Article and table data updated October 2019
Keeping University Websites Accessible is Hard
Ensuring higher education websites are accessible is getting significantly more attention as regulatory enforcement expands and user-centred/inclusive design practices spread.
In two previous posts, Keeping Higher Education Websites Accessible is Hard to Do … and 6 Accessibility Fixes for University and College Websites we reported the results of accessibility tests on the home pages of universities in the Province of Ontario, where accessibility legislation has been in effect for a number of years.
The critical takeaway from our research is that making and maintaining higher education website accessibility is hard work.
To get a stronger sense of just how tough, take a look at Oliver Emberton’s presentation at the 2019 IWMW conference, for higher education web professionals, in which he discusses the accessibility of UK university websites.
Effective on-going accessibility will, in part, rely on testing. As a result, we’ve updated our tools and services list.
Keeping University Websites Accessible is Complicated
While lists of tools and services are useful, their applicability and suitability depend on context. To that end we have a few observations.
Whether addressing website accessibility is internally (re-design) or externally (regulatory pressure) motivated, a fundamental question can be: which sites need testing? Larger universities with sprawling web estates of internally and externally hosted sites may not know all of the sites within their scope. Regulators and visitors aren’t concerned with ownership technicalities. It all looks like one website. You may need to start by identifying all the sites in a web estate.
Automated testing is the essence of computer programming: exhaustively cycling through algorithms. In this case, comparing web page elements against guidelines (usually, WCAG2.0). But, parts of WCAG2.0 aren’t amenable to automation. They require human intervention. For example, automated tests find missing ALT attributes, but don’t verify the descriptions being used are appropriate. Automated testing can do some, but not all of the work.
When the need for manual intervention is combined with variations in test logic implementation, it’s unlikely that only one tool or service will work in under all conditions. In other words, one tool can do some, but not all of the work.
We’ve only included tools and services that analyse page structure, as this process represents the greatest opportunity for testing-at-scale and is the biggest challenge across complex pages and large websites.
We’ve included tools and cloud-based services that test individual pages as well as entire websites. Browser add-ins let users test single pages. Cloud services either inherently test entire domains or have APIs to process URL lists. Testing whole websites produces data mountains. Individual web page tests can generate dozens or even hundreds of accessibility results. Entire websites can produce hundreds of thousands of data points to evaluate and prioritise.
We’ve limited the list to tools/services that appear to be under continuous development or have been brought to market within the last five years. Tools testing to current standards with regular update releases are of more value to time-pressed higher education web teams than dated, but free, open source projects.
30 Tools and Services to Test Higher Education Website Accessibility
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