Check Your Site’s Accessibility with WAVE
WAVE is a free web accessibility evaluation tool provided by the non-profit organisation WebAIM. Before you mentally switch off, be aware that making websites accessible is now a legal requirement for companies.
Usability vs. accessibility
Before we look at the tool, let’s just clarify what web accessibility is and why it’s so important.
Usability is a measure of how easy a site is to use.
Accessibility goes one step further. It’s about giving users equal and unhindered access to websites, irrespective of physical or technological means. It’s about making a site accessible by someone who has a disability (eg is blind). It’s about levelling the playing field so that a site is accessible to people operating under some constraint such as a slow connection, small screen size or over-illuminated room. Finally, it’s about making sites work irrespective of the device they are using – whether a mobile, tablet or desktop, or a web-enabled television.
Accessibility and the law
Accessibility is more than a nod to good practice. In the UK it is a legal requirement. The Equality Act 2010 (EQA) prohibits discrimination by providers of service, goods and facilities, and imposes a duty on such providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable disabled people to access their services.
If your website is not accessible for disabled users, you could be sued for discrimination. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) settled out of court with two companies it had initiated proceedings against. Do you want to be the first UK company taken to court?
For more information on standards, check out BS 8878:2010, a British Standards Institution publication. The standard outlines the basic structure for website accessibility when designing or commissioning web-based products. It provides guidance on meeting the requirements under the EQA.
WebAIM’s intention is to make websites accessible for people with disabilities.
To use WAVE, tap in your url and your webpage appears, highlighted with accessibility icons. Rather than providing a complex technical report, WAVE shows the original web page with embedded icons and indicators. Click on each symbol to explain each problem. Aspects covered include contrast between the foreground and background colour, empty links (ie a link that contains no text), and whether an image includes an ‘alt tag’ or not.
A helpful feature is that it shows your heading tags (h1, h2 etc), so that you can see at a glance if you have skipped a heading level.
Not every designer/developer knows about WAVE, so surprise them with it! WebAIM has more accessibility guidance at 10 Easy Accessibility Tips Anyone Can Use