My First Year as an Accessibility Consultant
It’s been over a year since I starting working in the web accessibility sector. The past year has been a steep learning curve and after a year I am by no means the expert on all things accessibility as there is always more to learn, but my confidence in the sector is growing each day.
My first week was definitely the hardest. I had some knowledge of HTML code through my most recent job but wasn’t aware of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. After a couple of days of going through the basics of the WCAG and the Dig Inclusion reporting process, I was thrown into the deep end testing a website with Grant Broome.
Working with the growing Dig Inclusion team, all keen on developing websites to be the most accessible they can be, has definitely been the most rewarding element of the job.
What is an Accessibility Consultant?
Friends, family and strangers often ask me what my job is. I tell them it’s simple: I test websites to see if they can be used by people with disabilities, write a report and work with clients to improve their website. Of course, there is more than this, including testing PDFs, but in essence this is the role of an accessibility consultant. As around 20% of people in the UK have a disability of some kind, providing a website where everyone can access services and information is equality for all.
Working with clients has been particularly rewarding. The clients I’ve worked with this year understand the importance of accessibility and it’s great to know there are people all over the UK with a position of influence setting the direction for accessibility within their respective businesses. It’s been great seeing the process of websites that had problems, working with the client to demonstrate how and why to improve the website, and then see the end result of a website suitable for user’s needs.
Common issues faced
After testing a number of different websites and products one of the issues I come across the most is in relation to colour contrast. Many websites are geared toward suitable text contrast, but under WCAG 2.1 the colour contrast of interactive components and user interface components must have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1. Without such consideration, a user with low vision may not be able to observe, understand or interact with a specific component.
Form fields and buttons are common areas of failures in the testing I undertake. Sometimes this may be down to brand guidelines and company colours being used in poor combination. However it’s also the case that sometimes form fields use a light grey outline, which against a white background can be difficult to identify, even for someone with good vision. Changing the grey outline to black, or a colour with a contrast ratio of at least 3:1, is a simple fix that can make a big difference to someone with low vision.
Another common issue identified throughout this past year is in relation to keyboard accessibility. Every interactive item that can be used with a mouse must also be able to be used with a keyboard. However, due to coding issues or oversight, provision is not given to keyboard users accessing or interacting with specific components or features in the same way that mouse users would.
An example of this is found within menus. A mouse user may hover over a menu item and additional content loads below. However, if not programmed correctly, this expandable content may not be reached by keyboard only users. A user either has to locate specific sections through another method, or it could be the case that they are unaware of the different sections and never get to pages that may interest them.
In some keyboard only issues, there is an easy fix and a small change to a component’s code will allow it to become fully accessible. However, in other cases, perhaps where there are dynamic changes or expanding content occurs, further consideration needs to be taken to ensure that content can be reached and interacted with by assistive technology users.
As with anything, the more you learn and incorporate accessibility into what you do the easier it becomes. I’ve been working in accessibility for a year, some of my colleagues over 10 years and whilst we still come across new issues, new problems to solve, technology is updated and improvements are made and we are continually learning. Anyone with the opportunity to have a day or two training in accessibility should seize it; accessibility is not the responsibility of one person, it should make up a little bit of everyone’s job.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, I am by no means an expert in accessibility, but over the coming years I’m keen to work with customers so that their websites have the highest level of accessibility.
I’m sure the next year will present challenges as issues are identified on client’s websites. However, working as part of a great team at Dig Inclusion I’m confident that we’ll be able to overcome the challenge, help users with accessibility needs and learn along the way.