January 04 2021

How Siteimprove is Changing in 2021 and What it Means for Website Accessibility

Siteimprove blue logoEarlier this year, Siteimprove announced an upcoming free update for all customers, which includes some major upgrades to its website accessibility platform within its site governance tool. The new accessibility module was developed to make building and maintaining fully accessible websites easier and more fool-proof than ever. Here’s what you need to know:

Confident, Clear, Consistent Results

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the set of conformance standards to which all websites should adhere, are sometimes hard to follow and can be open to interpretation. However, Siteimprove has now incorporated Accessibility Conformance Testing Rules, which aims to solve this problem. ACT Rules are a series of test rules developed by an independent team of experts meant to help users turn WCAG standards into practical results.

For example, let’s take a look at a WCAG rule: 2.4.1 Bypass Blocks (Level A): A mechanism is available to bypass blocks of content that are repeated on multiple Web pages.
The ACT rule might read something like:

1. On a “desktop” browser
2. The first keyboard element would be a “skip to” link
3. Hitting “enter” would bypass anything that is always static on the page (like the main navigation)
4. The focus of the keyboard would be on the first item past the repeatable content

This helps break down the requirements of each WCAG rule to make these guidelines more actionable and easier to understand. It also increases the odds that fixes are meeting not just WCAG standards, but legal standards as well.

Accessibility experts at Siteimprove are working with the ACT Rules community group to incorporate new Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) rules into Siteimprove’s accessibility module. The accessibility module is the component in Siteimprove’s Saas tool that checks your site for WCAG confomance and gives you a ‘score’ out of 100.

Siteimprove is also increasing documentation at the issue level to help explain each conformance issue, guide you to the fix and provide helpful WCAG links with further information. What does this mean for you? With ACT rules now engineered into Siteimprove’s accessibility platform, you will have a better understanding of W3C’s WCAG standards, the confidence that you are meeting legal requirements and more consistent results.

Customization and Efficiency

Another previous complaint was that Siteimprove checked against WCAG 2.1 level AAA despite WCAG 2.1 Level AA being the accepted legal standard. With Siteimprove’s new customizations, you can now select your standard and customize your goals to meet the needs of your individual business and website. This is a smart improvement, because the legal standard is, and has always been Level AA. Grading against the harsher level AAA meant that the score was not reflecting the actual legal standard companies needed to meet.

Siteimprove has also added new features to improve efficiency. While you still have the ability to sort issues by points to your accessibility score, you can now also group issues by location (e.g., header of the page). This update gives you more control over how you want to organize issues. Additionally Siteimprove has streamlined workflows by eliminating unnecessary questions and revealing potential issues faster. Previously you might be asked several questions about a video that didn’t apply (for instance asking if the live video was closed captioned when it wasn’t live video), now you will go through a yes/no workflow that will eliminate the questions before they are asked (e.g.: Is this video live? Y/N).

You and Your Score

While these upgrades are a big improvement, be aware that your accessibility score is likely to drop anywhere from 5-15 points come February 2021. The more issues you’ve approved or set to “can’t fix,” the larger the point drop you can expect to see. However, the more your score drops, the easier it will be to recover those points, since it is likely that the majority of them will be items already checked or set to “can’t fix”. Because the accessibility checks have been modified, it is possible that it may ask you to re-validate ones you have already approved. There will also be a small number of points dropped as new best practices are introduced to the tool. Though your points may drop, this is a reflection of our community getting better at making websites more accessible for persons with disabilities. It bears noting here that this will be a global effect for all clients, not just you.
 
What can you do to prepare? Keep an eye out for this update in February 2021 or later. You will likely need to allocate time to review the new tool and new issues that arise. If you’re unfamiliar with SIteimprove maintenance or not sure where to start, ZAG can help. ZAG has the experience and expertise to handle all your website accessibility needs. Contact an expert today!

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posted by
Will Creedle
Will Creedle
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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