Free tools to test your site for accessibility

Following on from my posting earlier in the month where a US court issued two landmark decisions that the Target Corporation has to make their website accessible to blind people, web accessibility is an area which many nonprofits and charities still find difficult to implement on their sites.
In this article I’m going to show a few of the free easy to use tools available which can help you with testing your website not only for accessibility but also usability and web standards too. Later in the article, I’ll list some other useful resources and services that are available to help charities and organisations.

Accessibility and usability are key to a successful site. You will want your site to be accessible to the widest possible audience regardless of ability or browsing technology, including those who have visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairments. Conformance to the W3C guidelines helps to make the Web more accessible to users with disabilities and benefits all users. In short, it makes the web a better place for everyone.

If you are the person responsible in your organisation for creating or updating your website, there are some free easy to use tools to help you test and examine your site. They are toolbars, which are easily downloadable extensions that work within your internet browser.

How can these toolbars help?

They aid manual examination of web pages for a variety of aspects of accessibility. They consists of a range of functions that:

  • identify components of a web page
  • facilitate the use of 3rd party online applications for testing and validating websites
  • simulate user experiences
  • provide links to references and additional resources all in one place rather than having to keep searching the internet for your favourite tools for testing

What toolbars can we use?

If you are using Internet Explorer as your browser, there are two very good toolbars for you to try.

AIS Web Accessibility Toolbar
My favourite for testing sites when using IE, is the AIS Web Accessibility Toolbar from Vision Australia.

WAT Toolbar
Another very useful toolbar with powerful features too is The Web Accessibility Toolbar which is provided by the Web Accessibility Tools Consortium. Abilitynet reviewed the latest developments on this toolbar in a recent article.

For Firefox browser users, their are two toolbars which I would highly recommend.
Toobars for Firefox Browser
The Web Developer Toolbar is an essential tool when working with websites, and I use it in conjunction with the Firefox/Mozilla Accessibility Extension developed by the Illinois Center for Information Technology.

Other ways can we test our websites

As well as services on the internet that offer testing and validation automatically, like with the above toolbars, there are a few other tips that can help with the usability and accessibility testing of your website that you can do easily yourself.

In addition to using accessibility and web development toolbars, it is good practice to test your site in a variety of different ways:

  • Does it appear the same on browsers other than Internet Explorer? (such as Firefox, Konqueror, Safari and Opera)
  • Does it still function well on older machines as well as new computers?
  • Can a mobile phone use it?
  • How does a page look if it’s been printed out?
  • What about the content, does it read well, are there spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Does the contact form work correctly?

Ask friends and supporters to take a look at the site and ask for their opinions. You may have missed some of the parts that they were expecting to see.
There are many simple ways available that only cost your time and can help with testing your website without you having to have access to a wide range of computers and devices. For example:

  • To test what your website looks like on a mobile phone – Opera mini demo
  • To test what your website will look like on an iPhone – iphonetester
  • To test what your website looks like on a Safari (Mac) browser – Browsercamp
  • To test what you website looks like to a colour blind person – Vischeck

It is very important to test your site fully, lots of people will be looking at it. You want to show that your organisation is professional and can deliver a good service. Try not to launch your site, with half filled pages that never got round to being completed with statements such as "coming soon" or "in development". It doesn’t portray the good work that you do.

One of many accessible website myths…
One myth or misconception about having an accessible website is that they look boring!
You want all users to have an engaging experience. So with abit of knowledge and understanding you too can ensure that your website can be attractive and also usable and accessible to the widest audience possible.

Useful Resources

Many of the sites listed below have a wide range of articles, resources and further links to help you to understand and implement accessibility and usability.

  • The ICT Hub has a free web accessibility pack for voluntary organisations, available for online download, or you can request for it to be posted with a CD-Rom on How to commission and design accessible websites. It was written by AbilityNet, and provides an excellent practical introduction to web accessibility and equips you with the knowledge to make your site accessible at no or little extra cost. The CD-Rom also includes standards compliant free templates and videos to show how users access your site.
  • Introduction to Web Accessibility, on the Webaim website provides an excellent resource explaining about accessibility and helps with how to make your site more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Bobby, is an online validation tool which can check your website for accessibility.
  • My Web My Way on the BBC website, contains lots of useful information on how to change your browser and computer settings to make your viewing easier.
  • The RNIB’s Web Accessibility Centre has information and advice to help make your site available to everyone.
  • For more on accessibility see the ICT Hub knowledgebase articles Web Accessibility and the Law and Make Your Website Accessible to Visually Impaired People.
  • This blog has many articles for charities and nonprofit organisations on using the internet and creating better websites. Look at my archives section or the following category headings to see all articles listed: Nptech (articles related to charities and nonprofit use of technology) and Accessibility.

This article was created at the request from one of my regular readers, who is also involved with a youth group that I occasionally help out with their ICT needs. We’d been discussing web accessibility and tools to help just last week. He said “why not tell your readers what you just told me!”.
If you would like me to write about any particular subjects and topics, please let me know! Leave a comment or use my contact form.