Google released an awesome tool this year as a Chrome Extension called Accessibility Developer Tools which adds a feature to the Audits panel of Chromes dev tools. With this extension enabled, you can run an audit on the accessibility compliance of the page you are viewing (either by refreshing or in its current state). This tool is very useful for quickly checking how well you are accommodating users to your site or web app who may be using assistive technology, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and who may not be able to use a mouse.
The other handy tool that I highly recommend is ChromeVox, which is also by Google and is also a Chrome Extension. Google released ChromeVox in 2011 as a screen reader which lives right inside your browser. The thing I like most about it being a browser extension is that it won’t start speaking while you are coding or doing other tasks, it only functions inside the browser. Also, it’s really easy to turn on and off using a keyboard shortcut.
Both of these tools were presented at Google IO in the past couple of years. I highly recommend watching both the 2011 and the 2012 presentations as they go into, not only these tools, but really good information on making your site as accessible as possible.
As the 2011 video explains, here are the 4 major steps (to be accomplished in order) to adding accessibility to your site:
- Use clean HTML
- Manage focus
- Add key handlers
- Add ARIA attributes
If you are new to ARIA, it’s actually not as intimidating as you might think. It basically involves designating roles to the main widgets and interactive elements on your site. Once the role has been established, each role has its own set of aria attributes that coincide with it that help screen readers know best how to describe your app to visually impaired users.
None of this is new information, but it is certainly new to me. In my current job we are building web based applications for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and are required to comply with section 508 laws. It has never been more important that I pay attention to and adhere to these standards. And, now that I’m getting deeper into learning them, I am actually loving it. With these tools I mentioned above, it has made this task quite bearable.