most websites aim for Level AA conformance, which is generally considered to be reasonably accessible for most users. That doesn’t mean that you can ignore Level AAA success criteria entirely, but you’ll be able to determine an appropriate priority during remediation.
Use automated accessibility tests (but don’t rely on them)
As soon as you’ve determined your goal, audit your website and create a list of all of the issues that prevent it from conforming with WCAG. Automated tests can be useful during the first phase of your initiative, but remember that automated tools can’t explain how users experience your website.
Even so, an automated test can provide an overview of your site’s major conformance issues, which can establish metrics for your initiative. By assembling a list of issues, you can create a plan to address them — and avoid creating similar barriers in the future. Artificial intelligence tools can identify common accessibility issues such as:
- Missing alternative text (also known as alt text) for images, buttons, and other elements
- Poor color contrast ratios that make content difficult to read
- Keyboard traps that prevent users from submitting forms with alternative input methods
- Links that don’t have text alternatives
- Improper HTML heading structures
By testing your website early — and throughout the remediation process — you can determine whether you’ve removed the major barriers that affect your audience. However, automated tests have limitations, particularly if you’re still learning the basics of website accessibility.
Use manual accessibility tests to limit the costs of remediation
Manual testing from trained accessibility experts such as the Bureau of Internet Accessibility can be enormously helpful for several reasons. First, automated tests might miss some issues that human testers would notice. For instance, a human can easily determine whether your text content is confusing for real-world users; artificial intelligence might not notice the problem.
Second, expert guidance can help you find fixes that actually address the underlying problem. For example, if an automated tool tells you that several of your images are missing alt text, you might attempt to fix the problem by adding those attributes — but if you don’t follow the best practices of writing alt text, you could create additional frustrations for your users.
Finally, expert guidance can help you develop more cost-effective remediation strategies that improve the on-site experience. You might assume that a web app is unusable based on the results of an automated accessibility report, but an accessibility expert might be able to find ways to fix the issues without changing the app’s functionality. Web accessibility has a high return on investment, and by engaging experts early, you can ensure the best possible return.
Remember the goals of website accessibility
With any major initiative, you’ll need to track progress and create regular reports to determine whether you’re meeting your goals. However, remember to consider those reports within context: Your long-term goal is to improve your users' experience, not to improve your metrics.
To that end, you’ll need to keep testing after you’ve met your goal — and look for opportunities to make your website more accessible, regardless of whether those techniques fulfill WCAG criteria. For example, providing users with several different methods to contact your customer service team isn’t strictly required under WCAG, but it’s an excellent way to improve customer retention. You’ll want to offer reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities wherever possible.
A principle-based approach can empower your team to create proactive solutions, and as a result, you’ll build a much more robust website. With help from accessibility experts, your organization can internalize the fundamentals of accessibility and create a successful strategy.
For more assistance with your web accessibility initiative, consider downloading our free website accessibility checklist or contact us.