Accessibility and Automatic Checkers

At least 1 in 5 people in the UK has a long-term illness, disability, or impairment; this could impede on their ability to access crucial information on your website. As you should all now be aware, the new Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 came into full effect on the 23rd September 2020 which stated that all government sites must be accessible to everyone. If you need more information about the regulations and why they are important you can read our previous blog posts on the topic.

Many councils are now opting to use automated checking software and tools to measure the accessibility of their website. While this can seem like the best option, it often causes more problems than it solves. Automatic testing software is designed to be used by technically experienced professionals and may even throw up issues with accessibility which aren’t actually there. Here we’re looking at why automatic testing may not be the best solution for website accessibility.

1. Inaccuracy

Automated checkers may be inaccurate and in some cases flag issues that aren’t in the regulations or weren’t even issues to begin with. This can work the other way too and some tests may show your website as more accessible than it is. Relying solely on automated responses isn’t enough to be sure you’re providing your service users with fully accessible information, you should always manually check your site as well to be accurate.

2. Overly Technical

When you get a report from your chosen tool it may inform you of issues with the websites code or other complex technical issues that the average site owner or manager can’t grapple with. Sometimes these technical problems may not amount to much, but without the right technical knowledge it is impossible to know and can result in a huge amount of time being wasted.

One of the ones you may see most often is the mention of stray end tags (empty headings or empty links). These sound overly complex and most people won’t know it is referring to and may worry about how to fix it. Stray end tags are small inaccuracies in the coding of your site that most often come from text being pasted into the text box or content not being removed completely or correctly. They are invisible to a sighted user and can only be fixed by going into the HTML of the text box. While these must be listed as technical fails as they are in the regulations, a screen reader will just skip over them so it does not impede accessibility in a practical sense and would take hours to manually find and correct them all.

3. Inability to Analyse Text or Images

An automated tool can’t accurately see or read elements of a website. They work solely in code and therefore cannot understand any graphical elements of your site. Automated tools may flag up a colour contrast error where really it is reading the style sheet colour not the actual image colour which may be perfectly visible and have good contrast.

This also applies to reading with meaning. While a tool can scan text, it cannot infer it in any way so may not be able to tell you if link text does not have a clear purpose. While this is in the regulations and is one of our most common mistakes made by users, an automated checker may not be able to tell you there is anything wrong.

So how do you check your sites?

While it is understandable you want to tick all the boxes to ensure your website meets accessibility guidelines and is as inclusive as possible, an automatic tool simply cannot provide this on its own. They may make the process much more complicated and leave you more confused than when you began. We regularly speak to council staff who are dealing with regular automatic alerts and warnings about their website’s accessibility, and what seems like a long list of errors ends up being one or two small changes.

It is advised to have a site built with accessibility in mind from the beginning, rather than trying to add it on as you go but if you are trying to check your websites now we urge you to read up on the regulations and manually check your automatic reports in order to be as accurate as possible.

At Vision ICT we regularly advise councils on accessibility and provide fully accessible websites to every client who approaches us, as we recognise the need for ease of access for anyone looking to use council services. Our team is always available to advise on accessibility concerns or anything else and we can provide insight far beyond what you’ll get from an automated tool. For accessibility questions and advice please email accessibility@visionict.com.

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