Travel website Roadtest – Accessibility

We put eight travel websites through their paces to find out which best meets the needs of disabled users


Expedia.co.uk


Text Alternatives
Quite a few images lacked an ALT attribute. These are largely non-informational images, but still a problem for speech and Braille output users as they will be forced to listen/read the ‘image’ or the image file path in the absence of ALT text. No images of text were found, which is reassuring, as these are difficult to read for users with screen magnifiers. There was some clever use of delivering decorative images via CSS (cascading style sheets) but they could have been used more.
Rating: 2


Structure
While some visual headings are coded into the heading structure of pages, many are missed out. This leads to an incomplete page structure for speech and Braille output users who rely on marked-up headings to understand and navigate page
content. Data tables did tend to have correctly coded table headings.
Rating: 2


Functionality
JavaScript has been used throughout the site to activate links, forms and generate page content. No HTML alternatives are provided which means users who do not have JavaScript supported in their browsers, such as text-based browsers and some PDA’s, can not access key site functionality.
Rating: 0


Flexibility
Fonts are fixed, which prevents users from choosing their own font sizes. Colours are also split between HTML and CSS. Preventing users from customising text and colour can cause problems when browsing, especially for users who are dyslexic, have reading problems, colour blindness or low vision.
Rating: 1


Keyboard Access
Pages reviewed didn’t have any problems with linearisation although due to the busy nature of the site ‘skip to main content’ links would help keyboard, hand-held device and speech and Braille output users.
Rating: 3


TOTAL: 8/20


By adding in appropriate ALT text to images that are missing ALT attributes and heading structures, the site could, with minimal effort, make a big step towards accessibility. With a little more work providing HTML alternatives to the JavaScript the site could also reach a very respectable level of accessibility.



Ebookers.com


Text Alternatives
All images have ALT attributes, which is good to see, although some are inappropriate such as a full stop (.) for bullets. A solution is to remove the bullet images altogether and replace them with an unordered list with CSS used to give the visual effect of bullets. This would cut down the information that a speech and Braille output user has to hear and also make the page weight lighter and easier to use on dial-up.
Rating: 3


Structure
No headings or data table headings are used, making it very difficult for a speech or Braille output user to distinguish between blocks of information – likened to reading a newspaper with no visual headings.
Rating: 0


Functionality
JavaScript has been used in links but generally with an HTML alternative, which makes all navigation available to users without JavaScript. Forms are also JavaScript independent, which is excellent. However, some of the site tools are JavaScript reliant, such as the airports list pop-up on the homepage and the calendar. If JavaScript functionality is provided then this must always be replicated with HTML alternatives.
Rating: 3


Flexibility
Fixed fonts are used throughout the site, forcing users to read small text rather than text scaled to their preferred size. However, the colours are flexible so users can choose background and foreground colours that suit their needs.
Rating: 2


Keyboard Access
The site linearised well. However, it would benefit from having a ‘skip to main content’ link for keyboard-only users, such as those with mobility problems. Speech and Braille output and mobile devices can quickly jump over links and get to the main content.
Rating: 3


TOTAL: 11/20


As with many of the sites there was a tendency to use repeated links to different pages. For example, listings pages used the link ‘Select’ to choose a product. When accessing with speech or Braille output the user only hears ‘Select’, ‘Select’, ‘Select’, which gives no indication of what product they are selecting.



Thomson.co.uk


Text Alternatives
There are a number of images missing ALT attributes. Some of these are link images, which cause problems for speech and Braille output users when navigating. Readability for low vision users and those with dyslexia is also made problematic by a heavy use of background images. On a positive note, a few Flash banner ads are replaced by images with appropriate ALT text when plug-ins are disabled.
Rating: 1


Structure
Headings are more or less overlooked on this site. When they are used, they are illogical, indicating they are used for visual effect rather than to provide a structure for speech and Braille output. In fact, where headings should have been coded, data table headings are used instead, making the site difficult to use, especially given how packed with information the pages are.
Rating: 0


