Web Usability Blog

Thoughts from the MD: who is responsible for accessibility?

Posted by Peter Collins on Nov 19, 2019 9:56:53 AM

Conducting an accessibility audit is usually viewed as a techy activity and is best done by a coding pro. While a knowledge of HTML is important, this is only part of the skill set required.

The problem with getting a techy to do the audit is they may miss a lot of non-techy issues. The WCAG guidelines fall roughly into 3 categories:

  1. Making sure users with access requirements can find what they want
  2. Making sure the content they find is clear and accessible
  3. Making sure their access technology (e.g. screen reader, screen magnifier etc.) work with a website.

The last of these, arguably the ‘techy bit’, is the easiest to identify and rectify (usually). There are a range of tools that can be deployed (such as the Chrome extension 'axe') that simply list out the markup or coding issues for the average developer to fix.

It is the first two categories that are usually trickier to fix. They contain guidelines such as  ‘Page tiles should describe the page topic’ (2.4.2); ‘Text alternatives for images should have the equivalent purpose’ (1.1.1); ‘Link purpose can be determined from the link text alone’ need (2.4.4). The site owner can’t just pass these jobs onto their developers, it is usually the content producers who own these things and need to fix the problems. But this can be a problem as often they do not have the necessary skill sets:

  • Firstly, they have to think it matters.
  • Then they need a good understanding of how to build usable information architectures – how well links and heading give off ‘scent’ for content.
  • In addition, they need good linguistic skills. As one of our recent clients found out getting content producers to pen a decent description of an image of a holiday cottage that conveys what it would be like to be there is not easy. “Woodland Lodge” does not serve the ‘equivalent purpose’ of an image that shows a charmingly rustic lodge set in an idyllic woodland location with uber modern facilities!

The moral of the story is that these sorts of problems cannot be passed onto the techies to sort out alone. Content producers need to be made aware of the problem and then trained in the skills required to address them. Unfortunately this is not a quick fix!

Read more: Website Accessibility: guidance and the law, WGAC 2.1: common accessibility fails

Topics: Accessibility

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