Getting Started with Accessibility Assessments

Andrew Arch, Manager Online Accessibility Consulting, Vision Australia Foundation, 454 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong 3144 [HREF1].

Sofia Celic, Web Accessibility Consultant, Vision Australia Foundation, 454 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong 3144 [HREF1].

Steve Faulkner, Web Accessibility Consultant, Vision Australia Foundation, 454 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong 3144 [HREF1].

Brian Hardy, Manager Information Services Development, Vision Australia Foundation, 454 Glenferrie Road, Kooyong 3144 [HREF1].


Vision Australia Foundation has developed considerable experience and expertise over the past four years in assessing the accessibility of a wide variety of web sites. The W3C has recently developed "Evaluating web sites for accessibility" to assist people new to this task; Vision Australia Foundation contributed to this document. In this poster paper we will highlight the basic techniques that people can apply to identify many of the accessibility issues commonly observed. Applying a range of simple techniques means that web site owners and developers can identify many accessibility issues during the site's development phase and as part of an ongoing quality assurance strategy without having to understand all the technical aspects of how the web site works and is coded.

During the poster presentation we can demonstrate these techniques on attendee's web sites. After the AusWeb conference we can assist organisations with accessibility training, assessments, design and coding advice, and overall quality assurance assistance to improve their online accessibility.


Australian legislation effectively requires all Government, education and commercial web sites in Australia to meet minimum levels of accessibility for people with disabilities [HREOC, 2003]. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has indicated that the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG) [Chisholm, 1999] form the basis of web accessibility in Australia.

In order to conform with the legislative, government policy or internal organisational web publishing guidelines, people need to know how to test for accessibility. Traditionally, many people have run the ubiquitous "Bobby" report [Watchfire, 2003], however there are many varied, and sometimes better, ways of assessing the accessibility of a web site.

What is Web accessibility?

Web accessibility includes:

An accessible web is available to people with disabilities, including those with:

An accessible web will also aid many other groups looking to access your information and online services including people:

Web accessibility means access to the Web by everyone, regardless of ability.

Assessing Web Site Accessibility

Vision Australia Foundation has been assessing web sites for Government departments, community groups, corporate organisations and businesses for over four years, providing us with considerable experience in simple and complex techniques to assess sites and pages against the WCAG checkpoints. Many other groups around the world have similar levels of experience and in 2002 members of the Web Accessibility Initiative's Education and Outreach Working Group [WAI, 2003] pooled this experience and prepared a document "Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility" [Brewer & Letourneau, 2002].

This document suggests an accessibility evaluation can take two forms - a preliminary review or a conformance review. In this paper we outline the steps and techniques for undertaking a preliminary accessibility assessment of a web site.

Preliminary Accessibility Review

A preliminary accessibility review is designed to highlight some of the accessibility issues that people with disabilities might encounter, without trying to be at all comprehensive. It can be undertaken by people who do not have a technical understanding of web authoring. It can quickly help to identify the scope of accessibility problems that may exist within a web site, enabling an organisation to start addressing accessibility issues, but does not identify all the problems that may exist.

A preliminary review comprises five steps:

  1. Select representative pages for review
  2. View representative pages while adjusting various browser settings in your (graphical) browser
  3. Use a voice or text browser to check representative pages for equivalence and appropriate linearity
  4. Use some general accessibility evaluation tools [Chisholm & Kasday, 2003] and note any problems they identify
  5. Summarise the result and recommend any required followup action

So, how do you go about these steps?

1. Selecting representative pages

2. Adjusting browser settings

The techniques for adjusting browser settings described here are the Internet Explorer (Version 5 or 6) methods. The same setting changes can also be achieved - sometimes more easily - in Netscape and Opera.

Turn off images

This test allows you to check for equivalent 'alt text' as read by a screen raeder to a blind person or as seen by rural users and others browsing with their images turned off for response reasons.

