What are web accessibility standards?

  • 24.05.2021
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Accessibility focuses on how a disabled person benefits from using a website, system, or (mobile) application. Meeting web accessibility standards is essential. It should be part of designing your website and considered throughout the development process. Section 508 is the governing principle for web accessibility, and it requires that all government information on websites is accessible to people with disabilities.

How do you ensure accessibility?

To remove all digital barriers on your website or app, you provide a seamless user experience for people with disabilities.

Accessible sites present information through multiple sensory channels. Sound, sight, and sometimes even touch are best integrated. The website should allow for additional means of site navigation and interactivity beyond the typical interface of point-and-click. Some users may have assistive technologies to help them operate gadgets, using keyboard-based control and voice-based navigation. Combining a multisensory and multi-interactivity approach allows disabled users to access the same information and products and services as non-disabled users.

This is the main point of adjusting the user interface enough to meet web accessibility. People with disabilities should have a seamless and stress-free experience on your website, similar to someone without disabilities.

Why is web accessibility important?

Web accessibility is undoubtedly important. By making your website accessible, you ensure that all of your potential users have a decent user experience and can easily access your information and content – disabled or not. By implementing the best accessibility practices, you are improving the usability of your website. Usability often translates to more visits and sales, so it is a win-win situation for you.

Furthermore, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) stated that web accessibility overlaps with other best practices, such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, etc., search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, increased audience reach, among other notable benefits that any business owner would be interested in!

The essential components of web accessibility depend on several components of web development and interaction working together. Aside from the development and coding stage, web content is also part of the equation.

Generally, web content refers to the information on a webpage or app, including:

  • natural information such as text, images, sounds, videos
  • code or markup that defines the structure, presentation, etc.

Given all of these components, you may be wondering how exactly web accessibility is met? What steps can developers and should take to integrate all these technical details into an accessible site?

What are the universally accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

This is where WCAG comes in. WCAG applies to the dynamic content of a site, the multimedia, and even the non-web information and communications technologies (ICT) which are further described in WCAG21CT.

The W3C is composed of expert stakeholders all over the world. They have developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in the late 1990s to set a universal reference for web accessibility standards.

Initially, they released WCAG version 1.0. This was replaced by version 2.0. Their last release is version 2.1, which is supplementary to WCAG 2.0. W3C recommends that Web accessibility policies reference WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 if possible.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 cover a wide range of recommendations to make web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness, low vision, deafness, hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement and dexterity, speech impairments, photosensitivity, and even combinations of these.

The target audience is not just people with disabilities. Still, it can include people who are using gadgets with smaller screens, those who have little technological understanding, slow internet connections, among other limitations. Following WCAG will even make your web content more usable to your website visitors in general.

Within WCAG, there are success criteria written as testable statements. W3C provides further information to satisfy these success criteria in specific technologies and general information about interpreting the success criteria.

What are the WCAG 2.0 Layers of Guidance?

Individuals, organizations, and other entities that use WCAG vary widely. Creating websites includes web designers and developers, policymakers, purchasing agents, and the staff. Meanwhile, they service a wide range of people – customers, parents, students, professionals, etc. To meet the varying needs of this audience, several layers of guidance are provided under WCAG.

These layers include overall principles, general guidelines, testable success criteria, and a rich collection of (sufficient and advisory) techniques with an example, resource links, and codes.

Principles

At the top of WCAG are their four overarching principles. They are best known for these because they provide the universal foundation for web accessibility: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Meeting WCAG standards means these four principles are met during the user experience on a certain website.

Guidelines

Under the four principles are twelve guidelines. These provide the basic goals that authors should work toward to make web content more accessible to users with different disabilities.

WCAG guidelines cover assistive technology, user agents, alt text for people with learning disabilities, and more.

The guidelines are testable, but they provide the framework and overall objectives to help authors understand the success criteria and better implement digital techniques to meet these criteria – one of the best practices in the world towards web accessibility.

Success Criteria

For each guideline, WCAG has outline testable success criteria to allow WCAG 2.0 to be used where requirements and conformance testing are necessary. These include design specification, purchasing, regulation, and contractual agreements. To meet the needs of different groups, three levels of conformance are defined: A (lowest), AA (moderate), and AAA (highest). Generally, you should aim for at least level AA.

Sufficient and Advisory Techniques

Lastly, for each of the guidelines and success criteria within WCAG 2.0, the working group of W3C has documented a wide variety of techniques. The techniques are informative and fall into two categories: sufficient (for meeting the success criteria) and advisory (going beyond what is required by the individual success criteria, allowing authors to address the guidelines better).

Some advisory techniques will address accessibility barriers that are not covered by the testable success criteria. This allows authors to make their website further accessible.

W3C has been working very hard throughout the years to finetune these layers of guidance under WCAG. These layers work together to make content more accessible. Authors are encouraged to apply all guidelines that they are willing and able to do to best address the needs of the widest possible range of users and even include people with disabilities.

What are some best practices to make a website accessible to people with disabilities?

Off the bat, here are some best practices for accessible content. When creating digital content in any form of multimedia, the following should be considered:

  • Non-reliance on color as a navigational tool or as the sole way to differentiate and identify items
  • Provision of alternative text (“alt text”) in the markup for images
  • Accessible functions through a mouse, keyboard, voice-control systems, among other assistive technology for users with dexterity limitations and learning disabilities
  • Transcripts for podcasts, audio, and videos
  • Provision of visual access to videos through in-sync captioning
  • Section 508 testing to ensure web accessibility compliance is met

Section 508 requires federal agencies in the United States to develop, procure, maintain, and use the information and communications technology accessible to people with disabilities. This also ensures removing barriers and unfair practices that may be discriminatory towards people with disabilities in society.

Overall, compliance to web accessibility standards should be met not just for the sole purpose of being compliant with federal and civil regulations. Inclusivity for people with disabilities, among other groups of people with limitations, is a step in good faith for any company, organization, and government office! WCAG regulations are free of use for anyone’s reference, and it is highly recommended to abide by these standards and stay posted for further improvements.

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