Susan McCormick Senior Project Manager
March 25, 2024

At Chapter Three, we do more than just build new websites and update existing ones. We also advise clients on ways they can improve their websites, and accessibility audits are one of the many services we offer.

Online accessibility for people with disabilities has moved from “nice to have” to being legally mandated and non-negotiable. Everything we build here at Chapter Three is put through rigorous accessibility testing, but we also offer these services to owners of existing sites who want to make sure they are accessible.

How Do Our Accessibility Audits Work?

Our accessibility audits evaluate and communicate the level of accessibility of a website or web application. These are the key steps:

  1. Clearly define the scope of the audit, including the specific web pages, components, or digital assets to be evaluated.
  2. Select the relevant accessibility standards and guidelines for compliance, typically the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  3. Test the content with automated tools to identify common accessibility issues like missing alt text, insufficient color contrast, and improper HTML markup.
  4. Manually test the content to identify issues that cannot be detected through automated tools, typically by navigating the website or application with assistive technologies like  screen readers, keyboard-only navigation, and voice recognition software.
  5. Document all accessibility issues identified during the audit, including their severity level and potential impact on users with disabilities.
  6. Prioritize the identified issues based on which require immediate attention and which can be addressed later.
  7. Offer recommendations and best practices for resolving accessibility issues, including code examples and guidelines for developers and designers.

Accessibility audits can include testing by actual users with disabilities as well as post-implementation follow-up testing to ensure that issues have been effectively addressed. This is usually followed by a final report summarizing audit findings, and including a detailed list of accessibility issues, recommended solutions, and any remaining areas for improvement.

How Do I Know If I Need One?

If your website is more than a few years old, or has been modified and updated since inception, it could probably use an accessibility audit. Over time, accessibility-related elements like alt text and correct heading hierarchy can fall by the wayside, and inadequate attention may have been paid to elements like proper color contrast. If you’re not sure your website is as accessible as it could be, you’d probably benefit from an audit.

San Francisco Health Service System Case Study

The San Francisco Health Service System (SFHSS) approached Chapter Three because a new city ordinance required all city websites to adhere to a strict new set of accessibility standards by 2025. The SFHSS site is a large website that drifted away from accessibility best practices over time.

Color Contrast

Color contrast was, as we discovered, a big issue with the site. Color contrast is crucial in web accessibility because it directly affects the ability of users, particularly those with visual impairments, to perceive and understand its content. See below for an example of adequate versus inadequate color contrast.

An example of adequate and inadequate text color contrast


Header Hierarchy

Another big issue we uncovered was header hierarchy. Proper semantic structure helps all users, especially those using screen readers or other assistive technologies, navigate and understand content more easily. Organizing headers using <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. is critical. Proper headers also make life easier for users with learning disabilities or attention disorders who may struggle processing dense, unstructured text.

Proper header hierarchy often suffers, as site editors tend to format content based on its appearance on the screen, rather than on WCAG formatting. See below for examples of correct and incorrect header hierarchy:

A correct and incorrect example of how to structure header hierarchy

Alt Text

Other elements flagged by our accessibility audit included missing alternative text for images and the occasional broken link. Writing alt text for images involves describing an image in terms of objective, plainly observable fact. Here is an example of what we mean:

Iridescent moon jelly floating in water
Example of alt text: Iridescent moon jelly floating in water. Photo by Toni Pomar on Unsplash


Reading Comprehension Level

The toughest requirement was that text be written at a 5th grade level of comprehension. SFHSS's site contained dense content with complex medical terminology. While we did not rewrite their content, we offered suggestions on how to make it more accessible to meet this requirement.

Writing for a certain grade level is an art in itself. Grammarly and many other platforms offer tools that assess the grade reading level of your writing, and some offer suggestions on how to lower it.

Contact Us to Help with Accessibility 

Website accessibility can be challenging to implement and maintain over time, as it requires a high level of communication between team members and clearly articulated processes. With continued, focused effort from the whole team, we can help companies and organizations get on the right path and develop good procedures.

If you suspect your website might not be accessible enough, or your organization is soon to be subjected to strict new accessibility requirements, please contact us. We’ll help you make your site accessible to everyone and to help you keep it that way.