16 tools and resources for improving online accessibility

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So, you’ve decided that you want to improve the accessibility of your website. Or maybe you’re not quite sure what accessibility is, but you’ve heard the term bandied about, and you’re here to find a guide that will help you get to grips with the concept.

Maybe you’re looking for a good free tool that will allow you to check a specific accessibility aspect of your website, or maybe you’re unsure whether to carry out accessibility testing or an accessibility audit on your site?

Whichever of those is true, you’ve come to the right place.

This is a round-up of tools, resources and guides to help you understand accessibility issues and improve the accessibility of your digital product. It’s designed to be a comprehensive reference point that you can revisit whenever you need a refresher, or to grab a link or article that will help you make the case for accessibility to a colleague.

So bookmark away, and feel free to suggest your favourite accessibility resources in the comments!

Getting started: why is accessibility important?

If you’re looking for a good primer on the importance of accessibility, and why it’s crucial to UX design, then look no further than the articles below.

  • What is web accessibility and why is it important?: A good ‘quick start’ guide to what web accessibility is, why it’s important, and how to get started with accessibility improvements.
  • 8 reasons to embrace website accessibility: This is a really excellent, no-nonsense piece which makes the case for web accessibility in straightforward terms, including the business, legal, and ethical reasoning behind it.
  • Introduction to web accessibility: Another solid introduction to web accessibility by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which outlines the “Why”, “What” and “How” of accessibility before giving an extensive list of resources for further reading.

Accessibility guidelines

In any work you do or research you carry out into accessibility, you’re likely to come across references to guidelines or web standards for accessibility which you should be bearing in mind or adhering to.

What are these, and how can you make sure you’re compliant?

  • WCAG 2.0: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published by W3C, are the most notable and comprehensive set of web accessibility guidelines. Some countries, including Canada, Australia and the EU, have a legal requirement for websites to meet WCAG guidelines. The WCAG 2.0 checklist can help in making sure that your website meets all of the requirements, and is a useful reference point.
  • BS 8878: The British Standard 8878 is an accessibility code of practice designed to help web developers, project managers and production teams develop accessible products. It’s not free, but Access 8878 is a great free, plain-English guide to the standard.

Building an accessible website

If you’re building or redesigning a website that you want to make accessible from the word ‘go’, here are some guides that will give you points to bear in mind when designing for specific accessibility needs.

Accessibility ‘spot check’ tools

There’s a wide range of automated tools available online that will help you quickly check specific elements of your website for accessibility. Handy though these tools may be, they can often be very literal in interpreting issues, without taking into account the full context of the site.

In general you should only use them for a quick, surface-level check, not as a substitute for proper accessibility testing or an audit – more on that in the next section.

  • WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool: This tool will detect potential accessibility issues across your site as a whole, as well as highlighting the areas where it does well.
  • WebAIM quick reference: testing web content for accessibility: A quick reference list of checklists, tools and simple tests you can carry out yourself.
  • Colour contrast check: Check the contrast between any two colours for its accessibility to visually impaired and colour blind users.
  • Accessibility viewer: An inspection tool that displays the accessibility API information that your browser conveys to assistive technology such as screenreaders.
  • SortSite Desktop: A downloadable website testing tool that will check your site for issues such as compliance with W3C standards, accessibility and usability red flags.

Accessibility audit or accessibility testing? How to choose the right option

As I mentioned in the previous section, if you want to give your website a thorough, real-world check for accessibility compliance, you need to go further than just testing with automated tools.

The two options available to you are an accessibility audit with an expert consultant, or accessibility testing with disabled users. If you’re stuck on which one is right for you, below are some handy guides to consult.

  • Accessibility audit vs. accessibility testing: This guide by Webcredible examines the pros and cons of both accessibility audits and accessibility testing. While it comes down quite firmly on the side of auditing, it’s up-front about the advantages and disadvantages of both, and so is worth a read.
  • W3C wiki: Accessibility testing: The ‘Accessibility testing’ page of W3C’s wiki is a very comprehensive guide to when and how to carry out accessibility testing on your website. Not to be read in one sitting, but definitely one to bookmark and refer back to.
  • 5 things you should know before buying accessibility audit and accreditation services: Accessibility consultancy Hassell Inclusion takes a critical look at the various accessibility accreditation badges websites can earn, what they mean, and how valuable they are to users.

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Main image by Chris Barbalis

Rebecca Sentance is the Editor of digital marketing websites ClickZ and Search Engine Watch. Having spent most of her life on the internet, she has somehow managed to wrangle her way into writing about it for a living. When not publishing articles on digital marketing/SEO/UX, she can be found blogging about journalism on isitjournalism.wordpress.com or tweeting about nerdy things as @rainbowbex

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