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Introduction

I recently attended an excellent web accessibility conference organized by Cornell University. My notes can’t do justice to the complexity of this issue or the amount of information delivered during this three-day conference. However, with that in mind, here are some of the take-aways and accessibility tools I found useful.

Web accessibility is a moving and evolving target, both in terms of content - making sure content can be accessed by people with disabilities, and in terms of technology - making sure software and web development techniques do not prevent people from accessing a site's content.

The Cornell University Web Accessibility Camp held this year (8/6 to 8/8/2018) began with an excellent full-day presentation by Jonathan Whiting of WebAIM.org. The two part session began with an overview of accessibility issues, laws and requirements governing accessibility and finally more specific, in-depth looks into the accessibility issues of web technologies and HTML structures.

The second and third days of the conference were more focused on specific topics to help evaluate web sites and useful tools for addressing accessibility issues.

Get more Information on accessibility at Cornell University.

Takeaways

8.5% of the population requires assistive technology to access web content.

It is difficult to know if a site is accessible, but there are tools that help. No tool is perfect and there are accessibility issues tools can't check (keyboard tabbing through page links is an example). Effectively this means that, while achieving a high compliance score using a given tool is important, there are accessibility issues that will also need to be manually checked.

Users with visibility issues may use browser zoom to enlarge a web page. The WCAG guidelines specify that a web site should support a 200% zoom. Developing a responsive web site (for various screen sizes, like mobile) also helps address this issue.

There are three levels of accessibility compliance:

  1. A: Single A compliance are critical, required items
  2. AA: Double A compliance covers items that are also important but slightly less critical
  3. AAA: Triple A are extra items or enhancements

My understanding is that double A compliance is the minimum a site should meet.

Here is a very, very simplified methodology for checking the accessibility of sites:

  • Use an automated tool like WAVE or Siteimprove
  • Develop and use a checklist of items to review
  • Check keyboard accessibility
  • Check contrast
  • Test in a screen reader
  • Conduct user testing

Here are some excellent resources for learning more about accessibility issues and how to address them:

  • WebAIM.org's mission is "to empower organizations to make their web content accessible to people with disabilities." This is a great resource for accessibility information and training.
  • The W3C Consortium has published a set of guidelines for creating web accessible sites (most recent update is version 2.1 released in June of 2018).

Tools

Here is a list of useful tools for site designers, developers and for evaluating a site’s accessibility compliance.

  • ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications): This is a developer tool for helping build accessible dynamic web site features.
  • NoCoffee: Free extension available for the Chrome web browser that simulates a range of vision issues and can help a designer adjust their design choices to address these issues.

Color contrast checkers:

Web page and site compliance evaluation tools:

Screen Readers:

  • JAWS is a popular screen reader
  • VoiceOver (for Mac) screen reader
  • NVDA (for Windows) screen reader