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Lucy Greco

  Accessibility in Education

05/15/2014

Making the Most Out of Your Website Accessibility Service Provider

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hat are the guidelines for choosing a good website accessibility service provider? On the occasion of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Lucy Greco gives us an overview.
 
A recognized certification is a good benchmark to ascertain whether the service you are paying for is the industry-standard for accessibility
Image: A recognized certification is a good benchmark to ascertain whether the service you are paying for is the industry-standard for accessibility.

Creating a website today is easier than ever before with all the different content management system choices and setup wizards available online. However, making sure that the site is accessible is not as easy. Much of creating an accessible website is using good, clean HTML and following best practices. And while everyone should test their site for accessibility, many users do not know how to go about this. In this post, I will provide some guidelines on what you need to keep in mind before hiring an accessibility professional to do your website review.

There are several companies that offer accessibility audits or evaluations. It’s important to ask them the right set of questions to ascertain if they can do a good job. At the 2014 CSUN Conference on Technology and Disability, the International Association of Assistive Technology Professionals (IAAP) was launched and I am proud to be part of this initiative. The organization aims to offer professional certifications towards assistive technology. I proudly joined this organization because of their goals to help recognize people like myself (I am a web accessibility expert at UC Berkeley, who also happens to be blind) in the industry as well as train and certify others. A recognized certification is a good benchmark to ascertain whether the service you are paying for is the industry-standard for accessibility.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in the industry today is focusing primarily on blindness as the only form of disability you need to accommodate. A lot of work does need to go into making sure a site works for a person who is blind or visually impaired, but care should also be taken to accommodate other forms of disabilities. For example, using ARIA to create good site navigation and semantic structure can really help a blind person fly through your site. However, keyboard-only users do not currently have access to ARIA and might get bogged down navigating your site. Assuring that keyboard users can navigate as effectively as a screen reader user is extremely important. 

When I worked with students at Berkeley, the largest group of users that had difficulty navigating with a mouse was those with repetitive strain injuries. These individuals were keyboard-only users or in extreme cases needed to use speech to navigate websites. Speech-in is very different from speech-out and requires different considerations. For example, you can code a link to look like a button and then apply the ARIA role of button to have the screen reader realize it’s a button. However, if it’s not a button, a speech input user will not be able to say “push the button” to activate it.

Drafting an audience profile is very important when thinking about the accessibility review of your website

Image: Drafting an audience profile is very important when thinking about the accessibility review of your website. 

Tip: There are always going to be “extreme” users accessing your site but you can focus on your primary audience. What you don’t want to do is block access to the casual visitor or someone with another disability that you may wish to serve.

With your user profiles in hand it’s now time to find help to assess your site accessibility. The first question to ask a vendor is which standards will they test for. Depending on your needs you should assure that they are going to test for as much accessibility as possible. In the United States, for example, vendors can test for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, you will get a further thorough review if you test not only for this standard but for the W3C Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 as well. Even when they are checking for the W3C standards what level of those standards are they checking for? Are they checking for single-A or AA? You may even wish to make sure that your site meets W3C’s AAA standards.

It’s also very important to assure that the evaluation will be done with end users. Having a review that only evaluates your source code is nowhere complete. The user experience cannot be tested by a person who does not have the disability that you’re testing for. When we conduct a site review, user testing is almost more important than looking at the standards. Some features might pass every standards test there is but be completely unusable if you’re not careful. For example, accessibility standards state that you must have labels on all your images and that those labels should be understandable. However, if those images labels are out of context they may interfere with the user’s comprehension of your site.

Conclusion
It’s important for you to provide information to the vendor about who your audience is and what you want them to accomplish on your site. Don’t leave out any groups in your evaluations and always question how they will address different disabilities. If the only disability group you hear of is blindness or screen reader users beware. Ask questions like “tell me what we can do for people with learning disabilities?” Be sure to ask “will you be making sure a person using Dragon can use my site?” Working with a vendor to evaluate accessibility should be a partnership: They cannot know your users or your product as well as you do and their job is to help understand your site audience and make sure that all of them can access your content.

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Related Resources

Blog: The Difference a Policy Can Make: IT Accessibility Rollout at UC Berkeley | Read Lucy Greco's Article.

Publication: Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education  for Persons with Disabilities | Download Free PDF.

Event: PDF Accessibility Seminar 2014 by Actuate BIRT | May 22, 2014, New York | View Event Details .