Do I need a website accessibility checker?

Last updated: 11/13/2019

Is an automated web accessibility checker really necessary?
What is the best website accessibility checker for me?
Where can I find an accessibility checker online?
What does automated accessibility testing check for?
So should I make all of my accessibility testing automated?

Removing accessibility barriers for people with disabilities is an important undertaking for conscientious website owners. Since the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) took effect in 2018, the international focus on web accessibility standards has only intensified. Accessibility Checker

The European Union and many countries around the world, including Australia, Canada, (although not the United States, whose Americans with Disabilities Act presents its own complex issues), have incorporated some or all of the WCAG guidelines into their official accessibility laws and policies. This means that providing equal access to all users is more than just the right thing to do. In many cases, it’s a legal requirement for organizations hoping to avoid fines and web accessibility lawsuits.

Is an automated web accessibility checker really necessary?

The internet features a wide range of testing tools and software programs for web accessibility evaluation. While some companies might be reluctant to invest in a dedicated web accessibility tool, the fact is that creating and maintaining accessible web content in the modern era is too large and difficult a task to be done without automated accessibility test.

That doesn’t mean that manual accessibility testing is a bad idea—in fact, manual testing is an integral part of accessibility testing as not everything can be automated. Automation is a great, cost-effective (you could argue it’s the only financially viable way) for covering large amounts of content quickly whereas manual testing is great for a thorough investigation into a smaller amount of content. 

What is the best website accessibility checker for me?

There are a lot of accessibility evaluation tools and website compliance checkers out there, offering a variety of tests and services. As with anything on the web, site owners’ needs will vary depending on what services and products they offer. A high-quality web accessibility tool should offer automated scans of your entire site, web applications, intranets, and mobile applications as well as individual pages, including PDFs, white papers, and any other supplemental materials.

This brief accessibility checklist runs through some key checks. Look for a web accessibility testing tool that automatically checks for these issues and offers tests covering: 

  • Text

To be web accessible, all text should be compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Directions should be clear and concise. 

  • Images

All information conveyed through images should have a text alternative for users and user agents who cannot perceive information in a non-text format – like screen reader users and search engine spiders.  

  • Links

All linked text and images should provide context that lets users know exactly where the link will lead. Outdated or broken links should be updated and replaced. 

  • Audio and video

Video content should include audio descriptions describing exactly what is portrayed. However, if all of the information in the video track is already provided in the audio track, no audio description is necessary. All audio content should include captions or transcripts. 

  • Sitemaps

According to WC3 guidelines, a sitemap is “one of a series of techniques for locating content that is sufficient for addressing Success Criterion 2.4.5”. 

Where can I find an accessibility checker online?

It’s easy to find an online checker to aid in your site’s accessibility compliance, but all web accessibility evaluation tools are not created equally. A browser plugin like the Siteimprove Accessibility Checker extension for Google Chrome can check single pages within your site and give you an overview of accessibility issues. A paid accessibility testing tool like Siteimprove Accessibility can run automated compliance checks to make sure your content is up to date with the latest standards. Every website’s accessibility needs are different, but a quality accessibility testing tool flags issues that affect people with disabilities. It’s not the be-all-end-all but it’s the first step in a long journey.

Free web accessibility evaluation tools and browser plugins can be an excellent resource for any organization concerned about web accessibility lawsuits, compliance with WCAG guidelines, or simply providing equal access for users of all abilities. For most organizations, it’s also a good idea to invest in a dedicated tool that automatically checks your website for accessibility barriers and provides you with useful feedback to correct any outstanding issues. It creates a better web experience for all users and makes good business sense. The Americans with Disabilities Act may not specifically mandate online accessibility, but it’s often the act that plaintiffs use for suing websites with poor accessibility.

  • Proper page structure

Your website should be organized in a way that is easy to navigate for users who rely on keyboard-only navigation and assistive technology 

  • Useful page titles
    Clear, concise titles that describe what’s included on each page are an easy thing to overlook, but they’re vital to screen readers and also provide a boost to your SEO  
  • Accessible text
    Assistive-tech-friendly text content should include proper headings, avoid vague directions, and inform the reader of any language changes, among other considerations 
  • Accessible links
    Link text should be concise but specific and descriptive, as language such as “Click here” or “Learn more” doesn’t provide enough context for users to know where the link leads. Any linked images should include alt text that describes exactly where the link leads 
  • Readability
    Overly complex sentences and needlessly lengthy words can make your site difficult to read for users with cognitive disabilities 
  • Accessible images
    All images on your website, including graphs, charts, and diagrams, should feature alt text that describes what is pictured and provides context and purpose 
  • Accessible video and audio
    All video content on your site should include concise audio descriptions that describe exactly what the video portrays, while audio content should include accurate captions or transcripts 

What does automated accessibility testing check for?

Whether you’re just starting to delve into accessibility or striving to keep up to date with the latest standards, software designed to identify areas that fall beneath WCAG 2.1 guidelines can save you a huge amount of time and labor.

A tool like Siteimprove Content & Accessibility, for instance, scans your website and takes a page-by-page inventory of all of your content, helping to locate outdated material, missing elements, and anything that bring your site out of WCAG compliance. A quality accessibility tool should scan for: 

While it’s true that some of these items can be effectively managed manually, automated accessibility testing provides you with the kind of wide-reaching, a site-wide overview of all of your accessibility issues that a manual assessment simply can’t replicate. Automated accessibility tests are constantly evolving and adapting to the rapidly changing landscape of the internet, making them your best bet for keeping current.

In addition, tools like Siteimprove Content & Accessibility offer diagnostics and progress graphs that make it much easier to track the areas that need improvement and gauge how far you’ve come with your fixes. This kind of visual data is useful not just for building an accessibility plan that keeps you compliant with WCAG 2.1, but also for illustrating to management the importance of an ongoing, robust approach to online accessibility. 

So should I make all of my accessibility testing automated?

To put it simply, no. For all of the advantages of running regularly scheduled automated accessibility tests, any healthy website should also include manual testing in its plans. There are a number of areas where an actual human can determine accessibility issues that an automated tool may not recognize.

Areas, where manual accessibility testing is preferable, include ensuring that all facets of a page can be accessed with keyboard-only navigation, detecting color contrast issues that make pages difficult for some users to read, checking HTML5 and WAI-ARIA elements for coding best practices, and testing compatibility with leading screen readers.

The bottom line is that testing website accessibility regularly and thoroughly is a must in today’s online environment. With the advent of WCAG 2.1 and other accessibility regulations and an ever-growing number of seniors relying on the internet, offering a website experience with equal access for all users is more important than ever.

Whether your organization is new to the world of accessible content or looking to improve on your current approach, a well-considered combination of manual and automated accessibility testing with a tool like Siteimprove Content & Accessibility will go a long way toward keeping your website usable for everyone who needs it.