Functionality
Some surfers may have difficulty using the site with JavaScript switched off. The main navigation, forms and search are all reliant on it. Some search panels fail to load with JavaScript switched off, meaning users can’t perform some basic functions.
Rating: 0 


Flexibility
Fixed fonts are used in the site and colours are split between CSS, making it difficult for users to scale font sizes and choose their colour. The site also suffers from poor contrast between foreground text and background colours.
Rating: 1


Keyboard Access
The site will linearise adequately, but given the volume of information it would benefit from having some ‘skip to main content’ functionality. Having these as visible links means mouse and mobile users – as well as speech and Braille output users – could benefit.
Rating: 3


TOTAL: 5/20


The colour contrast and heavy use of images in the site means low-vision users and people with deteriorating sight, such as the elderly, could find this site hard to use. The drop-down menus on the main navigation could also add further difficulties. Menus can get in the way for screen magnification users as they can obscure the whole screen if the mouse accidentally moves over the image.



Eurostar.co.uk


Text Alternatives
There are only a few images with missing ALT attributes and these are mostly non-informational images, which is good. However, as with many of the sites, repeated ALT text is used on ‘Book now’ image links for individual holidays on one page.
Rating: 3


Structure
It is refreshing to see a site that makes good andlogical use of headings consistently within the pages reviewed. Data tables are also marked up with table headings on both column and row headings, which is excellent. While many sites mark up column headings correctly, row headings are often neglected.
Rating: 3


Functionality
For such a well-presented site it’s a shame to see it let down by a heavy reliance on JavaScript in forms. It must be quite frustrating for users to be able to access pages and get to the point of purchase only to fall down at the last hurdle.
Rating: 1


Flexibility
The site is also let down by fixed font sizes and colours split between HTML and CSS. This means that if a user has their browser set to white text, on a settings view of white text on a black background, they will get white text on a white
background – therefore losing some information.
Rating: 1


Keyboard Access
The site linearised without any problems and isn’t quite as link heavy as the other sites. The fact there is a good structure, which provides speech and Braille output with an invaluable alternative means to browsing in a page, ensures that the need for a ‘skip to content’ link is less of a priority. However, it would still be good to provide it.
Rating: 3


TOTAL: 11/20


Overall this was a good site, but was let down by a reliance on JavaScript and a lack of flexibility. While providing HTML alternatives to the JavaScript may involve some work it would – combined with clearing up the issue of fixed fonts and colours – go a long way to making the site more accessible.



Ryanair.com


Text Alternatives
The site is very image heavy, often making page download times lengthy. There are also numerous animated images making it problematic for users with cognitive problems, dyslexia and low vision. ALT text on links is not always appropriate to the image, often saying ‘click here to find out more’, which doesn’t tell the user about where the link goes.
Rating: 1


Structure
None of the pages reviewed has a heading structure or table headings in data tables. This makes page navigation exceptionally difficult for speech and Braille output users.
Rating: 0


Functionality
Searches and forms rely on JavaScript, preventing non-JavaScript users from buying tickets online as there are no HTML alternatives. Links generally work in the absence of JavaScript but many open in a new window with no warning. Some of these are main navigation links that then redirect to different sites. This can cause problems for users who can not see what has happened and may therefore become confused when the browser back button doesn’t work.
Rating: 2


Flexibility
Font sizes are fixed and colours split between the CSS and HTML, so users can not easily view pages with their preferred colour settings. This was made more of a problem given the poor colour choices used on the site.
Rating: 1


Keyboard Access
Keyboard-only users have a considerably downgraded experience when navigating due to the number of links that have to be tabbed through before reaching the main content: more than two dozen links and a search form with 12 form elements in many of the pages. A ‘skip to main content’ link would have been a handy way to make page navigation a lot simpler.
Rating: 2


TOTAL: 6/20


This is a classic example of a site that, by not implementing the simplest of WAI guidelines, could lock out various user groups.



