Accessibility is the practice of making products, services, facilities and environments more usable for people with disabilities. Sometimes this can happen by building them that way to begin with. More often, accessibility is brought forward by removing barriers that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
Websites, web applications, and overall digital accessibility cannot be left out of the accessibility advocacy conversation. The internet is a vital daily resource for most of us for work, play, education, and social interaction, and is at times a critical option for countless individuals and groups, including people with disabilities. But many of its wide-open cyber ranges are closed off to a conservatively estimated 16% of the global population. We spend so much of our lives in the digital world, pursuing both business and pleasure. Shouldn’t it be accessible for all of us?
The formation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) arose from an urgent need to make the digital space more inclusive. They are now a set of internationally accepted standards that define how to make web content more accessible. WCAG compliance is the process of making sure that a website, web application, or other digital document meets WCAG standards.
WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a nongovernmental international community of organizations and individuals that work to develop web standards. The first version of WCAG was published in 1999, and the most recent version, WCAG 2.1, was published in 2018. WCAG 2.2 is set to be released in the near future.
The root values of the WCAG are based on the belief that:
The baseline rules that clarify how these ideals should be put into action are called the POUR principles.
WCAG compliance serves one main purpose: to make the web more usable for people with disabilities. The guidelines cover explanatory details and specific how-tos that, when followed, lead to the creation of a better digital environment. Whether users have visual impairments, hearing difficulties, cognitive limitations, motor skill challenges, or any other type of disability, WCAG compliance lists the measures that must be taken to provide equal online access for them. WCAG focuses on leveling the playing field in the digital arena, so people with a range of disabilities can access information, participate in activities, and enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the online population.
Disability can be permanent or temporary. Some people are born with genetic conditions, while some acquire a disability through illness, injury, accident, aging, surgery, or changes such as pregnancy.
Blindness, low vision, color blindness
Deafness, hearing loss, tinnitus
Limited use of limbs, paralysis, cerebral palsy
Overlapping disabilities, such as a person who is both blind and deaf
Changes for older adults in vision, hearing, memory or mobility
A broken arm or leg, a concussion, illness-related physical or mental difficulties
Noisy, dark or overly bright, crowded or busy surroundings can cause temporary difficulties with vision, hearing and comprehension
WCAG accessibility compliance is not a “good deed”, a vague future goal, or an ideal for the moral aristocracy; it's a practical necessity for all of us to implement, right here and right now.
Who does WCAG compliance impact, and what are the repercussions of letting it slide?
Barriers to full participation in the digital world can put people at a disadvantage, whether that's due to a lack of internet access, low digital literacy, inaccessible digital content for people with a disability, or other challenges. The phrase “digitally excluded” is sometimes used to describe people who do not have access to the internet or to digital technologies, or who do not know how to use them effectively. Digital exclusion can marginalize people in a number of ways. For example, it can make it difficult to find and apply for jobs, or to access essential services. When it blocks connection with friends and family, it often leads to isolation and social exclusion.
In the digital domain, users with disabilities face significant obstacles, and this is true of the majority of the internet. Many of these users plug into assistive software or devices to engage with the world: users with visual challenges often use screen readers for web navigation, and people with mobility issues can use voice commands, or other adaptive solutions.
What happens when a website or app isn’t set up for appropriate access for users with disabilities? The impact and the consequences of noncompliance are:
Everyone should be able to access and use websites, web applications, and digital documents. When they can’t, we’re leaving people out. That isn’t right.
Frustration and social isolation are just some of the consequences when people with disabilities are not able to use websites and web applications.
If they cannot access job postings, online applications, or other resources, people with disabilities may be un- or underemployed, or unable to advance. Aside from the individual loss that may result, society misses out on their talents and abilities.
An inaccessible website can deter customers and partners, tank brand reach, and increase the risk of lawsuits. Yeah, we said lawsuits.
WCAG compliance can help organizations demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion. Conversely, a lack of accessibility shows poor business sense and neglected success factors, as well as indifference to user needs. It’s a bad look.
Noncompliance with WCAG standards has led to multiple cases of successful litigation based on inaccessible websites and web applications. With expanded laws requiring compliance from businesses and organizations of all sizes and types, the exposure of not following accessibility guidelines is inadvisable, to say the least. Businesses can’t afford to ignore WCAG requirements.
Let’s briefly cover the progression of these steps. As you’ll see, they form a sort of nested pyramid, where subsequent levels build on and include the preceding ones.
Beyond the responsibility for every business owner and website manager to establish and improve digital accessibility, there are certain sectors and entities who should be taking extra steps to bring their online content up to WCAG compliance.
Public sector websites have stringent requirements. At local or national level, their digital platforms must be accessible to all citizens.
If you haven’t already figured it out from what we’ve been discussing, it is in your best interests (as well as those of your end users) to cover every angle of compliance for each aspect of your digital presence, from website to PDFs. Sounds like a lot? Here’s where to start.
