Other steps to accessibility
Other steps to ensuring a website is accessible include adopting a user-centric design process, carrying out live user testing and consulting with people with disabilities. Involving a range of people with disabilities in this way has some substantial advantages such as:
- Gaining more understanding of accessibility issues;
- Providing more effective solutions for accessibility;
- Learning how people with disabilities operate on the web and with Assistive Technologies;
- A motivation boost when those working on a web project know that people with disabilities will be using and testing their website.
Users with disabilities can be involved in many ways. For example, they may be given a consultative role, asked to review the output from an accessibility audit, asked to carry out extensive testing or asked to spot-check key functionality.
Involving users at the earlier stages of a website redevelopment will allow feedback to be incorporated with a minimum of cost. It is easier to change a prototype site than a site nearing completion.
User-centred design process
A user-centred design process is one that puts an emphasis on users and the tasks they want to perform using the service. It involves user consultation from the onset and throughout the project. It generally proceeds through rapid iterations of design, testing and redesign. This will require the participation of users who are representative of the target audience. To ensure the accessibility requirements are met, you should include people with a range of impairments.
This process will not only deliver a more usable product, it will also save time and money in the long run. It is significantly more costly and time consuming to fix a product in order to make it accessible than to develop an accessible product from scratch. Changes made late in the development process are far more costly than changes made early on. The majority of these costs are not due to bugs but to unforeseen or unmet user requirements.
Live user testing
Live user testing is a service offered by many accessibility consultants. It is a formal way of consulting with users and learning from their experience of using the site. Consultants observe a range of users carrying out tasks typical of your site users and note any obstacles that they encounter. It can be carried out at the user's location or in a special user testing lab. By including users with a range of disabilities, you can learn a lot about your site. Live user testing complements accessibility auditing very well. It can highlight problems not already recognised or confirm if improvements to the site design are actually working.
A more general consultation process, where a range of people of people with disabilities or disability groups is invited to provide feedback on a website, is also a useful way to check the accessibility of the website.
Be careful not to set expectations too high in the consultation process and then fail to live up to these. Be realistic about what can be achieved and communicate that to those involved in giving feedback.
Whatever the level of involvement, it is important to observe proper processes when involving people with disabilities in web accessibility testing. The National Disability Authority has produced the Ask Me guidelines to provide advice and set out the steps that organisations should take when embarking on a consultation process. Practical information on whom to approach and how to seek support and assistance is also included. Remember that users with disabilities are just as diverse as any group of users. Take care not to generalise unduly from the feedback obtained.
Essential elements for consulting people with disabilities
- Decide the who, what and why of your consultation process;
- Choose the most appropriate method for consulting with particular groups;
- Train staff and facilitators in disability awareness;
- Identify the groups with whom you want to consult;
- Ask people with disabilities what their needs are so that the consultation works for them as well as you;
- Check that all elements of the consultation process itself are accessible;
- Allow time for those consulted to fully consider the issues;
- Review your practices and policies;
- Contact representative organisations for advice and assistance if needed
There are other disability groups that may be delighted to be asked but may not be able to meet your requirements. For example, some might have limited institutional or analytical capacities, making it difficult for them to participate in large numbers of consultations.
Where the complexity and volume of consultations on a particular issue prevents a stakeholder from participating as fully as the stakeholder would wish, this is known as consultation fatigue. Consulting bodies should, in planning and designing consultation processes, have regard for the capacities of organisations and individuals to participate effectively in consultations.
Organisations similar to yours can also be excellent sources of advice. Those closest in size and scale of operations are likely to have experience that is a good fit for your organisation.
Organisations that are very different in scale may still have valuable insights to assist you in planning your accessibility audit. Larger organisations may also be better able to assist you with resources and materials that their scale has allowed them to develop.
Learning from the experiences of others
Talking to other managers who have carried out web accessibility audits is an excellent way to learn about the whole auditing process. In particular, you may want to ask others about:
- What learnings they will apply to their next audit;
- Suggestions for specifying an audit;
- The need to sell an audit to staff who may already feel that the website is a drain on their time;
- Any recommendations they may have for consultants they have found to produce good work;
- Positive feedback arising from their audit.