How to Check Your Website for Accessibility

Today you’ll learn how to test your website for accessibility issues. We’ll be looking at the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines.

What is WCAG and what are the rules?

On 23rd September of 2018, the UK government introduced new legislation to ensure that all public sector bodies made their websites and mobiles applications accessible to all users. The conditions to meet are set out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.

These are guidelines set out by a consortium of large technology companies in order to create consistency across all websites, browsers and mobile apps. This consistency improves the user experience for those with accessibility problems and visual impairment to use screen readers and other input methods to have fair access to the internet.

Not only will adhering to these guidelines improve accessibility, you will also get a small boost to your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

The government rules suggest that by 23rd September 2020, every website and mobile app operated by public sector bodies must adhere to the new guidelines.

The WCAG rules are constantly evolving and new versions of the guide are published periodically. There are also multiple levels of compliance - meaning that if a website meets, for example the level AAA standard, then it will be readable by a significant number of users.

The UK government has chosen to demand adherence to WCAG version 2.1 and the Level AA guidelines. This level is fairly easy to meet for most situations, as it does not require embedded media to also be compliant. AA compliance is largely concerned with ensuring screen reader software can make sense of the images and text on screen.

In this article, we will show you how to test WCAG 2.1 AA rules on your website.

How can I effectively test my website against WCAG?

The two main ways of testing your website are A) manually comparing the WCAG checklist or B) using a software tool to scan your site.

We are a massive supporter of method B. We like to use a piece of software called SortSite by PowerMapper, it costs only £99 for a lifetime license and allows you to scan websites with up to 22,000 pages - There may even be a free trial offered. 

There are a number of free alternatives available online, but we find they can only check very small websites, and don’t report issues in the most effective way. We will now explain how you can use SortSite to scan your website and retrieve a list of reasons your website fails to meet the accessibility standards. 

We are not affiliated with PowerMapper or SortSite in any way.

How do I use SortSite to test for accessibility?

Once you have downloaded and installed SortSite, you will want to navigate to your website like so:

Our website within Sortsite

Next, we need to choose the rules we want to test:

Select Choose Rules from the drop down menu

It is important to visit each of the tabs in here (Errors, Compatibility etc…) and disable all but the Accessibility one. While these are useful for other things, it’s not necessary to check these for WCAG. 

Within the Accessibility tab, you will need to select WCAG 2.1 AA from the WCAG list. There’s no need to check the other rules (508 etc..) and we like to use the Universal Reading Age. Your window should look like this:

Selected accessibility options

Hit OK to close the window.

From here you have a number of options. If you would like to search your entire website click the “Check Entire Site” option:

The Check options menu

If you just want to test a subset of your pages, click “Check…”, select single page and specify the additional pages like so:

Checking a specific set of pages

Then click “Check”. Depending on how big your website is, it may take a few seconds, or even hours to scan all of the pages. Once the scan has finished, a report like this will be displayed:

The SortSite report front page

If you navigate to the “Issues” tab, you will see a breakdown of the rules you are failing to meet, and a link to the full guideline for each. The descriptions on this report are actually really good - certainly good enough for a software developer to work with.

Priority issues

The “Issues” tab is a good way to see the severity of the problems and will help to assign priority to fixing them. Level A issues they mean that these pages are unusable to some people. Level AA means they are usable, but could be very difficult to operate. It’s important to prioritise A first, especially issues that affect a large number of pages.

Although this may look daunting at first, you may find that fixing the issue on a page template will fix every page on your site. Smashed Crab Studio can help you to both test and fix these issues for you.

How do I fix these problems?

If you have the technical knowledge and access to your website’s code, you can get fixing straight away. If you feel you need some assistance, it may be prudent to employ the help of a software house, like Smashed Crab Studio, to fix these issues for you. Usually the fixes are quite quick to put in place.

Should you wish to work with Smashed Crab Studio, we can even do your initial audit for free. We can also arrange to perform regular scans on your site and report issues directly to your technical team. 

Who are Smashed Crab Studio?

Now named Smashed Crab Software, we are a bespoke software development company. We’ve been working with data-driven websites for years and we believe the web should be open to everyone. We have worked across a whole host of industries including education, healthcare and customer services.

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