Sanna Kramsi - Blog A peek into my life

Accessibility auditing - first thoughts

June 07, 2020 | Accessibility

I was able to officially take part in a few accessibility audits at work. The auditing is even more interesting and fun than I first anticipated. I was really happy to get to be a part of the accessibility process. My role was to mostly focus on the more technical aspects, for example, the validity and quality of the HTML. My teammates tackled the sections for the content and various devices. It's clearly a huge benefit to have people with different job descriptions to do the testing. People have different expertise areas and in our case, it was really helpful to have our unique skillsets combined.

Keyboard navigation

I've been testing small parts of a website and smaller, more accessible, websites in general with just a keyboard before this. It honestly didn't properly prepare me for the horror that some websites could be.

After starting to test larger sites, it didn't take long to notice how painful it can be to try to navigate sites that haven't paid attention to accessibility. Some, even quite important, parts of the site could be completely inaccessible with just a keyboard. This has woken me up to some things I haven't been doing well enough in the past, I can't wait to fix these issues and see how much they improve the site's accessibility.

Screen readers

Because we use MacBooks at work, the logical choice for a screen reader was Apple VoiceOver. Oh my, I must admit I was so lost at first. It might have been a good idea to first just try to learn all the settings and commands instead of hopping right into the practical testing but this way I ended up having more fun trying to learn how to navigate and use the program by myself. After spending some time practicing the commands and the general idea of the program, I was able to properly start testing websites with it.

It was really interesting to really see how an image's alt text appears in the screen reader in reality. Having good alt texts is really important, to get this point across to content creators, it might be a good idea for them to try out screen readers themselves. And I also noticed quite quickly that if an image doesn't really have a meaning other than visual decorativeness, it would be better to be ignored by the screen readers completely. I really don't need the name of the person in the image, when the image is, for example, used as a decorative image for a blog highlight.

It was also quite interesting to see that an element that wouldn't properly work with just a keyboard, could still function just fine with the screen reader.

I was also able to find a form on the web (one of many most likely, unfortunately) that had a lot of form fields but they had no labels or any other names attached to them. The text that would normally be placed as a label, was placed outside of the form structure as regular text. The screen reader had no idea what to do in each of the fields. It didn't help that the same was done to the few input instructions that were provided. The form only worked if you could see, and even then the functionality wasn't all that great. This was in its horribleness a really good test case because I could clearly see how bad things can be and I'm sure I will pay even more attention to the forms I create from now on.

I also briefly tried out Windows Narrator and Android TalkBack. Both seemed quite nice to use, though for my test run with Narrator I used my mouse together with the keyboard. With VoiceOver I had mostly attempted to not use the mouse to properly see what would happen with each element.

What I took from the testing

I noticed that quite often custom functionalities, mostly based on someone's handwritten custom code, forget to include keyboard functionalities.

For some reason, field labels are often removed and the field placeholder is used instead. This is not a very good practice and I personally don't understand it. I've heard excuses that the field looks better without the label because "basic fields" look boring. It's hardly a good enough reason to lessen the site's accessibility. Field labels make form fields clearer for every user, so they should be used whenever possible. And if there is a case the labels cannot be used, the WCAG requirements should be met in other ways, no matter if you're bound by the requirements or not.

Sometimes the focus default styles are removed because they aren't pretty enough to someone's eyes. In these cases, I hope people would realize that designing prettier focus styles is the answer. Just deleting the styles is a horrible idea because it gets very hard to know which element you have navigated to. I've seen some custom focus styles that have been accessible, nice looking, and fit perfectly to the website's style. Designing these styles doesn't really even necessarily take that much effort. Just check that the focus has enough contrast on each possible site background and make sure the style is understandable by the users.

If project schedules are very tight, or too tight, the first sufferer is often testing. Testing should be a higher priority than it often is. All functionalities should always be properly tested because we are only human after all and sometimes we make mistakes or forget something. It's sad if a site's usability suffers because of some simple mistake that could have easily been fixed if only it was noticed.

It also became even clearer how necessary it is to think about accessibility in the planning and design processes. If the issue is addressed only in the development phase by the site developers, it's too late. It is in all of our best interests to make sure the web is inclusive and usable by everyone, no matter what tools they use.