Skip to content

Web accessibility checklist

Learn how you can make your website content beautiful and accessible for anyone, regardless of ability. Reference this handy checklist anytime you're working on your website.

A person using his pencil to measure a flask

If there’s anything you should know about us, it’s our strong belief that web accessibility is crucial to anyone’s online experience.

Although it’s easy to assume that people with disabilities would be the direct beneficiaries of these practices (an assumption that would be correct), they aren’t the only ones.

Able-bodied users benefit from web-accessible practices all the time, as they can help make a user experience that much easier.

Have you ever used closed captions on a video? Or do you rely on “dark mode” to get better contrast of the words you read on the screen?

Those are web-accessible implementations you’re using, and millions of other able-bodied users have done the same thing in hopes of making their own experience easier.

It’s why we believe web accessibility is critical to any and everything living online.

Now we believe the best way to encourage more web accessibility actions is for people to simply start doing them.

Whether you’re creating contrast features in the backend or simply writing alt-text, we believe even the smallest actions can create an impact.

But there’s a slight issue with this approach.

Web accessibility practices can be quite difficult to understand for people with little or no knowledge of it or the web. In a way, you could say that the process of learning web accessibility can be a bit...inaccessible.

To be fair, a lot of web accessibility practices take some time and experience in web development to really implement. It’s hard to expect the everyday user to incorporate contrast features and text enlargement into their own website.

Instead, we took the time to analyze where most online users can create the most impact in regards to web accessibility practices, and we came to an easy landing spot:

Content.

Whether you’re writing social posts, designing a graphic, or creating a video for YouTube, there are numerous opportunities for you to implement web accessibility practices when creating these pieces of content.

Not sure how you can get started?

Then this guide was built for you.

From the basics of web accessibility to how to write alt-text, check out our entire guide on how to ensure any piece of content is fully accessible!

Table of Contents

What is web accessibility?

Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.”

Debra Ruh, Founder of TechAccess
Mask-Group-img

Before we get into web accessibility practices, we need to ask this:

What exactly is web accessibility? 

Fortunately, the definition of web accessibility isn’t subjective, so you won’t be subjected to a variety of definitions that either miss or conflict with the main point:

Creating websites, tools, tech, and content that people with disabilities can use. 

For a full, comprehensive definition and breakdown of the word, the W3C’s Introduction to Web Accessibility page is always a good place to start. It offers a great summary of the phrase and its importance for people and society.

To put it simply, web accessibility is making anything on your website — homepages, podcasts, blog articles, videos, etc. — usable for anyone, regardless if they’re deaf, blind, paralyzed, or have any other disability.

The more available you make your content to these individuals, the better off your site will be.

And it’s likely that individuals without a disability will thank you too!

Components of web accessibility

When thinking about web accessibility, you want to break it down into three parts:

Essentials-img

People

Technology

Guidelines

These three components work hand-in-hand to help you create quality, accessible websites, and content that anyone can enjoy. However, there is a lot that can go into each component, and it’s important to understand not just the component itself, but the reason why it’s so important to web accessibility.

This holistic approach certainly takes a little longer than simply understanding the definition, but it will also better equip you to tackle problems that may not always be outlined.

And when it comes to web accessibility, almost every problem you’ll encounter will be unique, because everyone uses the internet a little differently.

Who are the people impacted by web accessibility?

A group of disabled black women and latinas laughing on a patio.

When it comes to understanding web accessibility, it takes more than just reading the definition and knowing the methods to implement it.

To truly understand web accessibility, you need to understand the people that can be impacted by it.

The actions you take when implementing web accessibility, no matter how small they may appear to you, can be massively impactful to the people that view your site or consume your content.

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States alone have a disability. When you think about the U.S. population (over 330 million people and counting), nearly 19% of them live with a disability of some kind.

Even with these massive numbers, that still doesn’t capture the full picture.

Let’s look at the number of people in the U.S. that actually use the internet.

As of 2020, around 85% of Americans have access to the internet in some shape or form (computers, tablets, phones, libraries, etc.). Let’s apply that number to the over 330 million people currently in the country.

Although we’re taking some liberties with the exact population numbers, that’s still over 280 million people who use the internet. When you apply the percentage of people that carry a disability to that number, you’re left with over 53 thousand people.

That’s an incredible amount of people who may have to use the internet in different ways because of a certain disability.

Not all people are the same, not all disabilities are the same, and not all people use the internet the same way. While one person may benefit from zoom-in capabilities or alt-text, another may not find the same benefits.

Out of the five senses people have, you want to think about four of them when it comes to creating accessible content:

Touch

Sight

Hearing

Speech

Along with these four senses, you also want to think about the context in which they might be affected while using your site.

