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WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

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Improving the Accessibility of Your Website

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Web accessibility is achieved and maintained as the result of deliberate design and process choices, and full integration into the development lifecycle. For guidance on how to succeed in that long term goal, you will want to read WAI's Strategic Planning for Web Accessibility. In the meantime however, you may have an organizational or project need to identify and remove immediate barriers to a website or service. This document helps you do that.

What is this document for?

This material provides steps for site owners and managers to consider when faced with the need to improve the accessibility of a website. This approach will help you make short term improvements, but in order to sustain accessibility over the longer term it needs to be integrated into internal policies and processes.

Key steps for accessibility improvement planning are:

Note that additional content regarding each Key Action can be revealed using the button beside the action. You can expand all such content using the following buttons.

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Determine Scope and Target

Scope is the range of web content you are aiming to review and improve. This could be a complete website or a subsection of pages. Your target is the accessibility standard you aim to evaluate against and conform to.

The initial pressures for your project will likely influence your scope and target. For example, if customer feedback highlighted an accessibility barrier that prevents use, then that provides your initial scope. Similarly, if you are legally required to meet a certain level of accessibility, then your target will be at least that level.

Even with restricted scope you might take the opportunity to fix other issues in related areas of the website. For example, while fixing contrast in the CSS you might also fix other issues that only require changes to the CSS.

Key actions

  • Set a standard and conformance level.

    Most organizations use WCAG as a target for accessibility and specify conformance levels for each success criteria. Level A is the minimum level of conformance. Most organizations aim to achieve Level AA for success criteria. Your organization may already have an accessibility policy specifying what standard and level you need to achieve.

  • Define what is to be evaluated.

    You will need to carefully consider your timelines and available resources when determining the scope. Where you initially have limited resources, focusing on key user journeys and content often bring the most significant benefits in the shortest time.

Related resources

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Assess the Situation

The goal of assessing your website is to identify accessibility barriers and gather information to plan for their repair. Your target will define what you need to evaluate against, although it is sometimes worth evaluating to a higher level. There are likely some higher level criteria that you already meet or are easily achieved.

Rather than thoroughly evaluating every target page, you can focus on shared areas or components in order to obtain more valuable information with less effort. For example, templates, style sheets, and any repeated items, such as navigation bars and footers, only need to be evaluated once.

Many organizations hire accessibility specialists to evaluate their website. They will also be able to provide guidance on how to respond to the identified barriers. This can include general recommendations on approach and priorities, specific recommendations on solutions, and guidance on the knowledge and skills needed for the repairs.

Key actions

  • Before assessing, fix any known barriers.

    In some cases you may already know of accessibility barriers. If easily fixed, it may be best to repair these before going further. This can bring early site improvement. More importantly, if you are involving users in your evaluation, any existing barriers may make it difficult for them to access other areas or content. If known barriers can be fixed, this may help your users find other issues.

  • Evaluate using a standardized approach.

    Ensure that you are consistent in applying your evaluation methodology. This allows you to repeat the evaluation and compare the results. WCAG-EM is a comprehensive and structured approach to help determine how well a website conforms to WCAG.

  • Evaluate with real users.

    Including evaluation with users, helps your team understand real-world accessibility issues and the impact of accessibility barriers. An understanding of the effect of accessibility barriers helps in creating better solutions. Observing sessions where users wrestle with your site can also be a powerful motivator for your project team.

  • Use appropriate evaluation and repair tools.

    Web accessibility evaluation tools are programs and online services that help check if a website meets accessibility guidelines. There are also tools that help repair accessibility barriers. Some evaluation tools can be configured to be more useful to your specific project. For example, once you figure out your scope and target, you can configure the tool to only evaluate those criteria and pages. This can speed up the evaluation and simplify the report.

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Prioritize Solutions

When faced with limited resources or a need to respond quickly to issues, you will need to prioritize your repairs. There are two important factors to determine:

  1. What is the impact on people with disabilities?

    While WCAG Success Criteria are the best measure of overall accessibility barriers, human experience and judgement is critical when addressing immediate issues. Assigning barriers with a WCAG Level A, AA, or AAA indicates the generalized impact. The actual impact depends on the context of the barrier and the target audience. For example, poor contrast in the main content has a high impact, whereas in generic footers it will be lower. User experience testing and reporting is therefore an important measure of the impact of accessibility barriers.

  2. What is the effort required for repair?

    The time, cost, and skills required to fix an issue will vary greatly. For example, repairing an issue in the header could require a simple change to a template that is automatically propagated throughout the website, or it could require changing every page manually.

    Discussion with representatives from all teams can help you quickly determine possible solutions and what effort would be required to implement them. Ensure that whoever is responsible for implementing the solution is involved, as they will know best what constraints exist.

