Does your Website Meet Accessibility Standards?

In the United States, twenty percent of adults have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disabilities that may impede a person’s ability to use a website include:

  • Deafness and loss of auditory capacity
  • Limited visual acuity and blindness
  • Cognitive medical conditions
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech disabilities
  • Movement-based limitations
  • Photosensitivity
  • Other types of disabilities which impede content consumption.

The World Wide Web consortium (W3C) defines accessibility as the practice of insuring that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites and tools, and that they can contribute equally without barriers.

In spite of the emphasis given to accessibility issues in every web standard, actual implementation of accessibility best practices is still sub-par in many websites and web applications. In this blog post, I’ll discuss some of these best practices, explore the current state of accessibility tools, and give you a few pointers on things that you can do today to improve the accessibility of your website or applications.

Need more help? Click to learn Web Accessibility best practices from a live instructor. 

What’s the Law?

To guide the implementation of accessibility features, the W3C created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

WCAG has steadily been gaining ground as a legal standard, and it’s currently required or referenced by many governments. In the U.S., Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires federal agencies and contractors to comply with WCAG 2.0, which became a standard in 2008.

WCAG 2.1 was published in June of 2018, and it’s unknown when the federal government will update Section 508 to reflect the new standard. However, compliance with the latest standard will insure that your site is up to date with the latest recommendations while also complying with the current law.

How Does WCAG Work?

WCAG has a dozen guidelines, organized under 4 principles:

  • Perceivable: Can the user perceive the content? Keep in mind that the definition of “perceiving” depends on the user. For example, what’s perceivable through sight needs to also be perceivable to people using the site with a screen reader.
  • Operable: Can the users navigate and use the content? Enabling keyboard commands, for example, makes website user interfaces accessible to users who can’t make use of a mouse or visual interface.
  • Understandable: Can users understand the content? This guideline covers such things as whether the language of the page is programatically defined, whether the user interface is consistent, and whether the site contains help features and useful error messages.
  • Robust: A robust site is one that conforms to HTML standards and can be used on a wide variety of assistive devices.

Each guideline includes a set of testable success criteria with three levels of “success”: A, AA, and AAA.

Each level of success represents a higher level of accessibility. But at the same time, higher levels of success generally require more effort and place greater restrictions on how your site is designed or presented visually. In some cases, level AAA places such large restrictions on the design of a site that even the W3C recognizes that it’s often not achievable.

You can view all of the guidelines and the success criteria on the W3C’s How to Meet WCAG 2 Quick Reference ( Success criteria range from providing text alternatives for all non-text content (Guideline 1.1.1, level A) to providing context-sensitive help links on every page (Guideline 3.3.5, level AAA).

How to Become 508 Compliant

Every website should be accessible, not just those that are required by law to be. However, the current state of affairs is that we’re still a long way from achieving even a basic level of accessibility on the majority of web sites. Compliance with level A is meant to be achievable by any website, but it does require some effort.

There are 25 success criteria that your site must meet to earn WCAG 2.0 level A. The following are the ones that a website is most likely to be in violation of, in my experience:

  • Provide a text-based alternative for video and audio content.
  • All functionality of the content is accessible using the keyboard. Achieve this goal by making sure that it’s possible to tab through navigation and forms.
  • Provide link text that describes the purpose of the link.
  • The name, role, and value for input components should be programmatically determinable.

What If You’re Not Working for the Government?

Web Accessibility Classes

While Section 508 applies to federal government agencies and contractors in the U.S., you should also aim for becoming WCAG 2.0 (or 2.1) compliant as soon as possible. Besides being a good idea for making your website usable for up to 20% of your potential users, it’s also a very good idea for search engine optimization (SEO). Many, or even most, of the same best practices that make your website more accessible for people also make it more accessible for search engines, which will result in higher search engine positions. Plus, user experience and accessibility are factors that Google takes into account when determining the quality of your site. Higher quality sites get higher rankings.

The list of reasons for making sure your web content is accessible is long, and the benefits of working towards WCAG compliance far outweigh the costs. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help train your staff to implement best practices in the most effective and efficient way. Click to view our Web Accessibility class.

Blog Post Author: Chris Minnick

Chris Minnick is an author, instructor, and CEO of WatzThis, Inc. For more than 20 years, he has helped clients with the management and development of hundreds of web and mobile projects. In addition, Chris has authored and co-authored more than a dozen books including Coding with JavaScript for Dummies and Beginning HTML5 and CSS3 for Dummies. He has also developed video courses for Pluralsight, O’Reilly Video, Ed2Go, and Skillshare on topics such as mobile development and React.

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