Disabilities affect people differently, in varying combinations, and at different stages of life
PermanentTemporarySituational
Touch One arm Arm injury New parent
Sight Blind Cataract Distracted driver
Hearing Deaf Ear infection Bartender
Speech Non-verbal Laryngitis Heavy accent

Adapted from Microsoft's Inclusive Toolkit

When thinking about these things, you’re able to build a better understanding of the people who are affected, the senses that can limit them, and in what manner those senses limit them. And when you’re able to keep those things in mind, not only will you have a better sense of web accessibility, but you’ll also have an easier time creating methods to accommodate the needs these individuals may have.

What tools do people use to access the web?

A quadriplegic man using a pointer held in his mouth to interact with his computer.
Image credit: Wallace on Wunderstock (license)

When understanding the types of web accessibility tools people use and their importance, it’s helpful to look at the accessibility tools that are available in the physical world.

A few great examples are the ramps you see at the front of buildings or the auto-open buttons you see for doors. These types of tools are often necessary for some people to navigate buildings and their various structural challenges. These tools also have an unintended (but helpful) benefit for individuals without a disability.

Let’s be honest, it’s likely you’ve used the auto-open button when entering a building or used a ramp if your legs felt too tired to use the stairs.

When it comes to creating web accessibility sites or content, it’s important these mediums have those same “ramps” and “buttons” and that those features touch on the four senses applicable to a person’s online experience.

Fortunately, there are a lot of tools, technology, and techniques that people can use to make the internet easier to use.

The core assistive technologies and adaptive strategies that people use are:

  • Screen readers: used by individuals who are blind or low-vision. They help these individuals by reading the content of their computer screen.
  • Text readers: helps people with various learning disabilities that can affect their reading. Text is read through a synthesized voice, and the text is highlighted as the content is read.
  • Braille readers: a device that converts the content of a computer screen to braille, braille readers perform this conversion by raising rounded pins throughout a flat surface and it changes as the person scrolls through the page.
  • Screen magnification software: another software that helps people with a sight disability, screen magnification software helps users enlarge certain pieces of text in relation to the rest of the screen.
  • Reduced motion preference: a system-wide accessibility setting that users can set to minimize any non-essential motion on their computer or device.
  • Alternative input devices: sometimes a mouse and keyboard are not realistic for certain individuals, so alternative input devices help them navigate this issue. Core alternate input devices include:
    • Speech input software: useful for individuals who have a difficult time typing. Through this software, people are able to verbally speak certain words to trigger a mouse or keyboard action.
    • Head pointers: a mounted object on the person’s head that can be used to push keys on a keyboard.
    • Motion or eye-tracking software: this can track the actual eye movement of a person and identify where they’d want a mouse to click.
    • Single switch entry devices: typically used with an on-screen keyboard, a cursor will hover over the different keys or links a person may typically click. When that cursor hovers over the desired key or link, the person will click the switch and trigger that action.

Pretty cool, right?

Although there are a variety of brands and models available for each piece of tech, these are the tech categories you want to think about when building your website or creating your content.

What’s the standard for web accessibility?

Young female friends communicating using sign language in library.

You’ve taken the time to understand the people who are impacted by web accessibility and the technology they use but…

How do you even know what steps to take to make a website accessible?

Enter the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The W3C is the trusted authority on the World Wide Web (including accessibility), and thousands of web developers, content writers, video producers, and sound engineers follow the guidelines created by the W3C.

There are three sets of guidelines that you should be aware of:

These three guides encompass everything you need to know and take into account when creating something online in an accessible manner. If you need guidance on how to approach a certain feature, product, or piece of content, these guides should be the first place to start.

Four principles of WCAG

Although the W3C has three different guides, the WCAG is the resource you should reference any time you’re looking for guidance on creating accessible web content.

The standards in WCAG are organized into four principles, which you need to learn to understand web accessibility at its core:

Your-Accessibility-Checklist-landscape@2x

Perceivable

Operable

Understandable

Robust

These principles make up web accessibility and a strong understanding of these concepts will help guide you in creating accessible content and websites.

Along with each principle are a handful of concepts that make it up. For you to properly implement each principle, it’s important that you’re executing each concept within it properly.

Otherwise?

You’ll be left with a skeleton of an accessible website.

Perceivable

The first principle within the WCAG, “perceivable” ensures information and user interface components are presentable to users in a way they can easily perceive.

Are your users able to see, hear, and even feel the different components and content found within your site?

If so, your website is in a good place.

To break it down even further, there are four concepts within the “Perceivable” principle that you need to keep in mind:

 

If you implement these concepts well, you’re on a great path to accomplishing the “Perceivable” principle and a great start to accessible websites and content.

