Your website is probably broken: a look at the accessibility issues you forgot to test for

Say Yeah!
Say Yeah!
May 20 · 5 min read
Abstract holographic image of a shattered phone
Abstract holographic image of a shattered phone

Let’s get this out of the way: your website is probably broken.

No judgement. Most websites are, so you’re not alone.

That’s because, when people are making a website, they typically focus on a combination of creating engaging content and a great look and feel. Even if you also focus on code alongside these areas, you’re likely missing out on issues that make your site more challenging to use for many people.

This standard way of working isn’t conducive to considering all the ways people interact with websites. It’s assumed that everyone uses a mouse or touch, when many other people use a screen reader or keyboard. We simply weren’t taught with this in mind, and most organizations-whether you’re building a website in-house or working at an agency-simply don’t fill in the gaps in this learning.

In general, there are three typical ways people interact with your website:
voice (such as listening to the content of a website using VoiceOver); and,

If you’re like most digital professionals, you primarily think through interactions with mouse and touch. However, without considering these other interaction models, your site will be broken for those people who rely on assistive technology or a keyboard-only way of navigating the web.

Why do these issues matter?

There are several impacts on your users if your site doesn’t consider accessibility, especially these alternative modes of navigation.

Limiting access

If your site is only optimized for touch and mouse/trackpad interaction, you’re limiting the potential users of your website before people even get the chance to decide if your content or product will meet their needs.

Frustrating users

Often these issues make the experience more difficult or frustrating to use, even if users can get around them. If users get stuck inside a modal or have to listen to repeated content over and over again, they will quickly give up on trying to use your site, regardless of how great your content might be.

Violating accessibility compliance legislation

In addition to issues for users accessing your site, not implementing these changes can also pose a problem if you or your organization are required to meet accessibility standards.

Your site needs to accommodate and be fully functional for screen readers, keyboard-only users, and other accessibility needs to meet standards like AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).

Complying with this legislation is especially crucial for larger organizations and public sector organizations.

What can you do to fix these issues?

There are two key areas to tackle to fix these accessibility and usability issues:

2. Test your site with a diverse group of users that reflects your market

A user tests a phone interface while a researcher takes notes
A user tests a phone interface while a researcher takes notes
User testing photo shot by UX Indonesia

1. Test your site yourself/with your team

To find and improve these issues, you must go through your website using accessibility tools like VoiceOver to see how a screen reader reads the site, and to see where this functionality might be broken or difficult to use.

This testing process should also include using your site with the keyboard ‘tab’ key and seeing if you can jump from element to element without using your mouse/trackpad.

Pro tip: it’s much easier to understand how your website is broken by using VoiceOver and your keyboard yourself, rather than looking through your code to try to find issues.

By actually using these modes of navigation on your site, you’ll be able to identify several issues before ever even putting your website in front of users.

A note on testing tools

Many automated accessibility checkers have been designed to scrub your website for code issues. They’re easy to use, and also easy to score high marks on. But here’s the thing: even with a perfect score using a code accessibility tool, you can bet your website is still broken. And checking for yourself using VoiceOver and your keyboard would have helped you see why faster and more clearly. So start testing with yourself.

2. Test your site with a diverse group of users that reflects your market

In addition to testing your website amongst you and your team, making a genuinely user-centred and accessible site necessitates testing with real users.

Especially important is testing with users who require accessibility accommodations and who use these tools on a day to day basis, as well as testing with a diverse population that represents your market.

Some great organizations that focus on accessible and inclusive user testing are Fable Tech Lab’s accessibility user testing and GRIT Toronto’s inclusive user testing. These organizations can help you work with a wide variety of users who interact with websites in different ways and who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

To get the research insights you need and to design websites that are delightful for all of your potential users, being aware of and testing for these accessibility and usability issues with real assistive technology and live users, is critical to understanding how to make your website as usable and enjoyable as it can be.

Here’s the thing: it’s not hard to do better.
And if you bake it into your process from the beginning, it’s much easier.

Here’s a three-step guide to becoming an expert:

1. Start with knowing there’s something wrong by testing it yourself.

This will make it clear what’s happening and why it sucks, instead of relying on a tool that might not get it or a person who has to explain it to you.

2. Learn more about what’s causing the issue and what you can do to improve it.

To learn more about key tools and requirements like keyboard navigation, landmarks, alt tags, headings, screen readers, and more, check out our web accessibility glossary.

3. Figure out how to fix those issues.

A good reference for that would be the official WCAG accessibility guidelines or you can ask for our help!

Looking for a quick way to get started fixing your website?

Getting all of this right from the start is tough. Knowing there’s something wrong doesn’t necessarily help you in understanding what the specific issue is and what you can do about it. That’s why we launched the Essential Website Audit service.

With the audit service, we’ll help you take next steps by identifying the key issues on your website that are impacting usability, accessibility, and inclusivity, including speech and keyboard navigation, and much more.

Learn more about the Essential Website Audit service

Originally published at on May 20, 2020.

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