Flightcentre.co.uk


Text Alternatives
Images are used for the main navigation. While these have ALT text that reflect the text on the image, they unfortunately do not have any HTML alternatives elsewhere on the page. This is can be an issue for screen magnification users, as images can become pixelated and blurred. A number of links also have missing ALT text, which can prevent clear navigation.
Rating: 1


Structure
No heading structure is provided on pages. This can leave keyboard users and speech and Braille output users wading through streams of ungrouped links in pages. This is particularly true, for example, in a page for holiday deals, which has 174 links.
Rating: 0


Functionality
The site does work in the absence of JavaScript. However, unlike the other websites there isn’t an online booking system, which can often add a level of confusion to some users’ experience when booking.
Rating: 4


Flexibility
This is yet another website that suffers from a lack of flexibility. However, it was obvious that some effort has been made to offer good contrasting colours, which is reassuring.
Rating: 2


Keyboard Access
The lack of a headings structure, which is useful to page navigation on websites, means that there is an even stronger need for ‘skip to main content’ links. All links and form elements are keyboard accessible and flow in logical order.
Rating: 3


TOTAL: 10/20


Visually the site worked well as it had good strong contrast between colours. The use of colour to aid accessibility is often not recognised, so it was good to see a site that was clearly laid out. Unfortunately, access for users with speech and Braille output software was not so seamless and the site does need a little work behind the interface to increase its usability for disabled surfers.



Cheapflights.co.uk


Text Alternatives
This site is generally good for ALT text. It was pleasing to see unique ALT text on repeated images that linked to different pages.
Rating: 3


Structure
Data tables are coded correctly throughout this site. Most of the pages do have a heading structure – but some are correct and others are incorrect, which was quite random, (Privacy Policy, for example, which made me think that perhaps the website is managed by different content authors).
Rating: 3


Functionality
JavaScript is used in pop-up links. These can easily be fixed with an HTML alternative so that they still work in the absence of JavaScript. New window warnings should also be added so users know which links will open in a new window.
Rating: 2


Flexibility
Fonts are clear and readable with good visual headings but they are fixed, which prevents users from changing the size within their browsers.
Rating: 2


Keyboard Access
There are a couple of issues with linearisation that made forms tricky to use. For example, on the homepage the link to ‘List Destination’ comes after the form field. This is relevant as a user should be aware of it before they tab to the form element. Additionally, a keyboard user must tab through not only the main navigation but also the ‘A to Z’ function to select a destination at the top of the page before reaching the main content. This will be time consuming for some users.
Rating: 2


TOTAL: 12/20


Pop-up windows were used without warning throughout this website, especially in the areas of flights and products. This can be quite disconcerting for any number of users, not to mention cluttering up the screen when looking at more than one product. Repeated link text will also downgrade navigation for speech and Braille output users.



Marriott.co.uk


Text Alternatives
This site is light on space and structural images, while decorative images have helpful and appropriate ALT text, which is excellent. The homepage is also a good example of how visual icons can be grouped together with adjacent link text and given null ALT text.
Rating: 3


Structure
Visually the site is well laid out with appropriate headings. Some pages have correctly marked-up headings while others don’t. Implementing structure on only some of the content can be confusing as users come to expect it on pages. However, when users arrive on pages that do not, it is easy to suspect this is because there are no headings.
Rating: 2


Functionality
With JavaScript disabled it is difficult to get past the homepage on this site. The search form, main navigation and links to Searching by Amenities all become unavailable. Links to reward schemes and bonus points suffer the same fate. Further JavaScript-reliant forms and links to pop-ups found deeper in the site confirmed that overall navigation is difficult without JavaScript. This was a shame as it is hard to see why so many of these links needed to rely on JavaScript anyway.
Rating: 0


Flexibility
The site falls down on flexibility by not allowing users to easily choose their own text size and colour combinations to suit their needs.
Rating: 1


Keyboard Access
When listened to in a screen reader, the tab order in forms is illogical. Instead of going through the form elements and form links in the order they were presented, the links are picked up first, followed by the form elements.
Rating: 1


TOTAL: 7/20


There were a few links to the same page repeated on the homepage, but using different link text. Different worded text can be confusing for any user but the issue is that repeating links can make pages very laborious for keyboard-only and speech and Braille users to navigate.