Key actions

  • Prioritize high impact, easily addressed barriers.

    This provides the most improvement in the shortest time. Creating a graph of impact versus effort can help you quickly determine high priority barriers. This approach usually takes less time. However, it may result in harder-to-fix or low impact issues always falling out of scope.

  • Prioritize by important functionality or high use content.

    It is usually best to first repair those areas that have the greatest impact on user experience. Identify key pages or journeys within the website and fix problems in those areas. For example, the home page may be a primary entry point, or purchasing a product and payment process may be important functions. Frequently-used, high-traffic pages and functionality can be identified using analytics.

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Implement Repairs

Once issues are prioritized, you will be better able to plan how long it will take to fix them based on the estimated effort. This gives a clear indication of what is achievable given the project resources available.

The brunt of repairs often falls to developers to address, but some issues, such as content or issues with process, will be better handled by others. For example, if text in primary content is not linked clearly then whoever manages your content can address this. For each issue to be fixed, ensure that it is clear who do the work and that they have the appropriate skills or knowledge.

Key actions

  • Review solutions following implementation.

    Sometimes there is no perfect solution or a solution might introduce other problems. If possible, run an evaluation of the repairs to ensure that the issue has been adequately addressed.

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Review Achievements

Once repairs are completed, review what has been achieved and what is still left to do. Knowing what problems still exist will help with any planning for ongoing maintenance. Communicating known issues to your site visitors might be helpful, especially when you can provide suitable alternatives.

Key actions

  • Document any remaining issues.

    Knowing what was fixed, how, and what outstanding issues remain can help subsequent maintenance or redesign activities. This will also help maintain momentum for accessibility and reduce subsequent evaluation costs.

  • Update or create your accessibility conformance statement.

    Your accessibility statement can provide contact details for feedback, and provide information to help users optimize their experience. You might also want to summarize how your site is supportive of accessibility, and where you still have work to do. Following completion of any accessibility repairs it is important to review your accessibility statement and update it with improvements made and remaining issues.

  • Set a follow-up date.

    At the end of your project set a date for when the accessibility of the website should be next reviewed. This may be part of a regular maintenance schedule or as part of an upcoming improvement or redesign project. This can be recorded in your accessibility statement or policy.

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Next steps: Analysis of Findings

The previous steps will help you remedy immediately apparent barriers but maintaining this level of accessibility may require broader changes or added mechanisms. Reflecting on what caused each barrier can help in understanding what additional changes might be required. For example, poor link text may have been caused by content managers with insufficient awareness of accessibility issues, or video production process may neglect the creation of transcripts.

Addressing these issues is likely to be more involved than fixing immediate barriers. You might need to consider additional training and identify who would most benefit, changing processes to introduce appropriate quality assurance checks, reviewing company policies, such as procurement, to incorporate accessibility, or development infrastructure to ensure accessibility is baked in by default.

Key actions

  • Keep track of solutions.

    Documenting what solutions were considered and finally implemented will help subsequent projects avoid introducing the same issues, or attempting solutions already shown to be flawed. This type of resource can help less experienced and new team members understand more about accessibility.

  • Consider production processes and training.

    Creating the content for your website can involve many staff, stages, or tools. For some content, such as video or PDF, this may be particularly complex. Consider each step of the process to identify where issues are introduced and how they may be best addressed. This might point to additional training needs, quality assurance stages, or improved tools.

  • Consider how authoring tools might introduce barriers.

    Authoring tools are software or services used to create or modify websites, such as web page editors and content management systems (CMS). Some authoring tools provide better accessibility support than others. You might be able to improve accessibility support in your authoring tool by:

    • Configuring your tools. For example, sometimes accessibility features in authoring tools are disabled by default and need to be turned on.
    • Using plug-ins or other add-on software to extend the accessibility support of your tools.
    • Upgrading your existing tools to the latest version, if they have better accessibility support.
    • Purchasing different tools with better accessibility support.

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Long term: Strategic Planning

Thinking about accessibility tactically will generally be less cost effective and efficient than considering it as an integral part of your web development strategy. There are several things you can do to help your organization create more accessible websites as standard.

Key actions

  • Consider accessibility as an organizational strategic goal.

    Implementing Web Accessibility Across Organizations and Projects outlines how to integrate accessibility throughout your web development. Ensure that when redesigns or updates are planned, accessibility is included from the start of the project. Accessibility is much less costly and time-consuming when tackled at the beginning of a project, rather than the end.

  • Develop an organizational policy on accessibility.

    An organizational policy on web accessibility defines your goals for how your organization will support the creation of accessible web content and services.

Related resources

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