With an estimated 48.9 million people in the US living with a disability, it’s crucial for companies to prioritize website accessibility.
First and foremost, it’s important from a values perspective—making the web accessible to the widest range of people is simply the right thing to do. It may also be important from a legal perspective. The Web Accessibility Initiative has established guidelines intended to afford everyone equal access to online content. Companies that fail to comply with their standards risk being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This article presents an overview of what this all means and what you should consider to make your site more accessible to all users.
This is part 1 of a 4-part series on web accessibility. Check out our other articles in the series:
Where do accessibility standards come from?
How can we ensure that the web is accessible to as many people as possible? The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has established a series of testable criteria referred to as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The guidelines outline content, design and coding parameters that set the international accessibility standard.
The “POUR” Principles of Accessibility
The four main guiding principles of accessibility in WCAG 2.0 are:
(note: descriptions in this list are taken straight from w3.org, and links point to a wealth of additional information on each of the POUR principles via webaim.org)
- Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses)
- Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)
- Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
- Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)
If any of the above principles are not true, users with disabilities may not be able to use your website.
Understanding the levels of accessibility
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines fall into three levels of conformance:
- “A” covers the basics and is the easiest to meet. It makes a website easier to navigate with assistive technology, and takes into account color contrast, text sizing, and other elements that form the foundation of an accessible site.
- “AA” addresses a wider range of accessibility challenges. This level should be the goal for most sites focused on accessibility compliance to satisfy the rules of an institution or a legal requirement. It is most often the level of accessibility that needs to be met when referenced by the W3C or in legal matters.
- “AAA” is the highest level of conformance and requires complex updates. Websites rarely reach, nor maintain, this level in all aspects of content, design, and development.
Circumstances to consider
Most disabilities fall into one (or more) of these categories: visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive. It is also important to note that each type of disability can be permanent, situational, or even temporary. For instance, as exemplified in the graphic below, a temporary disability could be a broken arm. A situational disability could describe a parent who is holding their child while performing other tasks. A permanent disability might be an amputee with one arm. In each of these situations, the user experience might be very similar, therefore designing for the permanent disability could make for a much improved user experience across a wide range of users.
Major elements: Font sizing, colors, images
Tools: Screen readers, alt text describing elements on the page, ensuring a certain level of color contrast of text over background elements
Major elements: Music, Video
Tools: Closed captioning, identifying media is present, giving the user controls over autoplay and pausing media
Major Elements: Limited to no use of keyboard
Tools: Ability to navigate a page via tab key
Major Elements: Website structure, clarity of ideas
Tools: Structure using HTML5, accessible language, clear hierarchy of headers and subsequent information
Why it matters to us
At Mangrove, we believe web accessibility is a human rights issue, and we are committed to designing and developing sites for the biggest audience possible. The majority of that work is done by our designers and developers behind the scenes, but we also keep accessibility in the forefront of conversations with our clients.
At Mangrove, we always recommend the most accessible options for your website. If you’d like to assess the accessibility of your existing site, we can help there too. Our team offers accessibility audits with remediation suggestions to make your site more usable for every visitor. When you’re ready to talk through the options, get in touch.
Want to learn more? Stay tuned for our blog series covering accessible content, design and development in more depth.
If you’re considering a site refresh or rebuild, also check out our Website Rebuild Checklist. This internal questionnaire will help your organization decide if the time is right.
With special thanks to Mike Gifford from fellow Certified B Corp, Open Concept, and Jeanne Nauheimer, Dissemination Coordinator for the Center on Disability and Communication Inclusion at the University of Vermont for their advice and insight.