Select "Tools / Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab and deselect "Show Pictures" under the Multimedia option. The page will need to be 'refreshed' to show the corresponding 'alt text' if it has been provided.

Can you still navigate and understand the pages when you can't see the images?

If you can't see all the 'alt text' (because it doesn't fit in the allocated image space), select "Tools / Internet Options", select the "Advanced" tab and select "Always Expand ALT text for Images" under the Accessibility option. Again the page will need to be 'refreshed'.

Equivalent 'alt text' for graphical text is usually the text in the graphic. For photos, logos and other images, it will depend on the purpose of the image. E.g. the Acme company logo may be just the logo (hence, alt="Acme Logo" will be correct) or it may be a link to the home page (hence, alt="Acme Home Page", or just alt="Home Page", would be the more appropriate 'alt text').

Turn off soundvolume contol in windows98

This test allows you to check for information that is only available aurally.

Mute the sound in Windows or Mac OS - in Windows adjust the volume by selecting the volume control in the bottom toolbar. Are multimedia or rich media pages still comprehensible without audio? Have transcripts been provided for important audio files?

Vary the font size

This test checks for relative font sizes - important for those people who need to enlarge or reduce the font in order to read the web page.

Choose "View/Text-Size/Largest" and the text should get bigger; conversely, choosing "View/Text-Size/Smaller" should result in the text becoming smaller, but still readable.

Check that all the text on the page adjusts in size (i.e. gets larger and smaller) and remains readable.

Vary the screen resolution

This test checks for relative table sizes used for page layout.

Select "restore" or "restore down" depending on your Windows version, window's window controls [the center icon], and adjust the browser window width to observe if the pages decrease and increase in width also. Can you see the right hand information without having to scroll horizontally?

Use relative sizing for tables, rather than fixed widths, so that people with different screen sizes or window sizes can see the full table. This also ensures that pages using tables for layout will print completely on all printers – tables fixed for an 800x600 screen design often lose the last word on the right when printed.

Change the colour display to grey

This test will give an indication or adequate contrast and will also help identify the use of "color alone" to indicate required fields in forms, items on sale, etc.

This may not be achievable on many monitors - try printing the page instead on a black and white printer or use a 'greyscale' bookmarklet [e.g. Ruderman, 2003] in Internet Explorer to apply a 'black and white TV' filter to the page as shown below.

AusWeb03 banner in colour

AusWeb03 banner in black and white

Put away the mouse - navigate with just the keyboard

This test is an indicator of device independance; important for those people who are temporarily or permanently "mouse impaired".

Put the mouse aside (or unplug it if you are continually drawn to it) and navigate through the site using the keyboard. In Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator use:

Specifically, try and complete any interactive elements and forms.

One common issue to watch out for is the use of 'drop-down' boxes for navigation and "quick links". Make sure you can use the keyboard to get to items in the list beyond the first few - if there is no "GO" button, you will usually only be able to access the first link in the list as releasing the down-arrow key activates the link.

3. Use a voice or text browser

While not absolutely essential in order to gain a feel for the accessibility of a web site, many people recommend using a voice browser or text browser such as IBM's Home Page Reader [IBM, 2003] or the Lynx browser [Lynx], to check for suitable linearity on web pages. However, Version 7 of the Opera browser [Opera, 2003] also has this capability within it's 'user' modes (see image below) if you are able to install it.

Opera V7 in text emulation mode

Try navigating your site with the voice or text browser - do the pages syill make sense without the images and when the layout is linearised?

4. Use a general accessibility evaluation tool

Again, this step is not essential in order to gain a feel for the accessibility of a web site, but can be a useful activity if you intend to discuss the accessibility with web site developers - giving them a printed report can assist them with addressing some of the issues identified with the browser options. A couple of free tools that are useful for this purpose are "The WAVE" [WebAIM, 2003] from WebAIM and "Cynthia Says" [HiSoftware, 2003] from ICDRI and HiSoftware. Many of the commercial accessibility assessment tools have free trials.