With just a little bit of searching, you can easily find a vast and comprehensive selection of WCAG compliance testing tools. Although some technical skill and knowledge of accessibility requirements may be a prerequisite for making good use of a few of these tools, simpler and more specific tools do exist. And, we recommend that you:
Here are a few of the most popular add-on tools, showing up in different formats including plugins, extensions, external tools, and overlays:
WAVE Evaluation Tool: This tool provides a comprehensive evaluation of web pages for accessibility issues. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox.
Accessibility Insights for Web: Developed by Microsoft, this set of tools tests web accessibility, including automated tests for common issues such as missing alternative text, low contrast, and improper heading structure. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome and Edge.
Axe Browser Extension: This tool is developed by Deque Systems and allows for a comprehensive evaluation of web pages for accessibility issues. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari.
Accessibility Widget: This tool offers user-triggered accessibility functions, as well as AI accessibility features. It is available as an overlay for browsers including Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari and can also be plugged into popular CMS systems as well as development tools.
Read Aloud: This tool reads web pages aloud to users who are blind or have low vision. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari.
High Contrast: This tool increases the contrast of web pages, making them easier to read for users with low vision. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari.
Colorzilla: This tool helps users identify and adjust colors on web pages. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera.
Web Developer: This tool provides a set of tools for web development, including accessibility testing tools. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox.
NoScript: This tool helps users control which scripts are allowed to run on web pages. This can be helpful for users who are concerned about accessibility or security. It is available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge.
Whatever the current state of your web accessibility, it’s unlikely to be 100% perfect, even if you’ve already spent some time improving things. Run through this quick list of best practices to improve your website or web application’s accessibility. While not detailed or personalized to your particular accessibility issues, it’s an excellent place to begin examining what you have.
Add alt text to images
Alternative text should clearly describe an image, so that people who are blind or have low vision can understand what the image is meant to convey.
Use descriptive links
Link text should be clearly descriptive so people understand where the link will take them before they click on it.
Structure text logically
Use headings and subheadings to logically structure your content. This make it simpler and quicker for people to navigate your site or application.
Use keyboard navigation
Make sure that your website or web application can be navigated properly using a keyboard, so that it’s accessible for people who aren’t using a mouse or other pointing device.
Use high-contrast colors
When choosing colors for text and backgrounds, use colors that are high contrast against each other, so people with low vision can read your content.
Test often & thoroughly
Even if you’ve designed everything with accessibility in mind, and regardless of whether you’ve tested for accessibility issues in the past and come up clean, websites are not static. Just as you constantly update text, images and functionality, you need to monitor, scan, and test for accessibility often.
There’s more in it for everyone when accessibility is done right.
The digital universe can reach out to connect, inform, and serve nearly everyone on the planet. However, it only reaches its enormous potential when it is accessible to all. WCAG compliance is the key to achieving this goal.
WCAG compliance is not merely technical. True adherence to WCAG principles goes deeper than following a set of rules. It is a way of thinking and acting that expands to include everyone, regardless of their abilities, in equal access to the vast information and services the worldwide web offers.
Together, we can create a more inclusive, effective, and harmonious digital landscape. Organizations that embrace these standards are not merely complying; they are championing a future where the web truly belongs to everyone.
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It's a set of guidelines curated by the W3C to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities.
WCAG helps build a digital landscape that is welcoming to all users, irrespective of their abilities. It promotes inclusivity, improves user experience, and helps avoid potential legal issues.
WCAG compliance is a set of technical standards that define how to make web content more accessible. ADA compliance is a US-based legal requirement that mandates that businesses and organizations make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities.
While WCAG compliance is not specifically encoded into law, the WCAG is used as a point of reference in court during legal cases and in government discussions. It is the best way to make sure that your website, web application or other digital content is ADA compliant.
There are three levels of WCAG compliance: A, AA, and AAA, representing three increasing levels of accessibility.
WCAG Level A, the most basic level, requires that websites and web applications address minimum accessibility requirements.
WCAG Level AA is the recommended level of compliance for most websites and web applications. It meets the accessibility requirements of users with a wide range of disabilities.
WCAG Level AAA is the highest level of compliance. It fulfills the accessibility needs of the widest spectrum of users with disabilities, including those with the most severe disabilities.
People with disabilities are the most affected when websites are not WCAG compliant. This includes individuals with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments, among others.
Yes, organizations can face legal consequences if their websites are not accessible, especially if they serve the public or fall under specific regulatory jurisdictions.
Yes, it does. WCAG-compliant websites tend to be more user-friendly and intuitive, benefiting all users, regardless of their abilities.
All organizations that own or operate websites or web applications should take steps to implement WCAG-based accessibility. However, some organizations have a greater responsibility to establish full WCAG compliance, such as government agencies, educational institutions, and e-commerce websites.
Here are a few tips:
There are many other things that you can do to improve the web accessibility of your website or web application. For more information, please visit the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative website.
Here are a few suggestions you can use as a starting point:
You can also find many other articles, blog posts, and tutorials on WCAG compliance online.
There are various online tools and services that test website accessibility. These tools can provide insights and areas of improvement for WCAG compliance.
No. As websites update and evolve, regular checks and modifications are needed to maintain or achieve WCAG compliance.