There are a variety of resources available for improving website accessibility—from tutorials and guides to software and overlays. When comparing options, consider these categories of service: widgets, auditing, remediation plus training, support, and reporting.
Some accessibility solutions add a widget aimed at improving a few user-controlled elements of a website. Some perform a comprehensive audit of a website, looking for potential issues. Others actually attempt to fix those issues. It’s important to understand which providers do what, so you can select one (or a few) that aligns with your needs, skill-level, and resources to successfully make your website more inclusive.
Accessibility widgets launch a control panel allowing visitors to manage certain aspects of their experience. These typically look like a chat widget, but with an accessibility icon, and let users control things like font size, contrast, stop animations, highlight links and other aspects of user experience.
While an effective tool, these widgets alone are only going to address a handful of accessibility issues.
Common issues addressed with Accessibility Widgets
- 1.4.2 Audio Control
- 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum)
- 1.4.4 Resize Text
- 2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide
- 2.4.7 Focus Visible
This is only a few of the 50-plus issues to be addressed for WCAG Level AA compliance. To actually resolve the full spectrum of potential issues, you will need a service that either audits your site—provided you have developers who can act on those recommendations—or a service that identifies and resolves problems for you.
Though accessibility widgets provide a solution for only a few issues, these are actually some of the more challenging WCAG Success Criteria for programmers to resolve. Inputting code to stop animations or the ability to increase the font size of a website is actually quite difficult. These widgets allow developers to focus on other issues that require less custom coding.
Widgets: More Harm Than Good
It has been argued that widgets may inadvertently cause challenges for the users they aim to help.
Take for example 2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below Threshold, which aims at preventing seizures triggered by aggressive flashing. True, adding functionality to a website that allows users to stop animation technically makes a website 2.3.1 compliant, but isn't it likely that users at risk of seizers already have preventative measures built into their browser? Though adding in this functionality demonstrates an attempt at compliance, we have to be careful not to actually compromise accessibility in service of checking a box.
2. Auditing Tools
Accessibility auditing tools crawl a URL or entire website, and return potential issues that can be programmatically discovered. The WAVE Website Accessibility Evaluation Tool by WebAIM is a popular free resource. This brings issues to your attention that can then be resolved directly on your site.
“Programmatically” means the system may only be looking for issues that can be picked up by a computer, if they meet certain criteria. This can prevent auditing tools from being completely accurate. For example, a crawler might be looking for images that are missing descriptive alt-text. If all images on a website have alt-text set, the audit will report that success criteria 1.1.1 Non-text Content has been met. However, if those alt-text descriptions are not actually doing a comprehensive job describing the image, this criterion has not actually been resolved.
The more sophisticated auditing tools, such as AudioEye, Monsido and SiteImprove, will not only itemize issues that need correcting, but also those that appear resolved but should be confirmed.
Flagging issues is only half the battle. Actually understanding how to resolve such problems is the real challenge.
Some of the auditing tools provide additional resources to help train you on accessibility and provide support in resolving issues. However, others don't go this far, so if this is important, be sure to ask.
SiteImprove is one of the best accessibility platforms when it comes to auditing and training. Not only do they offer best in class auditing technology but also the comprehensive training and support to empower an accessibility team. SiteImprove University is available to all paying clients so they can get more fluent in website accessibility with their self-paced training materials. When actually addressing issues, SiteImprove customers have access to a 24/5 phone, chat and email support to actually address specific issues as they arise.
This platform is far more expensive than other options and requires a significant commitment to accessibility. This is most appropriate for agencies or companies who want to offer accessibility as a service or larger organizations where hiring and training a dedicated accessibility team is the goal. For most other organizations, hiring an outside agency who provides accessibility services will be more cost effective and produce better results.
Then, of course, there are the platforms that offer remediation services.
Bottom line: How do we fix our websites? Platforms that offer remediation services attempt to do the heavy lifting for you. But be careful not to rely on this alone.
accessiBe: The widget that purports to do it all
accessiBe is one of the newer companies in this space but their technology has pushed them to the front of the pack. On the surface, accessiBe is a widget-driven interface offering more advanced controls than the competition. Among them: font controls including size, font face, alignment, spacing and highlighting titles. Color controls go further than simply adjusting contrast, allowing users to replace select colors for body copy, headlines and background colors.
You realize it is more than a widget once you enable Keyboard Navigation or the Virtual Keyboard. Virtual Keyboard allows users who cannot operate a keyboard to still interact with forms. accessiBe is making other adjustments on the backend as well. Through AI (artificial intelligence), accessiBe tries to understand what certain items are on a webpage and adjust the code to ensure they are compatible with screen readers. Tabular content, for example, might get ignored by a screen reader, prohibiting the user to access the content hidden under each tab. accessiBe catches this and adjusts the code so it is screen reader friendly.
Issues to be aware of
To address both the complacency and testing issues, manually review your website along with a WCAG Compliance Guide after enabling accessiBe.
AudioEye: The widget + auditing tool + remediation service
AudioEye is a good mix of everything with a "human-in-the-loop" approach. Their lowest tier solution includes an accessibility widget along with access to the AudioEye manual remediation tool. Not only is this an auditing tool that flags issues to be addresses, but it also gives you the ability to fix those issues.
Issues are organized by Errors, Risks, Review, and more. Fixes can either be left in AudioEye to be applied after the site loads or copied and corrected directly at the code level. The manual remediation tool takes a bit of time to figure out but there are training resources to help get you up and running.
The next tier of service is where AudioEye really sets itself apart. With AudioEye Managed Services, select website platforms can have the AudioEye team resolve issues for you. Remediations are applied to your site and reported back to you. AudioEye uses the most common issues visitors are confronted with to prioritize which are addressed first. As new pages are added and old ones are updated, remediations are made, ensuring your website maintains compliance over time.
With either the self-managed remediations or AudioEye managed services, it is important to understand the full scope of accessibility issues. Reference our WCAG Compliance Checklist to confirm you are addressing everything challenging users.
Inclusive Design vs Opt-in Accessibility
One difference between AudioEye and accessiBe is when the adjustments are applied. AudioEye remediations are enabled automatically for every visitor, regardless of turning anything on, whereas accessiBe requires a user enable the accessiBe widget. Essentially, accessiBe is delivering the original website and only makes adjustments by request. This can be looked at as preserving the web experience for users who do not need accessible adjustments, but requiring other users "opt-in" to a different experience, which is not inclusive design. AudioEye, on the other hand, makes adjustments that all users experience equally.
Popular Accessibility Tools and the Services Included
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