As we navigate the physical world, most of us have some awareness about accessibility features in place to help the disabled: ramps, elevators and lifts, adapted washrooms, and parking spaces close to buildings.
However, far fewer people are aware of the equivalent features for websites. When website accessibility features are neglected, it can prevent people with visual disabilities and the deaf or hard-of-hearing from having a useful browsing experience. Imagine visiting a website and finding the following:
- All the images look like a grey square to you, because you are red-green colorblind.
- The content includes podcasts and videos that you can’t hear, because of an auditory disability.
- The font is too small for you to read.
The Accessibility Testing – Mormon.org project aims to make Mormon.org more accessible, and ultimately to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than ever. The accessibility principles and techniques used on Mormon.org can be used for other Church websites as well.
Worth the Cost?
Organizations often think accessibility issues affect such a small audience that making a site accessible isn’t worth the cost and effort involved with the process.
This assumption overlooks the fact that at least 15 percent of the population have disabilities that can affect their web experience. These disabilities can include everything from relatively minor vision and hearing issues to blindness, deafness, muscular control issues, cognitive disabilities, age-related diseases, and more.
The Accessibility Testing team is committed to making Mormon.org an experience in which everyone can participate fully regardless of their disability.
Side Benefits of Accessibility
When you make any space (web or physical) easy for everyone to access, you increase the traffic that flows through it.
For example, adding transcripts to videos doesn’t just make the video accessible for people with disabilities; it makes the content more accessible for people who would rather read than watch a video. Transcriptions also help non-native English speakers better understand the content. And it improves the search engine optimization of the site, which allows more people to find the content.
Even setting aside these benefits, designing with accessibility is simply the right thing to do. Ted Marshall, manager for the Accessibility Testing project, credits his friend Vance Taylor, a young man living with muscular dystrophy, with opening his eyes to just how important it is that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to access the web and its content as people without disabilities. Often our friendships with disabled people increase our awareness of website accessibility.
Testing for Accessibility
Accessibility testing involves comparing a website against a set of standards for accessibility to see how the website meets those standards and how the website needs work.
In its first phase, the Accessibility Testing Project will attempt to get all the content on Mormon.org in compliance with a set of standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. See this WCAG checklist for a list of the guidelines. Some of these WCAG standards include:
- Avoiding color to establish meaning
- Using semantic mark-up for headings and other structures
- Providing alt text for images
- Including transcripts and synchronized captions for audio or video
- Maintaining appropriate width, line spacing, and background color for readability
- Providing keyboard navigation
- Maintaining layout even when increasing text size
The WCAG has many more standards. In reviewing Mormon.org against these standards, it’s easy to see that we have room to improve.
Be Part of the Accessibility Testing Project
A background in accessibility testing isn’t necessary to assist the Accessibility Testing Project to meet its goals. In fact, Ted is looking for input from another sort of accessibility specialist altogether: the people with disabilities that actually use the content on Mormon.org. After all, what better way to find out the needs of a population than to ask the population itself?
Presently, six regular contributors (who are either personally disabled or have a disabled family member) are going through the content on Mormon.org. They’re noting what the accessibility needs are on the site and bringing that data back to the project team through JIRA, a bug tracking tool for the project.
In addition to relying on their own experience, team members can also leverage a number of accessibility tools and resources to assess a website. Accessibility testing tools mark up websites so that people without disabilities can experience what people with disabilities experience when they access the site.
The Accessibility Project Page on the wiki provides links to some of these tools and other resources. On this page you will find:
- A format for reporting issues
- An introduction to web accessibility
- An overview of the WCAG standards
- Links to accessibility testing tools
- Other accessibility-related resources
Although funding isn’t available to purchase all the tools and technology to make Mormon.org as accessible as Ted would like, if a request for a particular accessibility feature or tool keeps coming up during the reviews, Ted can conclude that the tool might be a good investment.
Join the Accessibility Testing Project
All are welcome to contribute, disabilities or not. To join the Accessibility Testing team, click the Projects tab, sign in, and click the Accessibility Testing – Mormon.org project. Then click Join. The project team is currently small and needs more members. If you have questions, contact Ted Marshall at [email protected].