Building and checking an accessible website in the UK
By Grant Forrest – Digital Director at Basestation
Website accessibility refers to the practice of making a website usable by people with disabilities, such as visual or auditory impairments.
The three levels of accessibility compliance are A, AA, and AAA, which are defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines provide a set of criteria for making web content accessible to people with disabilities.
- Level A: Level A accessibility is the most basic level of compliance and addresses the most essential accessibility issues, such as providing alternative text for images and making sure the website is usable with a keyboard.
- Level AA: Level AA accessibility builds on Level A and addresses more advanced accessibility issues, such as providing closed captions for videos and making sure the website’s colour contrast meets accessibility standards.
- Level AAA: Level AAA is the highest level of accessibility compliance and addresses the most advanced accessibility issues, such as providing sign language interpretation for video content and ensuring the website is fully accessible to users with cognitive disabilities.
The most common level of accessibility compliance is Level AA, as it provides a good balance between addressing essential accessibility issues and more advanced accessibility needs. Level AAA is not often achieved due to the high level of accessibility requirements it imposes, while Level A provides the minimum level of accessibility and may not meet the needs of all users with disabilities.
The Equality Act 2010 applies to both public and private sectors in the UK, regardless of size or sector. This includes private companies, public sector, and non-profit. All organisations are required to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their digital content, including websites, is accessible to people with disabilities.
The Equality Act requires organisations to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and meet the Level AA accessibility standard. This means that private companies, as well as public sector and non-profit organisations, must ensure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities and that they provide equal access to information and services online.
The Equality Act applies to all sectors in the UK, including private companies, and requires them to make their digital content, including websites, accessible to people with disabilities.
One example of a recent legal action taken against a company for inaccessible websites is the UK government-owned Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) was sued in 2020 by a blind man, who claimed the charity’s website was not accessible to him. The case was settled out of court, and the RNLI agreed to make its website more accessible to users with disabilities.
Another example is in 2020, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, was sued by a blind man who claimed that its website was not accessible to him and breached his rights under the Equality Act. The case was settled out of court, and Tesco agreed to make its website more accessible.
These examples of legal action taken against companies in the UK for inaccessible websites serve as a reminder of the importance of making digital content, including websites, accessible to people with disabilities, and the consequences that can result from failing to do so.
At the start of a project Basestation agree what level we are working to and this in taken in consideration during the project cycle by all team members.
We then check the website is accessible using a number of tools – example shown below:
- WAVE: WAVE is a free online tool that evaluates web pages for accessibility issues. Simply enter the URL of the website you want to check and the tool will display a report highlighting any accessibility issues it finds.
- Colour Contrast Analyzer: Colour Contrast Analyser is a tool that can be used to check if the colours used on a website meet accessibility standards. This is important because people with visual impairments may have difficulty reading text if the background and text colours do not have enough contrast.
- ARIA Validator: ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is a set of standards that help make web pages accessible to people with disabilities. The ARIA Validator checks if a website is using ARIA correctly, which can help improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
- Lighthouse: Lighthouse is a free, open-source tool that can be used to audit the accessibility of a website. It evaluates the website against best practices for accessibility, performance, and more. Lighthouse is available as a browser extension or as a command-line tool.
- Accessibility Checker for Microsoft Edge: This tool is built into the Microsoft Edge browser and can be used to check the accessibility of a website. It provides a report highlighting any accessibility issues it finds, as well as suggestions for how to fix them.
Checking a website for accessibility is important to ensure that it is usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. The tools mentioned above can be used to quickly and easily check if a website is accessible in the UK.
In addition to the automated tools mentioned above, there are also some manual checks that can be done to determine if a website is accessible:
- Keyboard Navigation: Try navigating the website using only the keyboard. If all interactive elements on the website can be reached and used without a mouse, then the website is likely accessible to users who cannot use a mouse, such as people with motor disabilities.
- Alt Text: Check if all images on the website have descriptive alt text. Alt text is used to describe the image to users who cannot see it, such as people with visual impairments.
- Heading Structure: Check if the headings on the website are structured in a logical and meaningful way. Heading structure is important for users who rely on assistive technologies, such as screen readers, to navigate the website.
- Closed Captions: Check if videos on the website have closed captions. Closed captions are important for users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Resizable Text: Check if the text on the website can be resized without causing the layout to break. This is important for users who need to increase the size of the text to make it easier to read.
By conducting these manual checks, you can get a better understanding of the accessibility of a website and identify any issues that may need to be addressed.