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[Draft] Retrofitting Web Sites for Accessibility

Note: This document is a draft [see change log in progress] and should not be referenced or quoted under any circumstances. This document is under development by the Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG), and will be offered to other W3C groups and the public for review.

1. Introduction

This document describes how to retrofit a Web site so that it conforms with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines by explaining the steps and measures that need to be considered in order to fix accessibility barriers after a Web site is launched.

Web sites vary in the amount of retrofitting that they need to conduct in order to ensure accessibility. Key factors which affect this effort include the size and complexity of the Web site as well as the skills of the developers and the tools they utilize. There are a variety of ways to approach retrofitting, this document describes a process which starts with a comprehensive conformance evaluation; then a prioritization of issues to be addressed; then making and monitoring the changes on an ongoing basis.

2. Getting Evaluation Data for Retrofitting

Developing Organizational Policies on Web Accessibility

Before any retrofitting attempts can be made to an existing Web site, an organizational policy for Web accessibility needs to be established. The conformance level defined by the policy will be an important factor in both identifying accessibility barriers and prioritizing the necessary repair steps. The document Developing Organizational Policies on Web Accessibility addresses considerations that can arise when developing organizational policies on Web accessibility.

Conducting a Web Accessibility Conformance Review

After a target conformance level is selected, a thorough conformance review needs to be conducted in order to identify the accessibility barriers which are presented by the Web site. Selecting appropriate Web accessibility evaluation tools can reduce the effort associated with the review process considerably. The document Selecting Evaluation and Repair Tools addresses considerations that can arise while selecting evaluation tools. Furthermore, information on how to carry out conformance reviews is described in the section Conformance Evaluation as part of the Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility Resource Suite.

Documenting Conformance Review Results

Documenting the findings of the conformance review and preparing the collected data for the involved stakeholders such as managers, developers and content authors is an essential step in aligning the roles and responsibilities within the organization. Thorough documentation of the evaluation data also helps track the progress of the retrofitting process and identifying recurring errors. A Template for Accessibility Evaluation Reports is provided as part of the Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility Resource Suite.

3. Prioritizing Evaluation Data for Retrofitting

Accessibility Factors

The severity of the accessibility barrier can be deduced from the priority associated with the related checkpoint. By eliminating the high priority errors first, the retrofitting process can proceed in well defined stages. It is not recommendable to select specific types of disabilities and deduce associated checkpoints as dependencies between these groups may be neglected. For example, while images may pose difficulties for some type of disabilities, they are helpful for others. Therefore, several checkpoints associated with the correct usage of images need to be considered collectively.

Technical Factors

Sometimes it may also make sense to organize the phases of a retrofitting process according to technical factors. Analyzing the cost of repair against the priority of the checkpoint may be an effective approach to quickly eliminate easy to repair errors. Some fundamental errors which are associated with the utilized authoring tools and infrastructure, for example content management systems or legacy systems, may pose challenges that require adapting these environments (e.g. updating the content management system etc.) before retrofitting can take place.

4. Carrying Out Retrofitting Measures

Different roles throughout an organization may be involved in the retrofitting process. Often Web developers will need to incorporate changes to existing templates, authoring tool configurations, or Web applications but also user interface designers, content authors, or software procurers will need to consider accessibility requirements in order to achieve the target level of conformance.

Carefull documentation of actions and decisions made during an ongoing retrofitting process encourages transparency for all involved stakeholders and can establish a solid quality control in modifications to the existing Web site or in the development of new resources and content. Tracking the status of errors identified during the review process assists allocating and planning resource requirements to finalize the retrofitting process.

5. Ongoing Monitoring and Quality Control

While retrofitting Web sites primarily deals with adapting existing Web content to a target conformance level, the development of new content also needs to be addressed equally. By tracking the initial sources which generate accessibility barriers within Web content (for example templates, authoring tools, scripts, configurations, etc), permanent repairs can be made. Development guidelines which address the accessibility considerations related to the organization specific infrastructure, tools, and systems may sometimes educate and assist Web developers and content authors while creating new content. Additional monitoring and recurring conformance reviews are essential to ensure that the desired conformance and quality level is maintained over time.

Last modified: $Date: 2005/06/15 17:44:48 $ by $Author: shadi $

Note: This draft WAI Resource developed by W3C/WAI's Education and Outreach Working Group (EOWG). We invite review and discussion. Please address your feedback to, a mailing list with a public archive. Change log available.

Last updated 7 October 2004 by Shadi Abou-Zahra. Editors: Shadi Abou-Zahra and Judy Brewer, with assistance from participants of the EOWG.

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