Accessibility Made Simple: Using Siteimprove to Drive Your Accessible Content Strategy
At GOVTalks Spring 2020, DSGa’s Testing and Support Lead, Jasmyne Epps, gave attendees an in-depth look at Siteimprove’s Accessibility module. She explained how agencies can use Siteimprove to better understand web accessibility and to empower their organizations to develop content with accessibility standards and guidelines baked in.
What Is Accessibility and Why Is It So Important?
Jasmyne explained that accessibility, in general, is about making the world around us easier for everyone to enjoy and participate in. Web Accessibility applies those same principals to the internet. Every Georgian deserves equal access to their government, and as web content creators for the state, it’s our job to consider and prioritize our audience and remember everyone it includes.
Siteimprove defines web accessibility as the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent people with disabilities from doing what they need to do online.
Accessibility Serves Everyone
Based on the World Health Organization’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, we know that 27% of Georgians 18 or older live with a disability. Additionally, 35% of the people in that population who are of working age are employed. This is a significant portion of our workforce that can be affected by the lack of accessibility.
Also, accessibility isn’t just about users with physical or cognitive disabilities. Situational, economic, and technological barriers also affect accessibility. For example, if someone is a smartphone-only user and does not have access to high-speed internet, that affects their accessibility to content. People using slower wireless connections or devices with low-resolution screens or poor audio also deal with accessibility issues.
What Does Accessibility Address?
The web content and technologies that help solve accessibility issues encompass text and its formatting, images (photos and graphics), forms, multimedia (video and audio files), and documents. Each of these, when created to comply with accessibility guidelines and standards, ensures that people who use assistive technologies can access and engage with the content on your website.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Accessibility is implemented and enforced through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act refers to these guidelines as a standard to address accessibility in technology. By law, federal websites and State of Georgia websites are required to comply with these standards. GovHub, by design, meets these standards.
To meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines, Jasmyne explained, digital content must adhere to four overarching principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. For example, can they or the assistive technology they use interact with images (via alternative text) and videos (captions)? Can users clearly recognize relationships in the content on the web page? Also, is your content distinguishable? For example, on a web form, can a user tell that there’s an asterisk indicating a field is required?
User interface components and navigation must also be Operable. Can your site be operated using only a keyboard? Have you given your user enough time to interact with or read content that might automatically scroll, change, or rotate on the screen? Does your content have elements, like flashing lights, colors, or images, that might affect people who are susceptible to seizures? Is your content easy to navigate? Is the focus on page elements clearly visible to users navigating the site via keyboard? Do you have page titles? What about proper use of headings and labels? This is particularly important for people who use screen readers, as it helps them understand the hierarchy and structure of the content on the page.
Information and the operation of the user interface must be Understandable. Can the user easily interpret the content on your page? Is the reading level appropriate for the audience? Use plain language so users can quickly understand the information on your page. Are the interactive elements on your site, like forms, presented in a predictable and intuitive way? Is there input assistance? For example, if a user is filling out a form and makes a mistake, does your interface inform them about the error?
Content must be Robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This principle addresses the structure of your code: Does it use best practices to ensure that assistive technologies, like screen readers, have no issue interacting with your site?
WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria
Needs can vary depending on the group and the situation, so the success criteria for each of the POUR guidelines has three different levels of conformance: A, AA and AAA.
- A, the lowest level, relates to tasks like ease of website navigability and readability.
- AA, the second level, focuses on tasks like color contrast ratios, which make it easier for visually impaired or colorblind users to read the text on your screen.
- AAA, the highest level, checks for more advanced elements like sign language and captions for prerecorded video and audio content. Because AAA issues are harder to fix, DSGa does not currently require that level of compliance.
Following these guidelines isn’t just about meeting state and federal requirements. It helps us avoid potential financial issues (e.g., increased operational costs because some users can’t complete transactions online, being sued by a constituent because they don’t have access to a service they’re entitled to). It also opens up our workforce to Georgians with disabilities, increasing our talent pool and providing perspective into the critical role accessibility plays for these users.
The Siteimprove Accessibility Module
Next, Jasmyne walked attendees through the Siteimprove Accessibility Module. We learned that a website’s Siteimprove Accessibility Score is made up of three areas, which are weighted differently based on how they impact your website’s accessibility: Errors, Warnings, and Pages with Issues.
