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11 1/2 Free Tools for testing Website Accessibility banner image

David Berman’s 11½ (or 15) Favorite Tools for Testing Website Accessibility

Website accessibility – making sites understandable and usable by those with physical and cognitive disabilities – is a growing concern for web developers. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has long published international standards for online accessibility, the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The W3C website includes Easy Checks: A First Review of Website Accessibility, a quick checklist of steps to take to ensure a website meets basic standards. At first glance, these recommended steps appear to be fairly simple, such as following a clear hierarchy in assigning heading-tags, or ensuring high color contrast between text and backgrounds. However, many accessibility standards can easily be overlooked, or target goals inadvertently missed.

David Berman addresses those pitfalls in 11½ Tools for Testing Website Accessibility, a webinar hosted by 3PlayMedia. Berman is well qualified: he’s a UN advisor on accessibility issues, and an Invited Expert to the W3C. At the outset, Berman cautions developers to clarify their goals in making their website accessible. WCAG 2 sets different standards for gauging website accessibility, from level A, meeting minimal standards, through AAA. Berman advises that developers identify the WCAG standard they hope to meet so as to avoid wasting resources. He recommends using the WCAG-Evaluation Methodology report, which creates a compliance report that can help pinpoint the target accessibility goal.

The webinar covers a wide range of tools: from ones which scan entire websites, to browser toolbars, to tools which check submitted code (good for checking websites which have not yet been published) or check for specific issues, such as color contrast or photosensitive epilepsy triggers, to tools which emulate screen readers. Throughout the webinar, Berman demonstrates various tools by testing the accessibility of the Volkswagen website. (The company had just hit the news for faking emissions standards and, in light of the company’s boasts of inclusiveness, Berman felt a review of their website accessibility was in order.) The choice turned out to be a good one – a number of tools demonstrated that the VW website failed WCAG compliance because of lapses in basic best practices, such as supplying alt attributes on images.

So why should accessibility standards be a concern to web developers (beyond doing the right thing)? In the United States, Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act requires that federal agency websites be accessible and sets accessibility standards. One of the goals of the Act is to raise accessibility standards across the board by requiring companies vying for government contracts to meet those standards. Additionally, lawsuits brought against major corporations such as Ramada, Priceline, Southwest Airlines, and Target argue that the American with Disabilities Act, intended to make brick-and-mortar establishments accessible to all, applies to websites as well. Currently, Section 508 is under review and expected to become fully compliant with WCAG 2.0 in 2016.