What is Microsoft’s Accessibility Insights for Web?

One of my favourite things about consulting in Power Apps Portals is that I am able to step back in to the world of traditional web development temporarily, and I get to explore a whole host of tools to improve our solution.

Visual improvement tools are cool, but helping ourselves reach a wider audience whilst simultaneously improving inclusivity is even better! This is where Microsoft’s Accessibility Insights for Web tool comes in to play.

The tool can be used for any website, but in this blog post I’ll use a Power Apps Portal as an example.

Context

Accessibility in digital services is all about providing alternative navigational aids and component references for those with impairments, and they can be elements that could be visible or hidden to all users. A couple of examples include:

  • Ensuring that the colour contrast between background colour and text that sits on top is significant enough to be considered easily readable. Using two similar colours may create difficulties for those with colour blindness.
  • Defining Tab Indexes in the website’s code to explain the order of your site’s navigation, so that anyone using a screen reader can access the components (such as a navigation bar with child links) in a logical order.

Regulations came into force in the late 2010s in many parts of the world, and more specifically, in the UK all public sector organisations had to ensure that their website was considered accessible by 23rd September 2018. If this isn’t possible, the organisation needs to provide a suitable alternative.

As many of the largest suppliers of digital services now give you the ability to create your own content, whether that’s social media or the Power Platform, many of the tech giants have created tools to empower you to make your content accessible, as it would be impossible for the tech giants themselves to automatically make every single piece of digital content meet these standards.

Getting Results Quickly Using FastPass

To get started, you don’t need a Microsoft account or even need a log in for your website. This tool can be run against any website to measure the closeness to common accessibility standards, or lack of. The tool is installed as a browser extension and is available for most modern browsers here.

To run the tool, simply click the following icon within your browser’s navigation bar:

Accessibility Insights for Web icon that is visible in your browser's navigation bar. A blue heart with a white search icon.

The browser window will give you several options which are self-explanatory, but to get reasonable results fast, the ‘FastPass’ option works well enough straight away.

A notification will pop up alongside the report for automated checks which instantly gives you a visual summary of all of the issues that have been raised.

A screenshot of a web browser showing the Accessibility for Insights Web tool by Microsoft with two different errors.
This particular portal has two errors relating to HTML code.

And there you have it! Within a few minutes you now have a list of potential issues to resolve shown in Step 1, and if you’re unfamiliar with the specific results you receive, there is plenty of information from the report or the web.

A screenshot of the FastPass results, showing two issues on the homepage of the demo website, with visual indicators on the website itself.

If you keep the report open on this page, as you expand your selection in the report, it will highlight on your original web page exactly where the issue is found and it will explain how to fix in order to avoid lengthy researching or development processes for someone that is comfortable editing HTML.

Moving on to Step 2, this provides a way to understand how accessibility tools will behave on our website when using ‘Tab Stops’ to navigate the screen.

A screenshot of the tab index being recorded by the report on my demo website to tell us how a screen reader will navigate the website.
Tab Stops are flowing in a logical order on this website, moving from left to right before shifting down to the next interactive item on the page.

To enable this, you simply press the ‘tab’ key on your website linked to the report and indicators will display for all elements on the page that are included within the ‘Tab Index’, and as this is subjective, the user is expected to decide whether the current order is correct.

Full Assessment

Whilst FastPass is likely to be beneficial for most small websites, for larger audiences or those in the public sector, you may want to consider running a full automated assessment. This is the second option available from your browser’s extension, and returns a significantly larger set of results in trade-off for a slower running time.

A screenshot of the full Assessment feature being run against a website looking at every component for accessibility issues.
Full assessment being run on a website.

Once the report has been completed, you can navigate to any items on the left-hand side of the browser window, focussing on those with an X to identify where issues lie, and once opened, the conventions used for displaying issues and recommendations follows the same path as the FastPass option.

Final Thoughts

Just because accessibility regulations aren’t law for all websites, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider this within our digital assets. For someone that is comfortable with HTML, running the tool (remember, it’s free!) with the FastPass report and fixing two issues could take less than one hour to change your homepage, but it could open up your site’s usability to a whole host of new audience members, not only increasing reach, but improving the perception of your services or product for those that need accessibility features everywhere.

When you’re next on social media or working with a website that you or your organisation owns, take a look at the accessibility features and you might open up a world of seemingly hidden features to make the digital experience better for all!

Microsoft’s Accessibility Insights for Web

Useful Guidance & Tools for Digital Accessibility

Colour Hex

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