Operable

Next up in the four principles that make up web accessibility is “Operable.”

When an accessible website is “Operable,” it means that the site allows users to navigate and interact with it in a variety of ways.

Not only are your visitors able to navigate your website in a traditional manner (keyboard and mouse), but they are also able to do so through keyboard only, mouse only, speech input devices, and more.

The more options you provide your visitors, the better your site will be in regard to web accessibility. This is especially true for the “Operable” principle.

When working within this principle, there are five concepts you need to properly execute if you want to implement the “Operable” principle properly:

 

Of these concepts, the most important aspect to focus on is seizures and physical reactions.

It’s incredibly important to avoid major flashes on your site in general, but if it’s necessary, these flashes should not happen more than three times in one second. In addition, give users an option to disable motion animation, as this too is a common trigger for seizures and physical reactions. And if you do have any sort of flashes or motion animation, give users a warning before they continue on to your website or video.

Nothing is worse (and can leave you vulnerable to legal action) than having one of your users experience a seizure or physical reaction because of your website.

Understandable

We then move on to the “Understandable” principle, which is when your website, its user interface, and the content that populates the site are easy to understand.

However, it’s not only just about being able to understand things through traditional means, it’s also making sure that your site is “understandable” through various tools and software people may use.

From screen readers to alternate input devices, your site and its content should be able to accommodate all of these different tools.

Here are the concepts you should familiarize yourself with:

 

Remember, something simple and easy-to-use is a lot better than flashy and complex.

What you might think is a cool feature might also be the reason for pushing some visitors away, and you never want that to be the result.

Robust

The last principle of web accessibility, having a “Robust” site or content means they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Being “Robust” means that, regardless of the assistive technologies used, the site and its content can still be enjoyed the way it’s envisioned.

Unlike the other principles, there’s only one concept you need to think about when creating a “Robust” website and content:

 

Following the “Compatible” concept isn’t that hard to accomplish. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of HTML tags. We’re specifically talking about H and P tags.

For context, these HTML tags tell web browsers like Chrome and Firefox what the hierarchy of your content is. Although CMS platforms like WordPress mean you don’t need to write your own HTML tags, it’s still an important thing to understand, as not all website publishing tools are created equal.

Well-structured content leads to a cleaner site and a cleaner site leads to a more “compatible” and “Robust” site.

That’s a win-win scenario every content creator and web developer can get behind.

Levels of web accessibility

When it comes to optimizing your site and content for web accessibility most results you’ll see are black and white, and you’ll quickly find out what’s accessible, what’s not, and what needs work through testing.

Sometimes, your audience might even be the ones letting you know (but, ideally, we’d like for you to avoid that).

So how can you determine whether your website and its content are properly accessible?

Through the levels of WCAG.

There are three levels that are explicitly defined in the guide:

Now, we can probably guess what you’re thinking:

“We’re definitely going to achieve level AAA for our website. There’s no way we get anything lower than that.”

If this is you, we completely understand that sentiment. In fact, that’s the same impression many of us had when we first started learning about the WCAG. Unfortunately, the truth is that reaching level AAA is not always possible, as certain limitations such as content type, business model, website structure, and more could prevent you from achieving that rating.

We want to be the first to tell you that it’s ok, and not many sites meet level AAA standards. Places like e-commerce stores or banking websites have security features in place that prevent them from achieving level AAA. Implementing certain methods could leave the site and the information housed within vulnerable, and that’s not a risk many websites or businesses are willing to or should take.

So, as you learn more about the levels and the different web accessibility techniques you can implement, remind yourself that it's ok to not achieve level AAA for every page on your website. Even if you only achieve level A with some features, it’s a start and better than not implementing any web accessibility features at all.

Creating quality and accessible web content

Although there’s a lot that goes into fully understanding web accessibility, we wanted you to understand the context behind some of the methods that we’ll be discussing.

It’s one thing to know how to implement web accessibility, and it’s a whole different thing to understand the “why” behind it.

Move-Closer-to-Your-Actual-Goals-landscape@2x-600x311

Although there’s a lot that goes into fully understanding web accessibility, we wanted you to understand the context behind some of the methods that we’ll be discussing.

It’s one thing to know how to implement web accessibility, and it’s a whole different thing to understand the “why” behind it.

By understanding the “why,” you’re able to think outside of the box and create creative ways to fulfill your site and content needs while making it accessible.

In the end, that’s what's what we're all here for:

Beautiful websites. Engaging content. Available for everyone. 

So, now that you know the “why,” it’s time to understand the “how.”

In other words:

It’s time for the good stuff.

Accessible page structure

Accessible page structure

Before you even think about creating your content, the first thing you need to ask yourself is:

How do I want my content structured?

