The consensus is to improve website accessibility, but it's hard to know where to begin. Website accessibility can seem daunting when compared to evaluating physical space accessibility. Thankfully there are a myriad of free and paid services to evaluate web accessibility. In the United States, laws under Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973 cannot keep pace with web technologies constantly in flux. Internationally, the World Wide Web Consortium, an organization standardizing the Web, have developed extensive guidelines. These guidelines are extensive but are aimed at website designers and developers. However, there are actionable steps and definable goals for anyone wanting to get started on putting the ‘A’ back in equity.
Start evaluating by asking these three questions: how accessible is the content, how is the overall experience, and what specifically needs to be tested? Below you will find suggestions for tools to help you answer these questions.
The majority of web browsers offer a feature called Reader View as an alternative way to view a website. Reader View emphasizes content by removing high fidelity visuals, complex layouts, animations, wait times, and intrusive ads. If a website is properly accessible, its content will still be visible and provide the user options to increase font size, change text colors, and use voice over dictation. The content of a poorly accessible website will be unreadable, truncated, or missing entirely in Reader View. Each web browser implements the Reader View differently. It's recommended to check your site on multiple web browsers, and compare the results.
Below are screenshots of the same SeattleTimes.com article in regular view and Reader View.
Google's Lighthouse is an automated tool that provides weighted scores up to 100 points for: Performance, Accessibility, Best Practices, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). These four categories comprise the overall user experience i.e. an accessible website must also render quickly and be findable. Even then, a perfect Lighthouse score of 100/100 points does not equate to a perfectly accessible website. These metrics ensure a solid foundation for future changes to website content, visual designs, and the underlying code. It should be noted, Lighthouse testing requires Google's Chrome browser, and Google sets the criteria of four categories being evaluated. See https://developer.chrome.com/docs/lighthouse/accessibility/scoring for details.
There are many types of audits that can be performed on websites. There is no set list of what must be assessed before a website can be considered accessible, but there are some commonly tested components that affect accessibility. They include:
color-contrast ratios for color blindness
ease of site navigation for motor impairments
effectiveness of speech synthesizers for low-vision users
The image below shows the product Stark which tests color contrast ratios, and then provides color suggestions.
There are many auditing tools, free and also paid services, web browser extensions, and assistive hardware like Braille displays that librarians (or you) can use. A good resource is from The A11y Project, an open collective of individuals who believe accessibility helps everyone. They have curated a list of widely used tools at https://www.a11yproject.com/resources/#tools.
The best recommendation for making your site accessible is to simply get started. Begin with these free tools and free services, then consider consulting professional accessibility experts. Website accessibility is not a fixed checklist for a specific impaired audience – it's for everyone. It's a process of continual evaluation as the website goals, and its technologies change.