During a sales meeting, a question on accessibility was asked. “How do we talk about the importance of accessibility testing without fear becoming the main motivation to act?”
I had to admit that in all my years running accessibility testing practices, fear was never an emotion I thought was elicited. Sure, there were stories of companies being sued over inaccessible sites, but that was a fleeting consideration where I worked.
To stay competitive, companies are releasing more frequently than ever before, and in the interest of time, sometimes good coding and testing practices are trumped by the desire for more features. To add yet another testing component without seeing its value could be viewed as a roadblock to delivery.
By showing the value of accessibility and having a plan in place to address those needs, you can demonstrate to employees that accessibility is about more than compliance; organizations that are proactive about accessibility will reap benefits in terms of a larger user base and goodwill within the community.
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) provides four principles and twelve Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that can be used to design and test for accessibility. Success criteria are listed under each guideline, and each criterion is labeled as Level A, AA, or AAA.
A software product can be considered minimally accessible, and therefore “conformant,” if it meets at least all Level A success criteria. Meeting all Level AA success criteria is more stringent, and meeting all criteria suggested by the W3C earns Level AAA conformance.
You’ll want to determine which level is appropriate for your organization and users, but here’s the gist:
- Level A: A good place to start. This is great for organizations that already have a product in use and who want to establish a baseline for accessibility conformance.
- Level AA: The next step. This level means that most people will be able to use your site or product in most situations. Many education and government agencies require this level.
- Level AAA: The most difficult to achieve and maintain. In rare situations this level may be required, but the W3C makes it clear that it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA success criteria for some content.
Testing the Guidelines
Now that you’ve determined which level of conformance you will seek, you’re ready to start the guidelines verification process. Our teams use the W3C checklist to create and execute tests, first manually, then by using a screen reader. There are many screen readers available, but here are a few we have used:
In addition to reporting on the checklist, be prepared to provide recommendations for how to adjust content and presentation to meet the requirements of the guidelines.
Now that you know how to take the first steps in your accessibility journey, you have an understanding of the effort required to be conformant. I challenge us to remove the unknown and replace it with an attitude of user advocacy.