Managing accessibility

An accessible website is one that can be used by people with disabilities. Ensuring that a website is and remains accessible takes ongoing effort.

In 2013, the New Zealand Government issued its new Web Accessibility Standard. In effect, the Standard says that websites of mandated NZ Government agencies must meet all Level A and Level AA requirements of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The Standard also requires that those agencies, when asked, assess and report on how well they are doing.

Tools

There are tools to help assess a website’s accessibility, but most of them require some manual effort. When you have a website with hundreds of pages, assessing and addressing accessibility issues can be a substantial commitment. There are a number of automated accessibility testing tools out there, but none that easily fit in with web developers’ own toolset.

Recently that changed.

Tenon.io

In late 2014 Karl Groves and Asa Baylus offered the world Tenon.io, an API that provides an immediate assessment of how a web page meets a subset of WCAG 2.0 requirements, those that can be machine tested with a reasonable degree of accuracy. A page URL, or even source code, can be sent to Tenon, and the API responds with a report of the accessibility issues its diagnosed. Importantly, this response is formatted in a way (JSON) that allows it to be integrated directly into a web developer’s workflow. This is a significant advancement in the toolset available to developers who want to learn about and incorporate web accessibility into what they do.

And we’ve recently taken this a step further.

Silverstripe-Tenon module

The Govt.nz development team has published the silverstripe-tenon module. It uses Tenon to automatically assesses the accessibility of pages in any website using the SilverStripe 3 CMS. The module was developed for the NZ Government's Common Web Platform, but is publicly available with an open source license so any SilverStripe 3 website can include it.

The module provides configurable settings within Silverstripe's administrative interface. It ensures that web pages are automatically checked after they're updated, and displays the results in a new tab within the CMS. The approach makes accessibility assurance significantly easier to achieve.

If you have a Silverstripe 3 website, you can help improve its accessibility in just a few minutes by installing silverstripe-tenon. If you have a website of a different stripe, check out Tenon itself.

Anything that makes it easier for people with disabilities to use the web is worth embracing.

2 comments

  1. Comment #1. Leanne Clark:

    Website accessibility isn’t just about ensuring people with disabilities can use your website, but it also about ensuring equal access to information and services for all, regardless of ability or the type of equipment used to access the web.

  2. Comment #2. Leigh Harrison

    Thanks Leanne. There’s no argument from me about the principle of equal access. The post focussed on people with disabilities only because that’s a part of the audience whose issues most developers have difficulty replicating: Tenon is particularly helpful with this.

    I do see the terms Accessible Design and Universal Design being used to differentiate accessibility requirements (for example: http://www.washington.edu/doit/what-difference-between-accessible-usable-and-universal-design). Under that taxonomy equal access would be a Universal Design outcome, the specific needs of people with disabilities would fall under Accessible Design. But categories like this are only a means to an end: the goal is to develop web sites and applications that everyone can use.

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