Accessibility audits for all
It’s often said that it’s easier to make a fast website than it is to keep a website fast. Things slip through. If you’re not vigilant, performance can erode without you noticing.
It’s a similar story for other invisible but important facets of your website: privacy, security, accessibility. Because they’re hidden from view, you won’t be able to see if there’s a regression.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have regular audits for performance, privacy, security, and accessibility.
I wrote about accessibility testing a while back, and how there’s quite a bit that you can do for yourself before calling in an expert to look at the really gnarly stuff:
When you commission an accessibility audit, you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Don’t squander it on issues that you can catch and fix yourself. Make sure that the bulk of the audit is being spent on the specific issues that are unique to your site.
I recently did an internal audit of the Clearleft website. After writing up the report, I also did a lunch’n’learn to share my methodology. I wanted to show that there’s some low-hanging fruit that pretty much anyone can catch.
To start with, there’s keyboard navigation. Put your mouse and trackpad to one side and use the
tab key to navigate around.
Caveat: depending on what browser you’re using, you might need to update some preferences for keyboard navigation to work on links. If you’re using Safari, go to “Preferences”, then “Advanced”, and tick “Press Tab to highlight each item on a web page.”
Tab around and find out. You should see some nice chunky
:focus-visible styles on links and form fields.
Here’s something else that anyone can do: zoom in. Increase the magnification to 200%. Everything should scale proportionally. How about 500%? You’ll probably see a mobile-friendly layout. That’s fine. As long as nothing is broken or overlapping, you’re good.
At this point, I reach for some tools. I’ve got some bookmarklets that do similar things: tota11y and ANDI. They both examine the source HTML and CSS to generate reports on structure, headings, images, forms, and so on.
These tools are really useful, but you need to be able to interpret the results. For example, a tool can tell you if an image has no
alt text. But it can’t tell you if an image has good or bad
Likewise, these tools are great for catching colour-contrast issues. But there’s a big difference between a colour-contrast issue on the body copy compared to a colour-contrast issue on one unimportant page element.
I think that demonstrates the most important aspect of any audit: prioritisation.
Finding out that you have accessibility issues isn’t that useful if they’re all presented as an undifferentiated list. What you really need to know are which issues are the most important to fix.
By the way, I really like the way that the Gov.uk team prioritises accessibility concerns:
The team puts accessibility concerns in 2 categories:
- Theoretical: A question or statement regarding the accessibility of an implementation within the Design System without evidence of real-world impact.
- Evidenced: Sharing new research, data or evidence showing that an implementation within the Design System could cause barriers for disabled people.
The team will usually prioritise evidenced issues and queries over theoretical ones.
When I wrote up my audit for the Clearleft website, I structured it in order of priority. The most important things to fix are at the start of the audit. I also used a simple scale for classifying the severity of issues: low, medium, and high priority.
Thankfully there were no high-priority issues. There were a couple of medium-priority issues. There were plenty of low-priority issues. That’s okay. That’s a pretty good distribution.
If you’re interested, here’s the report I delivered…
Accessibility audit on clearleft.com
There are a few issues with the pink colour. When it’s used on a grey background, or when it’s used as a background colour for white text, the colour contrast isn’t high enough.
The SVG arrow icon could be improved too.
- Change the pink colour universally to be darker. The custom property
rgb(234, 33, 90). Change it to
rgb(210, 20, 73)(thanks, James!)
- The SVG arrow icon currently uses
currentColor. Consider hardcoding solid black (or a very, very dark grey) instead.
Alt text is improving on the site. There’s reasonable alt text at the top level pages and the first screen’s worth of case studies and blog posts. I made a sweep through these pages a while back to improve the alt text but I haven’t done older blog posts and case studies.
- Make a sweep of older blog posts and case studies and fix alt text.
- Images on the contact page have alt text that starts with “A photo of…” — this is redundant and can be removed.
The site is using headings sensibly. Sometimes the nesting of headings isn’t perfect, but this is a low priority issue. For example, on the contact page there’s an
h1 followed by two
h3s. In theory this isn’t correct. In practice (for screen reader users) it’s not an issue.
- On the home page, “UX London 2023” should probably be
- On the case studies index page we’re currently using
h3headings for the industry sector (“Charities”, “Education” etc.) but these should probably not be headings at all. On the blog index page we use a class “Tags” for a similar purpose. Consider reusing that pattern on the case studies index page.
- On the about index page, “We’re driven to be” is an
h3and the subsequent three headings are
h2s. Ideally this would be reversed: a single
h2followed by three
Sometimes the same text is used for different links.
- On the home page the text “Read the case study” is re-used for multiple links. It would be better if each link were different e.g. “Read about The Natural History Museum.”
The only form on the site is the newsletter sign-up form. It’s marked up pretty well: the
input has an associated
label, although a visible (clickable)
label would be better.
The focus styles are nice and clear too!
The site is using HTML landmark elements sensibly (