March 11 2019

Website Accessibility for Humans

Website accessibility is an important topic for anyone who manages a website. WCAG 2.1 outlines guidelines for making the web more accessible, and website owners are either creating or retrofitting their websites against these guidelines, or possibly facing a lawsuit for non-conformance to these guidelines. In addition, website owners are responsible for keeping their sites conformant – using either automatic software, manual testing or ideally a combination of both. If you have “checked all of the boxes” – congratulations because you are helping to make the web more accessible to the millions of people with disabilities. But sometimes even though there may not be a website accessibility violation, your site isn’t actually accessible for actual humans with disabilities. How can this happen? 

Why manual web accessibility testing matters

ZAG Interactive recently performed an ADA Website Compliance audit on a new search feature for finding vehicle dealerships. It seemed to function perfectly. All contrast ratios conformed. Fields were grouped into logical fieldsets with descriptive legends. Fields were all labeled rationally. All fields were keyboard accessible. Every website ADA software scanner - Axe, Siteimprove, SortSite, WAVE– found no accessibility violations.

The problem is that while technically the feature passed the test, if tested with real humans with disabilities, it would fail. And after all, the website accessibility guidelines were developed to improve the web for everyone. In past Digital Insights articles, we’ve discussed manual testing as a way to identify false positives that website accessibility software is not nuanced enough to identify. A more recent Insight article stressed the importance of manual testing for the opposite reason. Software isn’t just unable to differentiate real issues from those that are false positive, it’s also unable to put itself in the shoes of all of site’s users to ensure it is equally accessible. So, while the vehicle search function seems perfect to software and probably the user without disabilities, a human using a screen reader has a different experience. Let’s explore why.

Maximizing human website accessibility

preferred dealers band - original

This locator is on a vehicle loans page of a site, not a page specifically for searching for a dealer. A user with little or no handicaps regarding visual and/or intellectual perception can see with one glance that they can search for specific types (or makes) of cars near a ZIP code. But the screen reader user gets to this functionality and knows very little about the form fields they are being presented with. The screen reader states:

“Heading Level 2 – Our Preferred Dealers are ready to help you.”
“Make button. Select Makes.”

Put simply, even though everything is descriptively labeled, this is confusing for the screen reader user because it lacks context. Once the screen reader user gets to “Search Within” they’re starting to get a hint about what is happening and eventually they get to the “Search” button, but then they’ll need to back track when they figure it out. The bottom line: if users have to figure something out, the site truly isn’t 100% accessible.

The fix for this specific example couldn’t have been easier. HTML text was added to the page that says, “Search our network of Preferred Dealers.” This doesn’t change the experience of those who can see the page well, but these six words make a world of difference for those users who can’t consume the page all-at-once with a glance. Now, the screen reader states:

“Heading Level 2 – Our Preferred Dealers are ready to help you.”
“In the market for a new or used vehicle? Search our network of Preferred Dealers.”
“Make button. Select Makes.”

preferred dealers band - corrected

Add human testing to your website ADA plan

Creating your content and running a software scan is important, but it doesn’t ensure that your content can be consumed by as many users as possible. Only a human can do that. Only a human can put themselves in another’s shoes and only a human can figure out elegant ways to ensure all users can consume your content as easily as possible. As you develop or refine your website accessibility plan, ensure that you have a manual testing process in place to simulate the human experience, and recommend solutions that will make your website – and the digital world – accessible to all. Contact us to discuss your website ADA needs.

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared by ZAG Interactive to provide information of interest to our readers. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your own legal or compliance team for specific questions and concerns.

  • Website Compliance

posted by
Dan Seagull
Dan Seagull
Sr. QA & Certified Accessibility Analyst

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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