Accessibility Checking: What You Need to Know

Whether you are running your first website or are an experienced web administrator, your first accessibility check can be an intimidating experience. While the most popular website themes offer a reasonable level of accessibility, there are a lot of factors under the hood that can contribute to a user experience that is not very accommodating to individuals with disabilities. Your job as an administrator is to find those potential issues and address them. 

Fortunately, running an accessibility check is not as complicated as you might think. There are software tools that you can use to automate the process. Let’s take a look at the need for accessibility checking, the nature of an accessibility check, and how an accessibility checker can help you.

Why should you check your website accessibility?

A website is often a university’s first point of contact with the rest of the world. Prospective students, faculty, and alumni visit your website to get news about admissions, research, and university events and projects. An inaccessible website keeps individuals with disabilities from accessing important information about the school community, resulting in lower engagement and enrollment rates.

Digital accessibility is also mandated by law. While the Americans with Disabilities Act itself is silent on websites and other digital media, recent court rulings have indicated that websites are public accommodations that require full accessibility. Many states are also enacting legislation that requires educational institutions to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Most universities try to comply with either WCAG 2.0 or 2.1, both of which contain a comprehensive set of success criteria for website accessibility.

What is an accessibility check?

Like what the name suggests, an accessibility check is a process that checks your website for compliance with accessibility success criteria. You may use a hybrid of manual or automated accessibility checking methods on your website. 

Manual testing involves a human tester simulating real-world use of your website. They may test for keyboard navigation, where a user presses the arrow keys to go around the website. They may also test the website’s support for screen readers, where the user dictates where they would like to go through the device microphone. They can also check if the website has enough color contrast to make text content clear and readable. 

On the other hand, automated testing uses software to scan the website and search for potential issues at the code level. An accessibility checker can detect color contrast issues using the hex codes for text and background colors. It can also see if images are accompanied by alt text, which are short but detailed descriptions of the visual content. Finally, it can detect whether the text is organized using headings and subheadings and if they follow a logical order.

A combination of both methods will ensure that the accessibility check will identify potential issues while contributing to an improved user experience for everyone. It can also save time, money, and effort, especially for university websites that see a lot of traffic and thus cannot afford to be taken down for long periods.

Accessibility checking: Opening the floodgates of inclusivity

Website accessibility compliance is now a core part of universities’ diversity, equity, and inclusivity frameworks. It ensures that everyone – students, faculty, alumni, and the general public – can access and benefit from the knowledge and learning content that educational institutions generate. Performing website accessibility checking brings schools closer to the goal of WCAG compliance, which not only makes websites more inclusive, but also improves the overall user experience. Adopting a hybrid approach, using both manual and automated methods, can help identify potential accessibility issues efficiently and effectively, reducing the need for website downtime and speeding up the process of bringing your website to full compliance.


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