Web accessibility (also known as “accessibility,” Section 508 compliance, or WCAG 2) means that people with disabilities can use the Web. Accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
A key principle of accessibility is designing websites that are flexible to meet different user needs and situations. This flexibility not only benefits those with disabilities, but it also benefits people without disabilities, such as those using a slow internet connection, those with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm, and those with changing abilities due to aging.
What makes a site accessible?
It’s important to understand that web accessibility is an ongoing process.
Web accessibility is not something that’s ever “finished,” and it’s something you’ll want to strive to improve upon on a continuous basis. A site is never truly accessible to everyone, and that’s OK as long as a proper effort is made to make it as accessible as possible.
There are many standards for web accessibility, but the most common benchmark for evaluating websites is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG is based around four principles of accessibility. Any web page or document that isn’t using accessibility practices to eliminate barriers for the four principles is considered inaccessible to people with short- or long-term disabilities.
The four principles are:
- Perceivable: The content of the page must be detectable to everyone, no matter what their disability is. For example the content cannot be difficult to read for people who can’t see small print.
- Operable: All users must be able to interact with the components of the page. A website shouldn’t provide buttons that can only be clicked by using a mouse, especially since some people with disabilities can’t use a mouse. Instead, users should be able to interact with each page using a keyboard, voice control device or some other interface.
- Understandable: All users must be able to understand the meaning of the information on a page, as well as the instructions for interacting with the page’s components. For example, critical information on the site should be presented at a common reading level, and link text should provide enough context for a user to know the outcome of following that link.
- Robust: No matter what a web page looks like or what it contains, it has to remain able to be used and understood on a wide variety of devices using a wide range of assistive technologies like screen readers.
There are 3 levels of WCAG conformance; A, AA and AAA.
- Level A conformance: This is the minimum level of conformance.
- Building a site with Level A guidelines in mind means that the broadest group of users should be able to access your website.
- However, on this level, many accessibility barriers cannot be overcome with assistive technology.
- There are 30 criteria which must be met to achieve level A standards.
- Level AA conformance: This level of conformance is more comprehensive and is typically used as the standard for WCAG conformance.
- The criteria at this level establishes a level of accessibility which should work with most assistive technology on desktop and mobile devices.
- To achieve this level of conformance, there are 20 additional criteria that must be met, on top of the level A criteria (50 total).
- Level AAA conformance: Some Level AAA criteria cannot be applied everywhere, so level AAA is generally not required.
- That being said, even meeting level AAA does not make web pages accessible to everyone.
Why does my site need to consider accessibility?
If your site is funded in any way by the U.S. federal government, it needs to conform to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
According to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all federal agencies must make all their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities, including both employees and members of the public.
In 2017, Section 508 was revised with the requirement that by January 2018, all federal agencies and contractors must, among other revisions, comply with WCAG 2.0.
Note that while Section 508 relates specifically to federal funding, many state and local governments do reference Section 508 when specifying their own requirements.
Conforming as closely as possible to WCAG helps minimize legal liability—now and in the future.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation, and websites are increasingly interpreted in legal cases as places of public accommodation.
As such, it is important to make sure your site is as accessible as possible to minimize the possibility of unintentional discrimination against those with disabilities.
While the ADA has not yet adopted a technical set of standards, WCAG is consistently identified and upheld as providing an acceptable level of accessibility. Meaning that when the U.S. Department of Justice formalizes ADA accessibility standards for the web, it’s very likely that WCAG will be the legal accessibility standard for all websites.
Making your site accessible can help your business by expanding your market.
A study from the World Health Organization reveals that over 1 billion people in the world live with some form of disability. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 200 billion dollars is spent by persons with disabilities on an annual basis.
By building your online experiences with diverse abilities in mind, you can ensure that your product, service or message reaches the largest audience possible.
Most importantly, making your website accessible is the right thing to do.
The web is an integral part of modern life, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
As mentioned above, there are over 1 billion people in the world with disabilities, not including those with temporary disabilities such as a broken arm. It’s important to ensure that everyone has equal access to information, products and services.
If accessibility is not taken seriously, equal access to content on the web for all people cannot be achieved.
How can CodeGeek help?
Web accessibility comprises a spectrum of things you could do to make your website accessible, and depending on your time and budget, you may not want to do everything all at once.
CodeGeek can help you determine the right course of action for addressing accessibility concerns on your website, and, if appropriate, we can incorporate additional steps into your project to enhance the accessibility of your site.
How CodeGeek can incorporate additional web accessible steps to your project:
- If accessibility services are added to your project, we will run a variety of tests to understand the specific enhancements that can be made to your site to make it more accessible. We will then implement a plan to address accessibility concerns throughout the process of completing your project.
- Through the design process, we will implement as many WCAG guidelines as possible into your website. We will work with you to create designs that match your vision while also being as accessible as possible.
- When the site goes into development, we will use automated and empirical testing methods to verify that your site is functioning properly and in accordance with as many WCAG guidelines as possible.
- Before launching the site, your project manager will help you understand what makes your website content accessible. We will schedule a training session to walk you through how to add content to your site and discuss what you should consider to make your content accessible.
- After launching your site, maintaining accessibility will be an ongoing process. CodeGeek is happy to offer additional services for auditing your site twice a year to help you remain confident that your site is as accessible as possible.
How to get started with web accessibility
- Every site can improve on accessibility. By completing an initial Accessibility Review with the Geeks, we can dive deeper into your site and recommend specific accessibility enhancements.
- If you’re considering building a new website or redesigning your current one, ask us to include web accessibility work as part of your project.
- If you feel up to the challenge, you can use WAVE to check the accessibility of your site one page at a time. As you load your website into WAVE, keep an eye out for how many red “Errors” are present on each page to see just how deep accessibility issues can go.
- Check out this presentation for the Fort Collins Internet Pros Meetup about some first steps to take to get web accessibility started in your organization.
- Read our blog post “How To Improve Image Alt Text: 5 Questions To Ask,” which also include a quick alt text refresher course on the whats and whys of alt texts.
Ready for your website to be as accessible as possible?
Contact the Geeks today to learn more about our web accessibility services.