We all want to design products that are accessible to as broad an audience as possible. And it's not just a want—improving the accessibility of our products is a critical necessity since it gives our audience the power to consume content and use the functionality of our websites.
Accessibility is a huge topic, and it can be hard to understand where to start. This guide details key aspects of accessibility testing. You will learn what web accessibility is, why website owners need to ensure their sites are accessible, and practical tips on how to check accessibility of website.
What we'll cover
What is accessibility in web design and why is it important?
Accessibility means removing access barriers that prevent people from using products effectively. Accessibility is an integral property of good design because it directly connects with the site's usability, or a user’s ability to interact with a product and accomplish a given task with it. It allows people with all abilities, including those who suffer from vision, hearing, mobility, cognition, speech, or other disabilities, to use products and benefit from them.
For a long time, accessibility was an afterthought. But that's misguided for a few reasons. First, people with disabilities aren't a small percentage of users—15 percent of the world's population experience some form of disability, according to the U.N. One in ten visitors of your website will have some disability. Second, accessible design ultimately creates a better experience for all user groups—not only for people with disabilities—because everyone benefits from inclusive design. Accessible design shouldn't be an afterthought; it's really a baseline requirement.
If you don't prioritize accessibility, you could also lose customers (they'll choose better-designed products, obviously). You could also get sued. Lawsuits over digital accessibility for people with disabilities have been rising in recent years. As the Wall Street Journal mentioned, U.S. lawsuits alleging that digital products were inaccessible to people with disabilities rose 64% in the first half of 2021 from a year earlier.
What are the types of accessibility testing?
As a designer, you need to know how to check the accessibility of a website. There are two types of accessibility testing practices—automated and manual. When you conduct automated testing, you use online tools or browser-based extensions to scan your website and identify common accessibility issues. Here are a few popular examples of automated testing tools, which can be good for detecting significant accessibility problems:
Manual accessibility testing means conducting human analysis for your website. Manual accessibility testing can help you identify problems that only humans can track. For example, it's hard for automated testing to detect if the animated block of text moves too fast, preventing users from reading it. Manual testing is typically included in the quality assurance checklist, a list of actions that QA specialists complete to ensure that the product they will release on the market doesn't have severe issues. Most of the time, the testing is conducted by QA specialists during the product acceptance phase of the design process (end of a release cycle, before sending a product on the market).
Most organizations will benefit from a hybrid testing model—when both automated and manual testing is used, one type of testing complements the other. For example, you can run automated tests first and rely on the results of that testing when you are doing manual testing.
10 best practices for checking the accessibility of your website
The first thing you need to check if you want to improve the accessibility of your website is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of guidelines that make web content more accessible to people with all abilities. The guidelines cover many areas of web design—from layout design to animation and audio effects.
The website accessibility checklist provided below was created based on the WCAG guidelines.
1. Use descriptive titles, links and functional controls
Any page on your website should have a title that describes its purpose. A well-written title clarifies what the page is all about to both your visitors and search engines. (To change the page title, you need to modify the title tag in the HTML source code of your webpage.)
The same rule applies to all functional controls on your website. Avoid creating generic links that say "click here" or "learn more," because they don't give visitors a clear idea of what they'll see when they click on the link. Most of the time, it's possible to write more descriptive links using the title of the page that the link leads to. For example, if linking to a contact page, a descriptive link could read, “contact info.”