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Usablenet Blog

    Why Every Web Site Needs an Accessibility Audit [Blog]

    by Jason Taylor

    By Jason Taylor, Chief Innovation Strategist and Special Advisor to the CEO

    Photo credit: 

    What is Web Accessibility?

    Web Accessibility ensures that all users, regardless of capabilities or device, are always able to access your services or purchase items. If you look at the number of lawsuits that have caught the public’s attention as of late, it’s clear that there is a sense of urgency around the need to build in Web Accessibility.

    One of the most recent mandates affected more than 200 major airlines from more than 50 countries. According to the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act, every airline that flies in and out of the United States, has a plane that carries more than 60 passengers, or markets air transportation to the American public, must make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities, both on computers and kiosk.

    Other brands that have been targeted and settled out of court include a 2000 mandate for H&R Block to make its sites accessible to the blind and a 2009 settlement that asked CVS to install tactile point-of-sale devices in every drugstore store while also complying with Web Accessibility Guidelines.

    But these industry examples are just stepping-stones to a full-blanket Web Accessibility law that is expected to be added to the ADA within the next 12 months.

    So how can companies prepare? The best solution is to avoid urgency and build Web Accessibility into Web design from the start. Plus, building in Accessibility in the outset can equal long-term rewards for a company, as it adds ease of use for a growing group of Web users that need additional accommodation.

    For example, the growing use of the Web by an older, more mature demographic is driving the need for more Accessible sites. Accommodating this important demographic not only improves a company’s brand image, but also ensures that the digital revolution reaches everyone.

    All audits are not created equal

    For some audits, consultants use an automated tool that crawls a company’s site and applies rules to the pages equally across every page. These audits typically create a very long list of issues that have not been weighted or prioritized. In addition, this long list of issues make the approach time consuming for in-house website developers. However, Usablenet’s approach is about maximizing the development team’s time, focused on the top priority issues and establishing a simple plan of attack.

    Quite simply, automated tools lack human interpretation. For example, when an automated tool looks for missing alternative text on an image, it treats them all the same, regardless of the image. However, put an experienced developer in the process and the report prioritizes only the images that convey information or navigation as the first images to be corrected.

    In addition, automated tools give very generic fixing suggestions, as it has no ability to look at the underlying code and has no knowledge of the back-end systems of the site.

    UsableNet’s developers apply the knowledge of what the problem is and how to fix it. This extra clarity, combined with an online help desk and industry-versed developers, makes for the most successful audit.

    UsableNet’s 5 Step Accessibility audit

    UsableNet takes five steps to ensure that a company’s Web Accessibility access meets mandatory legislation.

    Step 1: UsableNet will make an initial audit of either key user paths or entire sections on your company’s website. All audits are conducted by a developer with experience in building complicated accessible sites and with knowledge of your company’s industry in order to fully understand the back-end terminology.

    Step 2: The developer will then produce a detailed report and executive summary that pinpoints items and techniques to help fix any inaccessibilities. In the report, all items will be prioritized and ranked by both the severity of the issue to the user, and the complexity of the fix, based on a developers view of the front- and back-end technology used.

    Step 3: UsableNet will provide on-going help desk support to a company’s development team as the company reviews reports, undergoes QA assessments, and designs new features onto the site.

    Step 4: The company’s website team will then be able to use the initial report to establish the overall level of resources needed to address the necessary code-level fixes.

    Step 5: Once the website teams have completed the re-coding, UsableNet re-audits the site, providing documentation of the efforts and improvements. This living document can be used by companies as evidence of accommodation, along with providing website teams a format for continuing improvements to the site. 

    Once a successful audit in place, is that the end?

    Web Accessibility is not a destination it’s a journey that requires auditing, fixing and QA checks throughout your website lifecycle. The first audit process will create awareness within a company’s design team around how to accommodate these key guidelines into everyday processes.

    Ultimately, Web Accessibility should be specifically added to a company’s QA process so that new features and pages are tested by your QA structure and resolved via regular development process. Particular care should be added to QA within Agile and RWD as both are open to a new, increased release schedule. Without structured QA, Web Accessibility easily returns to being an afterthought.

    From a legal and operational stance, combing integrated and ongoing QA with annual documentation, via an audit, delivers both a digital experience accessible to all and legal protection against current and future legislation.

    Learn more about Usablenet's Digital Accessibility Services here

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