The reviewer:


Henny Swan is a senior web accessibility consultant at the Royal National Institute of the Blind, where she has worked for four years. She has experience across all areas of the industry providing audits, training and consulting.


She also helps organisations identify what areas they need to focus on to make their sites accessible, as well as helping to identify compliance levels, prioritise work and implement best practice solutions. Henny is an active participant of the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and contributes to the EU Web Accessibility Benchmarking Cluster. Before joining the RNIB, Henny worked in web development in Shanghai on e-commerce websites.



Criteria:


Text Alternatives
Can a user gain any useful information via alternatives to images? We looked at ALT text on images, image maps and images of text, layout etc. We looked at those missing ALT attributes and those with inappropriate ALT text


Structure
Are users able to navigate based on the structure provided within the code for a page? We looked at ease of navigation within pages due to heading structure, whether the structure was logical and if data tables have correct table headings


Functionality
Can users submit forms, carry out searches and trigger links in the absence of JavaScript? Are forms presented correctly, do submit buttons and links work in the absence of JavaScript?


Flexibility
Can the user control the presentation? Can colours be changed? Can text be resized?


Keyboard Access
Can a user access all areas without a mouse? Is there a logical tab order in pages and forms? Are there any skip links or access keys to facilitate navigation?


All scores are out of four



If you have an opinion on this story, email Travolution editor Kevin May to post it on our Blog.



Additional information:


All the sites may struggle to meet basic requirements of the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines, the international global standard for web accessibility.


We looked at each site’s homepage, search results and form submission page. Tests were carried out manually using a screen reader, various browsers and screen magnification. Text alternatives, structure, functionality, flexibility and keyboard access were also assessed as these are all essential components of an accessible website.


Compliance in these areas will not only open the doors to the vision, hearing, cognitive and mobility impaired but also people with older browsers, dial-up, PDA and other mobile devices.
At the RNIB we recommend sites aim for WAI AA compliance. The travel industry should be putting measures in place to achieve this.


For guidance see the Publicly Available Specification 78: Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Websites. For information about the PAS as practical guidance on how to make your site accessible visit RNIB’s Web Access Centre at www.webaccesscentre.com.


It is clear that some of the organisations have attempted to provide accessible web sites that disabled people can use. However, the degree of conformance to international guidelines on web accessibility varied greatly. I was left with the impression that the travel industry is some way behind other industries in this regard.


However there is no reason why this should be the case.
In 1999, the Disability Discrimination Act placed a legal duty on service providers to ensure that it is not unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use their services. A Code of Practice published by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) in 2002 provided clarification that a web site is a ‘service’ as described in the legislation.


However, the DDA does not provide technical details on how a web site might be designed to ensure its usability by disabled people. In 1999, the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a project group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines have been adopted internationally as a benchmark for web accessibility.


WCAG is a set of 64 checkpoints divided into three levels of conformance: A (‘must’), AA (‘should’) and AAA (‘could’). RNIB recommends AA as designing to this level includes the majority of disabled users.


Until the DDA is tested in a county court the exact specification of an ‘accessible’ web site remains unclear. However, a results of research undertaken by DRC in 2004 suggests that conformance to WCAG is insufficient. The DRC found that 45% of the problems disabled users found on inaccessible websites could not be detected by automated testing tools that checked for conformance to WCAG checkpoints.


DRC also learned that while less than 20% of the 1,000 web sites they surveyed were accessible to even WCAG A, the web site owners and designers they interviewed expressed awareness and support for web accessibility. DRC concluded that web site commissioners required further guidance on how to effectively implement web site accessibility.


DRC commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to produce new guidance to help we site commissioners in their task. Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 78: Guide to Good Practice in Commissioning Accessible Web Sites was published by BSI on 8 March.


PAS 78 contains detailed guidance for commissioners and developers, including advice on the production of an ‘accessibility policy’ for a website, information on how to involve disabled people in the requirements-gathering and usability testing stages of the site development cycle, and guidance on how automated testing tools might be used to greatest effect.

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