The content structure can make or break your content, and even the best messages can be lost if your content isn’t properly formatted. It’s why whenever we talk to content writers and marketers, our first focus is on how they plan on structuring content.

We want to make sure your message or story is heard and that your readers are following along in the way you want them to.

Proper content structure helps set the tone for your content.

The better it’s structured, the more likely your content is to be consumed and shared. Here’s what you need to implement:

For additional context and in-depth breakdowns on each of these tips, make sure you check out our blog post on Structuring for Accessibility. Along with clarifying each tip, we’ll give you examples of how you can implement it into your website and content.

Accessible content writing

Now that you have a clear vision of how you want your content structured, you can begin writing. However, like all things you’ll find in this guide, there are ways for you to better optimize the content itself for accessibility.

Fortunately, a lot of the tips you’ll see are tips that you’ve likely heard before. What we’ll share with you is just as many best practices for content writing as they are for web accessibility.

The better you implement these practices, the better off your content will be in regards to both accessibility and quality.

If you want a more in-depth breakdown on creating well-written content, make sure to check out our blog on Writing for Accessibility. We go in-depth on the similarities between web accessibility and good content writing practices, as well as offer additional content on each of the tips you’ve seen above.

Accessible images

Although written content makes up a lot of websites, it’s not the only thing that populates today’s sites.

In fact, a lot of websites have taken a more visual approach and you’ll often find most home pages utilizing massive hero images,  videos, and even audio clips (more on those later) to greet their visitors.

Websites have taken a more visual approach and there are ample opportunities to make these elements more accessible.

Photos are no exception. Fortunately, you won’t have to change the way you take and source photos to make them more accessible. All it takes is a little more “elbow grease.”

One of the easiest and most consistent ways to implement photo accessibility is to simply write alt-text. Doing so for all the non-decorative images on your site will help make the lives of visitors who use screen readers much easier.

We dive deeper into photo accessibility, including specifics on writing proper alt-text, in our blog post — Creating Beautiful and Accessible Photos. If you need to know the “why” behind these techniques and implementations, it’s a great resource to utilize.

Accessible audio and video

Remember how we mentioned that sites would include videos and audio clips when greeting visitors?

Well, there’s a way to even make those pieces of content more accessible.

In fact, it’s become a necessity if you want visitors with disabilities to get the full experience from your site. Even clever videos or podcasts can lose their luster without implementing proper accessibility features.

The last thing you want is all of that content to go to waste, right?

Before you ask:

Yes, we do have a blog post fully dedicated to creating and optimizing accessible video and audio. If you’re looking for detailed analysis, tips, and breakdowns on all of these implementations, our blog — Making Your Video and Audio Accessible — is a wonderful place to start.

Your ultimate web accessibility checklist

So, you’ve just learned about:

  1. What web accessibility is
  2. The people web accessibility impacts
  3. The various guidelines referenced
  4. The core principles that make up accessibility
  5. What successful implementation looks like
  6. Techniques and best practices you can utilize
Check-List-img-600x309

If you’ve been thinking to yourself “how exactly am I going to remember this,” we don’t blame you.

The WCAG has a lot of content to consume, and the expectation of having to remember everything is simply not realistic.

This is why we created this guide for you and other marketers, content writers, and content managers. We want to make understanding and implementing web accessibility easier.

We don’t expect you to remember or memorize everything listed in this guide. Frankly, not everything listed on this guide is going to be applicable to you and your needs. It’s why we offer this helpful checklist.

Not only will you have access to all the implementation tips mentioned, you’ll also have all the applicable success criteria directly available. You’ll be able to reference that specific tip directly, instead of having to sort and scroll through the WCAG or our guide.

Be sure to bookmark our blog post on the checklist — Your Accessibility Checklist and get yourself a PDF copy too!

Free Download

Web accessibility checklist

Reference this handy checklist anytime you're working on your website.

If there’s one thing you want to take away from this guide, it’s this:

Always provide your users with multiple options. 

Doing so allows them to customize their user experience based on their needs, whether they’re blind, deaf, or have no disability at all.

At the end of it all, you want your users and content consumers to enjoy what you’ve offered them. Implementing all of these accessibility techniques, even at their basic forms, can ensure your audience enjoys the content and websites you create to the fullest.

Best of luck!

Oh, and if you're looking to revamp your website and ensure it's fully accessible to anyone, Unity Web Agency would love to help!

We help create custom builds that are Section 504 or 508 compliant, ensuring that anyone can use your site regardless of ability. Whether you're looking to better optimize your site for your audience or make site management easier for your web master or marketing team, we can help you create the site your organization deserves.