Implementing Web Accessibility guidelines in your digital products is an ethical thing to do for your users and not also a legislative standard in most countries today. Here's why, and how you should approach it.
The internet is our go-to source for virtually anything: shopping, learning, creating, entertaining–it’s entirely web-based today. The ability to access the internet is crucial for success and acceptance as an employee, student, creator, and anything related.
The unfortunate truth is that the web is predominantly designed without accessibility in mind, being widely available to the average consumer, not all consumers. Imagine a three-story office building with only a staircase. Everyone can work on the first floor, but only most people can on the second and third floors. This metaphor mirrors today’s online ecosystem.
Fortunately, accessibility practices are being created and enforced to broaden the openness of the internet so people of all abilities can access it.
What Is Web Accessibility?
Web Accessibility is the practice of designing websites so people with disabilities, situational limitations, and slow internet connections can equally access the information available.
Accessibility on the web benefits users with cognitive, auditory, motor, speech, and visual disabilities as well as temporary disabilities like a broken arm. Even people without disabilities benefit from accessibility practices. Proper implementation improves access to people who have struggles due to aging or those with situational limitations such as an inability to consume audiovisual content.
Why Accessibility on the Web Should Be Prioritized?
In fact, implementing accessibility practices improves market reach for businesses and helps to create positive brand recognition. Market reach is improved because the customer-base is no longer limited to the average user.
Examples of Accessibility on the Web
- Making a website accessible shouldn’t be associated with limitations to design or creativity. Many accessibility features are behind-the-scenes.
- Optimizing your website by compressing images and data lessens the time it takes to load, improving accessibility in rural areas where internet speeds are slow.
- Designing according to CSS and HTML standards allows your site to be more flexible, literally. People can readily enlarge text without disrupting the outline of your content.
- Alt tags are mostly invisible, but they are tremendously important for people who use read-out assistants, like those with visual impairments.
- Not everyone can use a mouse or trackpad for various reasons. Enabling keyboard navigation allows your content to be accessed regardless of ability or peripheral.
What are the Web Accessibility Standards?
WCAG 2.0 – WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and it acts as a set of rules and techniques to follow when developing a website. The WCAG 1.0 was released in 1999 and, as you can imagine, was inclusive but limited to our understanding of the internet at its release. WCAG 2.0 was released in 2008 by W3C and is still followed today. It provides 12 techniques under four principles for accessible web design:
- Perceivability. Your website needs to be designed in a way that its information and interface can be perceived by any user. For example, utilizing alternative text components with non-textual content (i.e. images) to help visually impaired people perceive the content.
- Operability. Your website’s user interface needs to be navigable by any user. Implementing keyboard functionality for navigation helps those who struggle to use a mouse get around your website.
- Understandability. The information your website provides needs to be readable. Allowing for text enlargement in your HTML and CSS code and proper content organization (i.e. headers and paragraph text) improves how well a user can understand your content, especially for visually impaired and older users.
- Robustness. Your content should be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of users and assistive technologies. Future-proof your website by maintaining compatibility with tech that helps users consume the content.
WCAG 2.0 AA – Conformance to WCAG guidelines is rated with three levels: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the minimum level, barely meeting the principle guidelines and Level AAA is the highest level. In many countries, Level AA is the minimum requirement for approval. Designers and businesses aim for Level AA, whether it’s required in their country or not because it meets the guidelines comfortably while allowing for unique design and distribution of content.
WCAG 2.1 – An amendment to the WCAG was established ten years later, in 2018. It targets improvements to web accessibility for users with cognitive disabilities, visual impairments, and users who struggle with using mobile devices. As smartphones and tablets rise in popularity, optimizing your website for speed and compatibility on these devices in addition to desktops is becoming standard practice.
WCAG 2.1 AA – Similar to the previous compliance levels, the aim for web designers and businesses is generally a double-A rating. The difference between Level AA on 2.0 and 2.1 is more focused on mobile website versions and proven design implementations such as color contrast and web forms.
508 Compliance Testing – Compliance testing for section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 aims at ensuring accessibility to information and communication technology (ICT) to people with disabilities. Section 508 targets governmental departments and organizations that receive federal funding, including educational institutions. This is one reason you’ll find that university or government websites make the list of best example websites for upholding accessibility standards.
Even though this compliance testing targets specific organizations, it should still become part of a designer’s standard workflow. It’s important to remember that people with disabilities want to access web information, not be provided their own version of it.
Legislation Regarding Accessibility on the Web
Many countries around the world are addressing web accessibility through legislation because of the exponential increase in internet usage and reliance. Some countries create new legislation that adopts WCAG guidelines, while others rely on existing legislation to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
In the US, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is an amendment that ensures access to ICT for people with disabilities. Further, Section 504 of that same act prohibits discrimination based on disability. There’s comfort in knowing that the government is taking steps to protect these rights and warrant a level of equality.
Complying to Accessibility Standards
Integrating accessibility into a designer’s workflow is more than just a goal, it’s enforced by law to avoid discrimination. However, reaching Level AA according to WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 can be confusing. It may be difficult to understand which laws affect your organization and what the repercussions are if you don’t comply.
Fortunately, there are several WCAG checklists and auditing services that provide a detailed overview of your website’s compliance ranking. It’s good practice to request audits with every change you make to your website. In the beginning, it seems like a daunting task but as you understand what makes your site compliant, you learn to implement those features naturally.
GDPR Compliance and Web Accessibility Integration
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the EU’s answer for blanket data privacy laws that cover all EU citizens. The initiative to protect user data, personal information, and privacy extends to web accessibility for EU citizens due to the strict level of awareness necessary for all users of your website, no matter what their demographic is.
There is no set GDPR checklist, so the use of auditing services is almost required to make sure your website meets their requirements (otherwise you’ll be faced with hefty fines).
Ways to Make Your Website Accessible
The WCAG provides simple techniques for any web designer to follow, regardless of experience. Methods like:
- Providing alternative text for non-textual content: Image captions and captions for pre-recorded and live video
- Ordering content properly: Proper header tagging, hierarchy, and labels
- Using color for readability: High contrast between text and background, no sole reliability on color
- Allowing keyboard navigation: Accessible without a mouse or trackpad, no keyboard entrapment
- Displaying errors: Errors on user input fields, suggest fixes for errors, reduce risk of input errors
These are just a few examples of WCAG compliance. As you can see, all the suggestions so far are good design practice, anyway. Though the checklist can contain more complicated guidelines (e.g. providing sign language alternatives for pre-recorded video), they usually reside in Level AAA compliance.
WordPress and third-party websites provide a plethora of useful accessibility plugins. You can integrate them into your website for use when creating pages or writing blog posts.
Auditing services are great tools that scan your website and look for any coding, readability, and navigation issues that can affect the accessibility of your website.
About Omnis Web Accessibility Service
Usually, the best solution is to use an auditor because of the level of detail these services look for in your code and compare it to a detailed checklist. Omnis is one of the best auditing services that follow global legislation and WCAG compliance. You can choose which level of compliance you’re aiming for (A, AA, or AAA) without sacrificing your design or creativity.
As stated, there are many plugins available. The downside to using plugins is they weigh your website down and rarely provide personalized recommendations for your content. Besides, you won’t be able to find one plugin to meet all of your accessibility concerns.
Using Omnis Web Accessibility services is a proactive approach to meeting WCAG guidelines, aligning to the Section 508 Amendment or GDPR compliance, and reaching your preferred level with ease-of-use and without sacrificing brand identity.