Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Disappointing Level of Accessibility from Australian Web Industry 2011 Entries

I judged the entries to the Australian Web Awards 2011 for accessibility. I was extremely disappointed by the low level of accessibility of the entered websites. I reviewed 52 websites. None of the sites were fully accessible.

The same problems were found on almost all websites. I did not conduct an in-depth accessibility audit on any of those sites, because my basic checks already revealed multiple issues.

Checks Conducted

The following checks were done on each site:

  • Site loaded with a combination of images, CSS and JavaScript turned on or off.
  • Keyboard navigation.
  • Document outline.
  • Site loaded on Lynx text-only browser.

These checks are very easy to conduct. Using Firefox and the Web Developer Toolbar, only a few minutes were necessary to identify the problems.

Web designers should have looked at their sites under those conditions before entering the site for Award consideration.

Accessibility Problems Encountered

Most of the following problems were encountered on over 90% of the entries:

  • No styling of focused links.
  • Repeated and/or overlapping text when CSS off.
  • Poor colour contrast between text and background.
  • Missing headers, or no document outline at all.
  • Poor use of alt text for images.
  • Sites not working with JavaScript turned off.
  • Link purpose unclear ("Read more").
  • Videos not captioned.

No Styling of Focused Links

While some browsers highlight focused links, the highlight is usually very light and difficult to see. Sighted keyboard users attempting to navigate through the site quickly get lost – it is not possible to tell which link currently has focus. This is made even more difficult when non-human friendly URLs are used. Styling a:focus in the same way a:hover is styled is an easy and quick win on this one.

Repeated and/or Overlapping Text when CSS off.

It is difficult to read content when every word is repeated, or overlaps itself. Look at your pages with CSS off, the problem will jump at you.

Some clients do not support CSS – non-mainstream browsers for example. Also, many individuals with ADHD turn CSS off in order to reduce visual clutter on the screen, which they find too distracting.

Poor Colour Contrast Between Text and Background.

There needs to be sufficient contrast between the text and the backround colours. Otherwise text is too hard to read. This was especially obvious when CSS was on but images were off.

Missing Headers, or No Document Outline At All.

Many sites were missing headers, for instance no <h1>, or skipping from <h1> to <h3>. Other sites did not use headers at all.

Headers help provide a quick understanding of the content of a page, provide structure, and help with navigation for many screenreader users.

Poor Use of Alt Text for Images.

In many cases, the alternative text used for images was exactly the same as the article’s title – leading to a repeat of information. This is not helpful and becomes cumbersome when trying to read through pages with several images. Use empty alt attribute if the image does not provide added information (alt="")

Sites Not Working With JavaScript Turned Off.

Several sites were not working properly with JavaScript turned off. A few did not work at all. A few site warned users that the site wouldn’t work without JavaScript. Some user agents still cannot handle JavaScript. Many people turn JavaScript off for security purpose. Companies often block JavaScript at the corporate firewall, also for security. I am amazed that in 2011, people still develop sites that rely on JavaScript for functionality. Make your sites work without JavaScript, then add the pretty bells & whistles!

Link Purpose Unclear

When using links, it is important to ensure that the destination of the link is clear. If you have several links with the same text, such as "read more", or "continue reading", it is impossible to know where the link leads out of context. People using screenreading software often skip from link to link, just like sighted users skim over text. Sighted users have the advantage of seeing the context of the link – what comes before. When using screenreading software to go from one link to another, you do not see the link’s context.

Videos Not Captioned

I did not see one video that was captioned (open or closed captions). This means people with hearing impairments cannot get the spoken content of the video. If captionning the video is not practicable, you should at the very least ensure a transcript of the video is available, or the content is available in text. This is particularly important when videos are the primary method of content delivery on a site.

Conclusion

The entrants for the 2011 Australian Web Awards were mainly large corporations, e-commerce sites, government entities, museums, and education entities. They failed basic accessibility. This is a sad state of affairs.

I thought the accessibility level of the 2010 entries were pretty bad. This year, things seem even worse. It is disappointing, and even depressing, to consider how little accessibility was implemented in sites.

I don’t know if the lack of accessibility reflects poor understanding of access requirements, or if results from a "we don’t care" attitude. I certainly hope the later is not the case. Either way, the site owners are not getting as many visitors as they could, and visitors with disabilites are not getting the content they want.

In a lot of cases, the fixes are easy to implement. So here’s my challenge to the entrant’s developers:

Improve accessibility on the site(s) you entered in the 2011 Australian Web Awards. Address the issues listed here. Contact me to further discuss the situation. If you improve the situation significantly, I will blog about the positive changes you’ve made and spread the word about the increased accessibility of your site.