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Web accessibility guidelines and tools

Guide to web accessibility: part two

Web accessibility guidelines and tools

In part one of our guide to web accessibility, we introduced the concept and explained why it matters so much. Making the web accessible to everyone, no matter what disabilities may affect them, is a goal that everyone should support. But when it comes to applying web accessibility in practice, where do you start?

Fortunately, a wide range of web accessibility standards and tools have built up over the years, providing valuable guidance to developers, designers and content creators. With these resources, it’s far easier to test websites for accessibility, and get a clear understanding of what actions are required to improve the experience of users with disabilities.

Top web accessibility resources

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide a comprehensive range of web accessibility techniques for software and web developers. The WAI published the first set of web accessibility guidelines in 1999.

Today, the guidelines developed and promoted by the WAI – such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – are considered among the top international standards for web accessibility. You can find a helpfully condensed version of the WCAG guidelines for developers in this bitsofcode blog article.

Also from the WAI, ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is a technical specification that focuses on web accessibility for dynamic content developed with technologies such as HTML, JavaScript and AJAX.

WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) is an organisation that provides services to help organisations become more web accessible. WebAIM offers a range of useful resources including guidance for designers and anyone else involved in implementing web accessibility.

The A11Y Project is a community-driven effort, offering a range of how-to guides and tips for ensuring web accessibility. A11Y is very much focused on short, easily digestible chunks of content, making it a great resource for accessibility novices and experts alike.

UK web accessibility standards

The BS 8878:2010 Web Accessibility Code of Practice was released by the British standards body BSI Group in 2010. BS 8878 provides a guide to implementing web accessibility that is consistent with both the WCAG and the UK Equality Act 2010.

The UK government also provides web accessibility guidelines that comply with the Equality Act 2010. These guidelines are designed for government services, but provide a good overview for anyone who wants to implement web accessibility.

Web accessibility testing tools

Chrome offers a wide range of accessibility extensions that, as well as offering ways for users to adapt the browser to their needs, provide a wealth of opportunities for web accessibility testing.

As well as guidelines, WebAIM offers a range of useful resources including the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. WAVE is a free web accessibility checker that allows anyone to test their website.

Tenon.io offers an API that helps developers build and integrate their own web accessibility testing tools. This enables more in-depth web accessibility testing, tailored to the makeup of a specific website or application.

Another great way to measure web accessibility is to download a screen reader and test it against your site. The JAWS and NVDA screen readers are good choices for Windows, while Mac users can use the VoiceOver software that comes built into the various Apple operating systems.

The importance of human testing

Even with all these tools, the benefits of manual testing shouldn’t be underestimated.

Automated testing can only do so much, often missing subjective issues and even flagging up “false positives” which don’t actually impact the user experience. For these reasons, comprehensive human testing is vital.

Next steps: implementing web accessibility

Clearly, there are a wide range of web accessibility tools already available, and several existing sets of web accessibility guidelines. But how do you actually go about implementing web accessibility into your projects?

In the third and final part of our guide to web accessibility, we’ll examine the ways in which web accessibility can be built into websites. From designing for screen readers to optimising links, navigation and animations – there are a variety of techniques for applying the principles of web accessibility to online services. So stay tuned for more web accessibility content, coming soon on the Fasthosts Blog.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.