Advocating for Digital Accessibility: Using Examples to Drive Change

By Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet on Jul 5, 2023
Topics: Web Accessibility


In my previous posts, I've discussed how to begin building a culture of accessibility within your organization. One thing you should have at the ready, as you’re talking with potential advocates, is examples of accessibility issues on your organization’s website. 

Examples can be great in helping you tell a story about what accessibility work is critical. Examples can also increase urgency on remediation work because they represent something easily quantifiable. Statistics are motivating, but discussing a specific issue and how it excludes someone from buying or getting information is typically more effective. 

You don't have to be an accessibility expert to find a few issues to discuss. 

How To Find Digital Accessibility Issues 

UsableNet's AQA Platform can help you locate some perfect examples. You can use the Chrome extension if you're a licensed AQA user. If you don't have an AQA license, you can use UsableNet's free test. You'll want to test a single page, either the home page or another high-traffic page.

What To Look For When Reviewing Your Digital Accessibility Results

Once you've performed the test and have the results on your screen, go to the "AT Previews" tab to review how assistive technologies present some aspects of the website. Here are four issues I recommend checking from AT Previews: 

1) Headings: Review the available Headings.

If there are few or none, this is a barrier to easy navigation. People who are blind and use screen readers rely on headings to quickly understand the content. Headings can also be beneficial to site visitors who have specific cognitive impairments to understand where they are. 

2) Links: Review the list of Links.

The list from AQA's AT Previews is what assistive technology will read. Looking at that list, can you understand exactly where each link goes? Are you getting a bunch of "click here" and "read more?" You should know from that list exactly the link destination and its purpose. If you can't, those need to be updated. When link text is meaningful, screen reader users can navigate faster. For those who may navigate via speech-to-text technology, such as users with motor impairments, they'll know what text to speak. Visitors with cognitive impairments will spend less cognitive energy trying to understand where the link will go. 

3) Form controls: Review the list of form controls, which are the labels for buttons and form fields.

These labels, like links, should be easy to understand. For a screen reader user, the labeling on the controls will tell them how to proceed. Speech-to-text users must rely on labels being in place and accurate to ensure they can speak what they need to do. Some users cannot perform the desired actions if form controls are missing or aren't meaningful. 

4) Images: Review images to understand what alternative text is in place.

Is the text meaningful? If a visitor can't see the image, does the alternative text tell them what they need to know to proceed, such as a coupon code or details on a sale? If the image is a link, does the alternative text indicate where the link goes? Of course, if you find file names or gibberish in place as the alternative text for any image, that isn't good for users. Suppose alternative text isn't providing meaningful information for non-decorative images. In that case, the audience won't be aware of the message your team is trying to convey and won't be able to make decisions based on that content. 

One additional item in the AQA results but not in the AT previews section: Look for issues related to color contrast. If there are color contrast issues, visitors with low vision, color blindness, and/or some cognitive disabilities may have difficulty reading the text—and possibly won't be able to read it. Read about color contrast and other accessibility design considerations (with a link list of practical tools to help) here.

How To Use Your Digital Accessibility Examples 

Of course, these are a very small sample of the digital accessibility issues that are possible. Still, these can represent significant barriers for users. As you are discussing accessibility and creating advocates within your company, you can have these types of examples at the ready. 

Anytime you need to show what a digital accessibility issue is, you can use your examples. You may use one or several of these, depending on the context. It's not necessary to have the AQA test results handy to reference them, either.

You could offer something like, "I reviewed our homepage recently and found that the button to submit the email address reads out to a screen reader user as an 'unlabeled button' without saying what it is. The user would have no way to know what to know if that was the correct button to use after they typed their address, even though the button says 'submit' on screen." 

Keep Testing Your Digital Accessibility 

One last note for your examples: if you know you will discuss with someone, take a moment to re-validate the examples you plan to use. As sites update, the examples you've picked may no longer be present, so it's always good to double-check. 

Hopefully, you find these suggestions helpful as you continue to advocate for your organization's work on digital accessibility. Test as many pages as you want with our UsableNet AQA free tool

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Editor's Note: This is the third blog post in our series written by Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, on advocating for digital accessibility at your company. For more, read Jeff's May post, "How to Build a Digital Accessibility-First Company Culture," and his June update, "Building your Arsenal: Empowering Conversations for Web Accessibility."

Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

Jeff is UsableNet’s director of accessibility operations and advices companies around the world on best practices in website accessibility, and integrating accessibility into their processes. He’s been with UsableNet for more than a decade and is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. In addition, Jeff’s a creative entrepreneur and co-wrote the book, “Content for Everyone: A Practical Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs to Produce Accessible and Usable Web Content.”

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