How do I proactively make sure my website is accessible?

  1. “Must Have” Features for a Nonprofit Website
  2. The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Nonprofit FAQ Pages
  3. How do I proactively make sure my website is accessible?

This was a question from a participant at the 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference.

What are good resources to create an “accessibility audit” for our website? If I engage my own community, I get only so much (limited) perspective. I am looking for guidance about general “best practices”.

Here’s my edited answer.

To fully address the accessibility of a website, it’s important to work on two fronts:

  1. Proactively fixing issues and following best practices
  2. Doing user testing to surface usability and accessibility issues that interfere with people using the website, especially with assistive technologies like screen readers

I’m going to assume you’re mostly asking about that first strategy. (And I’m happy to answer follow-up questions!) Luckily there are a lot of useful resources for this!

The Technical Standards

First off, there is an official list of best practices for website accessibility called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG. The current version is 2.1 and all websites should meet at least Level AA requirements. (Level A requirements cover basics but still leave sites inaccessible to many. Level AAA requirements are intended mostly for organizations that are serving communities with known accessibility requirements, though many AAA guidelines are awesome and worth striving for.)

These guidelines can be pretty technical and hard to understand at first but there are some good lists that are a bit more user friendly. I like WebAIM’s WCAG 2 Checklist and the A11y Project’s Checklist which is a little more opinionated in a good way.

Start with the Basics

I would be lying if I said you can quickly grab this and then make sure your website perfectly follows everything. Making and keeping a website accessible is a constant practice and there’s always more to learn and do. (To be clear: I am still learning and working on it too!) You are in an amazing place right now of being interested in doing the work and ready to get started!

So beyond looking at those checklists, I’d start with the most common issues that are also likely under your control:

  1. Alternative text for images and captions/transcripts for videos and audio
  2. Sufficient contrast for the text color with background colors
  3. Logical heading structure on each page
  4. Plain and simple writing
  5. Unique link text (avoiding “Click here” and “read/learn more” links)

Testing (you can do some yourself!)

There are also a couple quick accessibility tests you can run yourself:

  1. Hitting TAB repeatedly, can you see which link/button/field is selected (the “focused” element) and access all parts of the page (like submenus and forms)?
  2. Zoom your browser to 200%. Does your site still work?

There are also some more comprehensive testing tools.

I really like tota11y which tests for some basic common problems.

The WAVE site and browser extensions are the classic online evaluation tool.

And then some newer tools like and aXe browser extensions can be really great for more technical testing.

You may find that some issues—especially around keyboard navigation, forms, and site design—may require a developer to help diagnose and/or fix. I’d encourage everyone to add a budget for website accessibility testing and “remediation” (the technical term for improvements) if they don’t have it already, since websites are such a critical piece of communicating with our communities.

Celebrate progress. The journey is long.

Like I said, chip away at this work, both in your learning journey and on your site. Prioritize areas where you already know you can make improvements and then KEEP GOING!

One fabulous thing about this work is that every time you add alt text to an image, fix a contrast problem, or improve how a link is worded, you have immediately made the experience of using your website better.

Good luck, and let me know if there are more specific resources I can share to help you get started.

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