Web accessibility is a critical concept that ensures every user can access and utilize web content, design, and tools no matter what their abilities are. Allow us to offer an insightful introduction to the fundamentals of web accessibility!
We all have been there: the aggravation when a website loads slowly, squinting at an illegible font on the screen or feeling helplessly lost while navigating a page not optimized for mobile use. These problems may just be minor annoyances to most of us but can prove disastrous for people with disabilities and prevent them from using the internet altogether.
Web accessibility is using technologies and tools to ensure that people with disabilities can access website content. It can be intimidating for those new to this concept, but it plays a fundamental role in user experience. Instead of attempting to fit accessibility in after development or design has been finalized, build it into the process from the start! That way you know your site will accommodate all users no matter their capability level.
Why Is Web Accessibility Important?
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2011 report on disabilities demonstrated that 15% of the global population lives with some form of disability, including physical and cognitive challenges. With an aging population as well as further growth in chronic health issues, this percentage is likely to increase significantly.
Everyone, no matter their age or ability, should have the same opportunity to access and benefit from digital technologies. Fortunately, there are tools available that can help reduce or remove potential barriers for those with disabilities. By providing these resources we can ensure everyone has an equal chance to use the internet and achieve a great web experience!
Building an accessibility-friendly internet not only increases inclusivity but also has immense business benefits. Design and development are integral parts of creating a website that encompasses aspects like mobile friendliness, device independency, multi-modal interaction, functionality, SEO optimization, and more – all of which have to be taken into account when considering a good accessibility strategy.
If you design an accessible website, not only are you demonstrating significant corporate social responsibility (CSR) but also benefitting your business in various ways. Your search engine ranking will increase, maintenance costs reduce, and reach a wider audience than before. Plus all users – regardless of their abilities – can have a seamless and enjoyable experience on the site!
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide a universal set of standards for web content accessibility, is intended to make online experiences accessible and enjoyable for everyone—regardless of disabilities.
That includes all websites, devices, and content. When referring to WCAG-governed web content specifically, it encompasses any information found on a website or application page; think videos, images, text displays…you name it!
WCAG has two versions: WCAG 2.0, published in 2008 and adopted as an ISO standard four years later; and the most recent one – WCAG 2.1 released in 2018 which is backward-compatible with its predecessor incorporating all of its success criteria but extends it with extra ones for even better access to everyone regardless of their capabilities.
Adopted by many laws worldwide, the WCAG is the fundamental structure for accessibility. Legislation such as Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) have incorporated WCAG at a level AA as their least mandatory consistency criteria.
In certain countries, indirect references to WCAG are made too; European Standard EN 301 549 which was devised in respect of the EU Web Accessibility Directive does not explicitly mention its adoption but includes all those requisites from guidelines specified by it.
WCAG’s accomplishments are classified into three separate tiers of compliance: Level A, AA, and AAA.
- Level A is the minimum level of accessibility that must be fulfilled to create an accessible website. Every feature must comply with this level or else your website will not be usable by all users. Don’t let your website fall short – meet Level A requirements and ensure everyone can access it!
- Level AA is the accessibility standard most websites strive to meet, as it eradicates many of the most common obstacles that hinder people with disabilities. With this level of conformance, you can be certain that your site removes substantial barriers and provides an equitable experience for all users.
- Level AAA is the highest level of accessibility under WCAG and can be more difficult to achieve for many websites. Although attaining this achievement is desirable, it isn’t necessary in all cases.
The Four Rules of Accessibility
POUR is a cornerstone of web content production and achieving accessibility for all who use the internet. This acronym stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust; these four principles are integral to an accessible website experience.
- Perceivable – Accessibility to any website depends on its perceivability, which means that all elements of the interface must be consciously visible. Most users depend on visuals for this purpose, but sound and touch are also necessary components for those who may not have full visual capacities. By making sure nothing is left undetected or unseen, we can provide everyone with a user-friendly experience online.
- Operable – Interface elements such as navigation, buttons, and more should be able to be utilized by users. It is essential that they can identify these components before clicking, tapping, swiping, or rolling them. Furthermore, those who are unable to carry out the above actions must also have access; this could involve using voice commands or assistive devices like head wands and eye trackers.
- Understandable – Technology should be straightforward and reliable in its visual appeal, functionality, and design. End users must understand the data displayed on their content easily while having no difficulty navigating through the user interface. Consistent patterns of usage ensure a seamless experience for all users.
- Robust – Content must be endowed with robustness to ensure that it can operate properly and dependably regardless of the technology used, including assistive devices.
If any of these four principles are not present, it will make the web almost impossible to access for users with disabilities.
The Components of Web Accessibility
Web accessibility is a complex and far-reaching concept, touching all elements of your website. By interconnecting the various components and creating an accessible site that can be used by individuals with disabilities, you will ensure those visitors have access to everything they need on your page.
The following elements are essential for success:
Content forms the foundation of any web page or application, comprising all information displayed to a user such as sound, images, text, and code that dictates presentation.
Writing applications are helpful software that produces webpages like code editors, content management systems, blogs, and more. With these programs authoring beautiful websites is easier than ever!
Acting as a representative for all users, user agents are the web browsers, mobile phone browsers, media players, plug-ins, and assistive technologies that navigate through websites.
Leverage the powerful tools available to evaluate your accessibility protocols and monitor the progress of your remediation goals.
In conclusion, web accessibility refers to the design and development of websites, web applications, and other online content in a way that makes them usable for people with disabilities. This includes individuals who have visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments, among others.
Adhering to web accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), is crucial to ensure that all users, regardless of ability, can access and use the web. If you’re willing to commit some time and energy to understand the common accessibility issues and their solutions, web accessibility isn’t a hard-to-solve problem.
A valuable tip is never to wait until the end of a website design project for your team’s attention on this issue; Instead, incorporate it right from its planning stage throughout all projects related to it.
This helps to promote digital inclusion, bridge the digital divide, and foster a more inclusive and diverse online community. It is the responsibility of designers, developers, and content creators to prioritize accessibility in their work to ensure that the web is accessible to everyone.