A Web Content Accessibility Guidelines validator is an excellent tool as you work toward making your website accessible to a larger audience. But this tool is just one component in a comprehensive process of making your website accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility evaluation tools make it easier to identify and resolve problems, but can’t catch every problem and can trigger warnings when there isn’t a problem.
When conducting a web accessibility evaluation, in addition to a validator or scanner, your organization should conduct human testing based on an accessibility standards checklist to make sure your digital platforms are compliant with accessibility guidelines.
The combination of a WCAG validator, accessibility checklist, and human testing will provide the most effective approach necessary for a thorough evaluation.
Using Established Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a universally accepted set of technical standards that, when followed, ensure accessibility Released in June of 2018, the WCAG 2.1 update expanded upon the WCAG 2.0 guidelines to keep pace with new technology and evolving human use cases. WCAG 2.2, expected to be released later this year, will build on 2.1 Certain global laws, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, cite WCAG as the standard for accessibility, meaning if you conform with WCAG, you comply with the regulation.
The first step is to evaluate whether you conform with WCAG standards. Then you’ll want to make a comprehensive list of any changes you need to make to maintain conformance.
Once corrections are made, they will need to be tested to make certain that they meet standards and are easy for your users to navigate.
There are three methods we recommend using to check your website:
Together, these methods will provide a comprehensive evaluation necessary to ensure your site is accessible.
Automated WCAG Validators: A Starting Point
You may have heard of WCAG compliance checkers, also known as WCAG validators. While WCAG compliance checkers are important, automation has its e pros and cons. A web accessibility checker examines a web page, application, or digital document and tests it against a certain number of WCAG criteria
The accessibility tool will rate the content with a “pass” or “fail” grade. These tools also typically return an error report explaining why a particular WCAG standard failed. There are dozens of web accessibility testing tools such as AChecker and WAVE that can automatically test whether elements of your website are WCAG compliant. Some may also perform a Section 508 check to ensure legal compliance. The W3C also maintains a helpful searchable database, the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List, featuring WCAG compliance checkers validators from different organizations. A given tool checks accessibility for elements like online color and contrast or alternative text on images. Some are downloadable programs while others run online. Tools like these are often free and work instantly. However, remember automation is limited in the WCAG criteria it can test.
Accessibility guidelines and laws aren’t limited to just web browser content: they also include PDFs and other forms of digital documents. Programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all feature accessibility tools that can flag potential issues in your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. For example, Microsoft Word includes a screen reader function that’s ideal for human testing.
The Image Example
Alternative text for images is one example of the limitations of automation. WCAG success criteria state that images that aren’t decorative should have an alternative description that is meaningful to the image. However, an automated WCAG compliance checker will only detect the presence of the alt-text; it requires a human to determine if the text is relevant to the image itself.
WCAG validator tools like alt-text checkers are useful for giving you a baseline idea of the level of accessibility problems with your website. However, you should not depend on them to provide you with a complete list of every single WCAG violation.
Validation tools are useful because they’re instantaneous. They automatically check the website or document and give you a full report of issues that you might need to examine or change. But no matter how good the tool is, the results require human interpretation to rule out false positives and identify additional problems.
WCAG 2.1 Checklists: A Straight-Forward, Deliberate Process
A WCAG compliance checklist is a simple, easy-to-follow, systematic list of web accessibility requirements for WCAG conformance. If you happen to find the full set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines intimidating or filled with jargon you don’t understand, then a WCAG compliance checklist is a good place to get started. Download our Must-Have WCAG 2.1 Checklist here.
. It can be an extremely useful and informative reference that guides your organization through the major accessibility components needed for compliance with accessibility laws. But like the validator, you should know that the checklist is not an exhaustive method.
For example, your website might meet all the requirements in the list, but that’s in no way a guarantee that there aren’t still major accessibility problems with the site. It’s not a checklist or computer program that’s going to be using your website: it’s real people. WCAG compliance checklists help you find and resolve obvious barriers, but truly thorough accessibility testing also requires human testing.
Human Testing: The WCAG Compliance Target
No program or checklist can replace web accessibility testing with real human beings. In particular, testing accessibility with people with disabilities provides valuable real-world user feedback. It’s only this kind of evaluation that will uncover usability problems that can’t be identified using automatic validators or by following checklists.
Checking your website yourself can be difficult because you’re overly familiar with the user interface. You designed it yourself, so you know where everything is and what it looks like; this makes it difficult for you to identify problems other people may experience.
Having people with disabilities who are unfamiliar with your website is an excellent practice for pinpointing accessibility problems people experience. These can often be things you wouldn’t think of yourself and might not be flagged through an automatic validator or your checklist.
Getting the right people and skills involved makes your accessibility evaluations more effective. For example, you’ll learn more about the way a person with a certain disability might use assistive technology and the barriers they experience when they try to use that technology to visit your website.
A professional consultant will involve a team of experienced human evaluators with a range of disabilities and technologies. They’ll look at all critical aspects of your website, not just a handful, and they’ll have the best chance at catching usability glitches. They’ll also offer you valuable and practical WCAG 2.1 accessibility remediation solutions, regardless of the target compliance level.
The Multi-level Compliance Process
When you use a WCAG validator, a WCAG checklist, human evaluation, or a combination of all three, you’re taking important steps to ensure that people with disabilities have an enhanced online experience when they turn to your website for information, products or services.
Incidentally, you’re also complying with laws including the ADA, which protect people with disabilities from discrimination and accessibility barriers. Many regulations, like the refreshed Section 508 and the Air Carrier Access Act, use the WCAG 2.1 guidelines and the technical requirements for web accessibility. Adhering to them allows organizations to achieve and maintain compliance with required standards and regulations.
Does your website meet all the accessibility requirements for every visitor? Find out by requesting a personalized demo from the experts at eSSENTIAL Accessibility.