- Errors measure WCAG 2.0 success criteria and have a high weight. These issues have a big impact on your website’s accessibility and, likewise, your score.
- Warnings indicate failures to meet best practices. Typically, these issues have to be investigated and fixed manually, so they have a lower weight on your score.
- Pages with Issues shows the percentage of pages on your website with no more than one error or warning. The fewer the pages with issues, the better the score. This has a medium impact on your score.
The Accessibility Overview page shows you a breakdown of your Accessibility Score as well as your progress in resolving the errors and warnings that Sitemprove has flagged. This page also features a key that displays the varying levels of conformance and severity. This is just one of many educational tools that Siteimprove provides to help you understand accessibility and the impact it has on your content and user experience.
Viewing All Accessibility Issues
Siteimprove allows you to drill deeper to view all the accessibility issues on your site. It separates the issues based on the tasks of three different roles, Editor, Developer, and Webmaster. Because DSGa is your Developer and Webmaster for GovHub, your dashboard automatically defaults to display only Editor-related tasks.
You can also filter issues by Priority, Conformance Level, and Severity. For the Conformance Level filter, remember that you are not currently required to address AAA-level issues. Additionally, under the Severity filter, issues listed as “Reviews” do not impact your Accessibility Score.
Exploring Individual Issues
You can explore an individual issue by clicking on it. This will pull up that issue’s report, which will have a description of the issue and tell you how to fix it. You can also view the level of severity of the issue and the specific POUR guideline it is violating. Siteimprove also displays the number of occurrences of that issue over time, so you can track your progress in resolving that issue. And, you can see each page the issue occurs on. If you click on a page title, Siteimprove will show you that page and highlight each instance of that issue on that page.
Making Decisions on Accessibility Issues
Siteimprove’s Accessibility Module has a feature called “Decisions,” which allows you to manage issues you’re not going to immediately address. You would use this feature if you decided the issue isn’t critical or if you’ve made a conscious decision not to fix the issue. The two Decisions you can apply are “Can’ fix” and “Approve.”
- Approve can only be applied to issues that are listed as “Reviews” (and not as “Errors” or “Warnings”). This is typically for issues you’ve investigated and fixed manually, so you know they’re no longer a problem.
- Can’t fix would only be used if, for whatever reason, you have decided not to fix the issue. You can apply “Can’t fix” to any issue type (Errors, Warnings, or Reviews). You can also add a note explaining why you’ve decided not to fix the issue.
Decisions can improve your score in two ways. You gain points when your decision completely clears a particular issue from your site. You’d do this by either (1) fixing the issue on your site then re-checking it in Siteimprove, or by (2) assigning “Can’t fix” sitewide or on all remaining occurrences of the issue.
Where to Start: Setting Priorities
You can use the guidelines view to help you prioritize your issues based on what’s easiest to fix and work on those issues first. You can also filter issues by conformance level, and prioritize based on A versus AA.
Using Siteimprove’s Pages and PDF views can help you prioritize by allowing you to consider the importance of the content the issues are affecting. For example, you can see if a page is getting a lot of views, which might indicate it’s important to users. Reviewing PDFs with issues enables you to see which ones are frequently downloaded. Consider integrating that content into your website so more people can access it.
How to Improve Your Accessibility Score
Prioritize your A and AA errors based on your expertise and time. Check the total amount of points that can be gained per issue. Focus on resolving issues on a whole page versus a single occurrence of an issue.
How Can Siteimprove Drive Your Content Strategy?
It empowers your team with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their content based on accessibility. The more you use Siteimprove’s Accessibility module, the more comfortable and adept you and your team will become with creating content that’s accessible. Being able to audit your site for these issues also helps you establish clear goals and a path for improving your website’s accessibility. You can also use the information Siteimprove shares to create an actionable plan to improve your website’s Accessibility Score, which makes it easier to gain organizational and leadership support.
Making your content accessible benefits everyone. It also makes your website more adaptable to emerging tech, like voice search devices. Additionally, using Siteimprove to improve and maintain your Accessibility Score can inspire your team to build more accessible content. Most importantly, we owe this to our constituents. Every Georgian deserves equal access to their government and its web-based services.