WebAim

Presentation by Jared Smith, Associate Director at WebAIM

Overview

We met with Jared Smith from WebAIM to learn about their online accessibility offerings.  WebAIM trained us on making our websites and apps more accessible to those with disabilities (hearing, visual, and other physical disabilities).  Enlightening!  We wanted to share some highlights and FREE resources, like a free website evaluation tool that identifies potential accessibility issues.

If you’re short on time, feel free to jump to the topics that most interest you:

Authored by Rich Kingsford, Software Development Manager and Adjunct Instructor

What’s accessibility?

Online accessibility strives to make websites and apps easier to use for those with disabilities or need special accomodations.

My background with accessibility is mostly with the federal government (503 compliance).  My fellow contractors and I usually viewed this as jumping through a thousand pedantic hoops.  The most annoying one, by far, was we had to make our websites functional even if someone turned off javascript (a very popular scripting language you probably enjoy about a hundred times a minute without realizing it).  Some of the rules were completely reasonable and it felt good to make our site easier to use for those with hearing and visual disabilities.  But the other 90% of our efforts were about jumping through annoying hoops (compliance and such). 

WebAIM and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from w3.org seem mostly about helping people who really need it.  I like it.  Far more motivating than just boring old compliance.  And WebAIM’s tools make it much easier to identify user stories (software developers often write user stories, or short stories from the user’s perspective, to understand and manage requirements, or the features, enhancements, and bug fixes customers want most). 

WebAIM crawled a million websites and found 98.1% of them had detectable WCAG failures (average of 60 violations on just the homepage).  “One of our goals is to put ourselves out of work.  We have a long way to go.”

Do you have any questions about accessibility?

A quick note on standards

There are several accessibility standards (e.g. 503, WCAG) and sometimes these can be pretty daunting.  The cool thing about standards is they have more power when more people abide by them.  In this instance, a developer can begin learning the standards as she applies them.  She can reach out to the community for help or with a proposal.  She can transfer her mastery from project to project or even to another company.  

I’d like to share a limitation with standards; sometimes they get stale (old, outdated, and confining).  Let’s remember to periodically challenge the status quo and think outside the box.  A great way to strengthen a standard is to think up a good idea, test its hypothesis, and then build a persuasive proposal (or maybe a new product or service that will make big bucks for you ). 

What’s your take on accessibility standards?  Are there other standards you like?

Top violations

WebAIM shared several common violations.  Let’s walk through a few.

Low contrast text

https://webaim.org/articles/contrast/

Please remember some people are more sensitive to low contrast than others. Check your own content through WebAim’s Contract Checker.

Missing alternative (alt=””) text

Alternative text (or alt text) should be placed on any image (or image tag) on your website or app.  That way, a blind person can better visualize what the image is, even if she can’t see it with her eyes.  Just like captions on a TV show help someone who is hearing impaired, alt text can help someone who is blind (partially or otherwise) enjoy the content on your website or app.  You might ask, “How can a blind person consume (or read) a website or app?”  Usually they use a screen reader tool that reads the content out loud.  Imagine you’re partially blind and are having a hard time reading this article.  Now imagine your personal assistant sitting next to you reading whatever is under your mouse.  If you clicked on an image, the screen reader would read the alt text to you.  Pretty neat, huh? Explore additional alternative text basics here.

Missing form control labels

We use forms all the time.  But oftentimes websites and apps are missing form labels, making it hard for screen readers or navigation tools to “see” what’s going on.  Maybe you control your device audibly instead of through a mouse or touchpad.  You might use a navigation tool that lets you go into a text field by saying its name. Learn how to create accessible forms here.

Missing document language

Language tags help search engines and content aggregators (e.g. Google or Hotels.com) understand the language of your content.  If you don’t have them, the various systems who are ‘wanting’ to consume your content might not be able to guess. Learn more about document language here.

What are some common violations you’ve seen?

Wave.webaim.org

WebAIM showed us wave.webaim.org’s tools.  You can send your website through this tool and it will highlight accessibility violations (kind of like spell check).  Don’t forget about the Chrome and Firefox extensions!

Learn more about wave.webaim.org’s tools.

A few questions

“Do you have any device recommendations for those with disabilities?”

  • iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads are usually pretty good.  They were first to really get accessibility right.  Android devices have also come quite a ways.
  • Several of our customers who have trouble seeing use external bluetooth keyboards with their phones.  Pretty cool.

“How can we, as a software development company, give assurance we’re compliant?  Or that we will be compliant?

  • There’s no “one and done” type solution.  Just like your usability and security concerns, you should regularly identify and address your accessibility health.

Do you have questions for WebAIM

Conclusion

WebAIM trains and helps you strengthen the accessibility features for your website or apps.  Thanks for the great presentation, Jared Smith!