In February 2021 WebAIM conducted an accessibility analysis of the top 1,000,000 home pages. This is the third year they did this.
97.4% of home pages had detectable WCAG 2 failures, with an average of 51.4 errors per page.
Due to the exclusionary nature of these, from now on we’ll call them “barriers”.
Although a small improvement from the 98.1% with barriers in the year before, these results are incredibly disappointing.
The majority of barriers come from the following six types:
- low contrast text
- missing alternative text for images
- missing form input labels
- missing document language
- empty links
- empty buttons
All of these are easy to detect with automatic tools. All of these are easy to address.
Additionally, when you consider that current automated testing can only find ~30% of the barriers that exclude people, this becomes even more discouraging.
There are no excuses for this.
We need to do better.
How can we do better?
In early 2020 Parliament approached us to redesign the sites for their 3 research services in time to meet legal requirements for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA. They originally assumed we would simply update their existing WordPress theme and then audit the sites.
But a review of their content and information architecture (IA) revealed more underlying issues preventing their websites from being accessible.
Accessibility isn’t just about technical conformance, and meeting WCAG should be a starting point, not an end goal.
At this point, it became clear that we needed to recommend a different approach to the client. One which involved a more fundamental rebuild of their site.
Read more about the whole process of the rebuild in the case study Improving accessibility and user experience on the Parliamentary research services websites.
By setting out an intention of meeting accessibility standards, a strategy for how, and going through multiple rounds of accessibility assessments, we had ways of supporting and verifying our work in all its phases.
This also gave us a frame of reference when giving Parliament best practice recommendations.
At times this meant using article titles as link texts instead of using ‘Learn more’ link texts.
For Assistive technology (AT) such as screen-readers, pages can be efficiently browsed by their links but, without the surrounding context, link text such as ‘Learn more’ becomes meaningless.
And by working in close partnership with Parliament’s content team we could continue to advise them on how to write good on-page link text and how to describe images for their text alternatives because even the best-built websites can be made inaccessible by their content.
We now return to the WebAIM study and its results, because unknown to us at the time, all three research service websites were included in their accessibility analysis.
However, unlike most websites, our three research service websites were in the top 1% of all tested home pages with 0 barriers on each site.
In comparison to where the average tested homepage is, this is phenomenal. And it’s through our collaborative partnership with Parliament that this is possible.
The work, of course, is far from done and accessibility is a continuous effort. It’s not an end goal but a process that needs maintaining and updating as we learn new things.
But it is also easy to get stuck and feel dismayed at the glacial progress that is made towards making digital services accessible, so it’s important to take a moment to reflect and celebrate this victory.
Because as it turns out, together we can do better.