The WAVE is a visual tool that allows you to navigate across your site while showing a wide range of accessibility issues 'in-situ' with icons on-screen to indicate different issues. The WAVE also shows the reading order that a person relying on a screen reader will encounter; this is also an indication of the tabbing order that a "mouse-impaired" user will encounter.

extract from a wave report

In contrast, "Cynthia Says" generates a relatively technical report for the specified page, advising which lines of code have which accessibility issues.

5. Other assessments techniques

Testing with different browsers is also desirable as not everyone is using Microsoft's latest browser, and the support for style sheets in particular is quite variable. If possible, always include a Netscape V4.7x browser in your testing as this browser does not support style sheet positioning. Opera V7 is also useful as it allows graphics to be toggled on/off very easily, linearises tables, shows reading order, adjusts colour schemes, and contains many other useful features.

Other simple tests that can be conducted just with the Internet Explorer browser include:

To turn scripting off in Internet Explorer go to "Tools", "Internet Options", select the "Security" tab, then "Custom Level" and scroll down to "Scripting" to disable "Active Scripting". (If you have a secured corporate desktop environment you may be unable to follow these instructions.) Once this is done, try navigating across the web site and interact with menus and forms. Don't forget to re-enable "Active Scripting" after you have finished testing.

setting internet explorer coloursTo make changes to fonts and colours in Internet Explorer, go to "Tools", "Internet Options", select the "General" tab, and then the "Accessibility" button. Select "Ignore colours ...", "Ignore Font Styles ..." and "Ignore Font Sizes ..." then "OK". Next, select "Colors", deselect "Use Windows Colors" and set your own colour scheme, e.g. yellow text on a black background. Depending on your new colour scheme, you may also have to adjust the link colours to make them visible against your new background colour. Have a look at your site now - is it still usable and has all the text changed as requested? When you are finished, reselect "Use Windows Colors" (there is no need to change the colour scheme back to your original one, but you may have to readjust the link colours).

Conformance Assessment

A full conformance evaluation of a web site for accessibility combines semi-automatic, manual and user testing with a much higher degree of rigour than undertaken in a preliminary review. Conformance assessment requires a thorough understanding of HTML as well as a strong knowledge of accessibility, assistive technology and the implications for people with disabilities.

Some of the additional steps include code validation, manual evaluation for many of the checkpoints, and user testing with people with disabilities using assistive technologies.

The steps are described in "Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility" [Brewer & Letourneau, 2002]. Vision Australia Foundation is able to assist any organisation wishing to undertake accessibility conformance assessments or incorporate accessibility into their design processes.


Getting started with accessibility evaluation can be easy and the techniques described here will enable you to discover and address some of the accessibility issues that may exist on your web site. During the poster presentation session we will be able to demonstrate these simple techniques to assist attendees getting started with accessibility assessments for their own web sites.


Brewer J. & Letourneau C. (Eds) 2002, Evaluating Web Sites for Accessibility [HREF6]

Chisholm et al 1999, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 [HREF3]

Chisholm W. and Kasday L. 2003, Evaluation, Repair, and Transformation Tools for Web Content Accessibility [HREF7]

HiSoftware 2003, Cynthia Says [HREF13]

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 2003, World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes [HREF2]

IBM 2003, Home Page Reader 3.0 [HREF9]

Lynx for Windows; Lynx for Mac [HREF10]

Opera 2003, Opera 7 [HREF11]

Ruderman J 2003, Validation Bookmarklets [HREF8]

Watchfire 2003, Bobby [HREF4]

WebAIM 2003, The WAVE [HREF12]

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), Education and Outreach Working Group [HREF5]

Hypertext References

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Vision Australia Foundation, © 2003. The authors assign to Southern Cross University and other educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Southern Cross University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the conference papers and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web.