Accessibility Audit for a Help Portal
Not all Websites are visible to the public!
Websites are usually public-facing and more straightforward to audit. If you can find a website and it does not require you to log in to access it, it is clearly designated as publicly accessible. Therefore, falling under the Government Guidelines on Website Accessibility (if it is publicly funded in any way) and under the Equality Act are factors that must be taken into consideration
However, even in the case of a website requiring a login, the rules still apply. Many websites we use every day fall into this category, such as Tesco, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and so on. They are just a little more involved when performing an audit because they are not built in the same way as a conventional website might be. However, if someone with a disability could potentially log in to such a website, it is just as important that it is as accessible as a conventional website!
Website Accessibility is just as important though!
Auditing private websites is always interesting because they do not follow the conventional rules of web design, although they can still be tested against the standard metrics. In this case, we not only had to login with supplied credentials, access to the help portal was also locked to specific IP addresses only. I personally have a static IP address but the vast majority of individuals do not, which means that, on test day, we had to get the IP addresses of our disabled website testers on that morning, to ensure they had access.
This Help Portal was conventional and quite minimal. There was a section to ask questions and reply to previously answered questions, another one to book appointments or amend/cancel existing ones. There was a section to update your profile and a section that was an extended FAQ. Each page passed most of the automated tests, with very few detectable errors, far less than a conventional website. It could be argued, of course, that this would be inevitable as there were only a few options on it. In any case, apart from a few navigational issues, it was only when our disabled testers were let loose on it did the cracks begin to appear!
Our disabled testers throw themselves into it!
One of our testers, I will call Mary, is completely blind and uses a screen-reader with her laptop. Our other tester, who I call Ingrid, could see perfectly well but had minimal use of one hand. She was able to use a keyboard and a mouse but only as a last resort, as it was painful to do so. She uses Dragon dictation software whenever possible, to navigate websites and that is what she did during our audit. Our audits are always recorded and our testers share their screen with us, so we can watch and hear everything.
The Live Tests are always my favourite part, although it is always a very sobering experience when you witness for yourself just how challenging it can be just to navigate to a website and log in. This is especially true if you have an additional tab open or a random pop-up appears, both of which happened to Mary whilst trying to log in.!
This should be easy?
I had specific tasks that I wanted Mary and Iris to perform, such as raising a specific question. This involved choosing a subject from a dropdown list and then entering the query in the free text below. Something that I expected to be straightforward, given the fact that I had given the Portal the once-over beforehand, however, this was not the case.
The dropdown list had at least 30 categories and subcategories and was simply impossible for Mary to use with the screen-reader! She kept navigating on past the dropdown list unintentionally and had to tab around the entire portal to get back to it. Once she had finally managed to achieve the selection of the correct category, typing the question into the text box was very easy. Unfortunately, she was unable to select the Submit button and so was unable to actually send her enquiry, after all that!
Iris had a similar experience using her Dictation Software. Rather than tabbing to it, she tried to use her Dictation software to jump straight to the list, just like you would with a mouse. Often, with Dictation software and websites, it is a case of trial and error, finding the right command that will do what you want but, no matter what she tried, Iris could not just get it to work. It was like one of those text-based adventure games on a 1980s microcomputer, if you are old enough to remember them!
It wasn't but there was an alternative!
Fortunately, when I presented my full audit, I was able to suggest a solution that meant that they could offer an easy alternative to their disabled users of the portal which would cost far less than the cost of making the Help Portal itself accessible! This is what website accessibility should be about, if the website doesn't work well for a group of people, provide them with an alternate method and they will feel included.
If you would like to talk to us about an Accessibility Audit for your own website, why not book yourself in for a free initial consultation by following this link?