Why Web Accessibility Matters and How You Can Become Compliant in this Digital Age

Since the beginning of the digital age, circa the mid-20th century, society has slowly begun to harness the power of information technology. When computers became more portable and cheaper to manufacture, this meant that more people could access them. Mobile phones and device miniaturisation are continuing to make web accessibility more possible today.

Current statistics show that about 15% of the world's population is considered to be living with some sort of disability. While this is a significant proportion of the human race, it’s quite apparent that most technology is designed with the 85% in mind. 

Not only that, the web should be fully functional for every single person trying to access it, regardless of their software, hardware or location. Meeting this goal ensures accessibility isn’t exclusive to the majority.

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to the design and development of websites that are accessible to people living with disabilities. While there are various types of disabilities, there are some that make it difficult for some to access certain types of web content. 

Such individuals at times have to use assistive technologies to access it. Examples of these include screen readers, text-to-speech, screen enlargement, voice recognition and word prediction technologies. However, these technologies only work if the principles have been applied by the website creators.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are some web accessibility guidelines provided by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The current version of these guidelines is WCAG 2.1, although the newer versions 2.2 and 3 are still under draft.

Why web accessibility is important

People living with disability face a variety of disadvantages in their day-to-day living; one of these is web accessibility. When some individuals aren’t able to fully access the web, particularly due to its design, they are considered a part of the digitally excluded.

Disability inclusion aims to address the barriers posed by information and communication technology as this infringes on some of their basic rights. A person living with disability has a right to access any web service just as much as an able bodied individual.

Improving accessibility for your website helps to address any discrimination that it can potentially pose on people living with disability. Web accessibility means “that people with disabilities can equally perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites and tools.”

The four principles: POUR

There are four principles that should be the baseline for the design or development of a website to ensure accessibility. They can also be applied to any other information technology as well. A website should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust:

  • Perceivable: When it comes to perceivability, this means that the content and user interface elements can be identified using human senses. Generally, vision is the primary one, since websites are usually meant to be read. Secondary senses include sound and touch.

A website or app should be built in a way that ensures that there is alternative access through other senses that may be diminished or missing. This is why there are video captions for those who are partially or completely deaf, for example.

  • Operable: A website’s user interface components (e.g buttons and controls) and any of its interactive parts should be accessible through multiple input tools. The site or app should not have interactions that the user is unable to perform.

The website should also allow for errors, making sure that the user has ample time to fix them. One example of operability is that a website should cater for those who might use only a keyboard, for example, and cannot use a mouse. 

  • Understandable: This refers to a website having consistency in formatting and having predictable patterns. Users should also be able to understand and remember how to navigate the website or app.

In addition, it should provide feedback to users, helping them with any errors. In fact, any potential errors a user may experience should be mitigated against through contextual help. 

  • Robust: For this principle, a website needs to be able to be interpreted well by multiple platforms, devices and other technologies, taking into consideration the functional limits of each of these. Users should have choice with regards to the technology they desire to use to interact with a website or app. Also, the coding needs to be clean to prevent errors.

How to become AAA compliant

There are currently three levels for web accessibility guidelines, according to the WCAG. These are levels A (basic), AA (intermediate) and AAA (optimal). The majority of organisations aim to achieve AA status. Compliance level AAA encompasses the standards of all three levels.

  • Level A aims to meet 25 criteria and is relatively easy to meet. However, these websites are usually difficult for people living with disabilities to use. In general, requirements include the ability to navigate using only a keyboard and having alternative text for content. 
  • Level AA has 38 criteria that the majority of people with or without disabilities have the ability to use. It includes criteria such as having a colour contrast of at least 4.5:1. In addition, alternative text should have meaning.

To become Level AAA compliant, you have to meet all 61 success criteria as provided by the WCAG. To help you, the WCAG provides a checklist

AAA sites are mainly aimed at maximising users and the criteria is very strict. This compliance level is aimed at enabling access to individuals with audiovisual impairments.

Some of the AAA criteria include having a colour contrast level of at least 7:1. In addition, there should be sign language interpretation of media content. Having a variety of accessibility tools is commonplace on AAA sites.

If you are considering a level of compliance you would like to meet, first try and figure out who your target users are. For example, if your website or app is meant for elderly users or those living with disability, then AAA compliance is the way to go.

So, choose a compliance level that suits the needs of both you and your audience. Start taking steps to understand what changes you need to make to your website using the chosen compliance level and watch your audience grow, while better serving your current users.

Author: Brandon Busuttil, MD, Digital Grind

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