We’ve already been living a substantial portion of our life online, but with consumer behavior going digital at an accelerated rate today, the question of web accessibility is more important than ever.
Decades ago, wheelchair ramps, braille on signs and flashing lights on fire alarms all became standard thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. But today, the new frontier for equal access is the web. Websites have become one of the most important resources in our daily lives, yet many people still live without full access. In the U.S. alone, 10.5% of adults live with a vision or hearing impairment. That doesn’t include people who have mobility or cognitive impairments that can also make most websites difficult to use.
Fortunately, there are reasonable accommodations websites can make to ensure they’re usable, even for people who see, hear, process or navigate the web differently.
Why Accessibility Isn’t So Obvious — But Is So Important
Most people may not be able to tell whether a website is “accessible” at a glance. Web accessibility looks different to different people, and to some, it might even be invisible. It can be hard to spot because while a website could read fine to one person, it may be incompatible with screen readers. Or a seemingly harmless combination of font and background colors could make text unreadable for someone with colorblindness.
However, having an ADA-compliant website isn’t just about preventing a potential lawsuit — it makes sites easier to use, more intuitive and more useful for everyone. Chances are, you’ve turned on captions when you can’t turn the volume up or used voice-to-text to send a message with your hands full. These are a couple of accessible features that those with and without disabilities take advantage of every day.
Web accessibility benefits everyone — your business included — by ensuring every individual in your audience can reach information about you, your service or product. Businesses may even increase their usability and SEO rankings by having an accessible site, without boxing up your branding or your messaging.
So if web accessibility isn’t always obvious to the majority, how do you check to make sure your site is accessible to people who experience it differently?
The Four Pillars of Web Accessibility Compliance
The most current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are published by members of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), a part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is an international community dedicated to improving the web, and the guidelines in WCAG 2.0 have hundreds of knowledgeable researchers and contributors behind them.
To help organize the basic ideas of web accessibility, WCAG 2.0 is based on four pillars of compliance: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).
- Perceivable. A site’s content and user interface elements must be adequately identified by the senses, such as sight, sound or touch.
- Operable. Its interface elements and other interactive features must be accessible in several ways, such as the mouse or trackpad, voice control, eye tracking, and more.
- Understandable. Consistent presentation, an appropriate literacy level, predictable design and logical formats all need to be considered so the website avoids confusion and ambiguity.
- Robust. Websites must be compliant and up-to-date with different technologies and operating systems to be accessible for everyone, including assistive technologies.
In each of these categories, there are also three levels of compliance a site can achieve:
- Level A is a minimum standard for accessibility and doesn’t address a wide range of needs.
- Level AA is what many web-compliance experts agree most sites should aim for.
- Level AAA, the highest level, is most appropriate for highly visible and necessary sites like those of banks and government agencies.
What’s the level of compliance your site needs to meet? One answer is to say that it depends on your industry or what level of protection you want against potential lawsuits. But that isn’t the full picture. Only certain industries are held to Level AAA, but that doesn’t mean aiming for the highest standard for accessibility isn’t appropriate for everyone. Remember, the point isn’t just compliance — it’s access. The goal is to include people who might otherwise be kept out of your website, by designing it with them in mind.
Web Accessibility Compliance Checklist
Where would you guess that your website falls in the levels of web compliance? This quick checklist of some Level A compliance standards can give you an idea.
- Does your audio and video content have captions or transcripts?
- Can your information be conveyed without color?
- Can your written content be read by screen readers?
- Can a keyboard alone fully navigate your site?
- Are your webpages free of anything that flashes more than three times per second?
- Are webpages descriptively titled, communicating a clear topic or purpose for each segment of content?
- Can assistive technologies determine and identify the site’s default human language (e.g., English)?
- Does the website have a clear layout with one focus at a time?
- Are clear instructions and labels provided when users need to input information?
- Does the website’s code have proper start and end tags, nesting and unique IDs (when applicable)?
If you checked off everything, you meet a portion of Level A requirements for web accessibility, and your strides make your site more accessible for all! But there’s much more work worth doing. Reaching Level AA standards (or even Level AAA, if your industry requires it) can help you not only avoid expensive lawsuits but also improve your site’s usability and reach your full audience.
And that takes a team. Accessibility is a multifaceted issue involving visual design, code, UX and writing. It’s not a job for one person. So if you don’t necessarily have that diverse range of expertise available on your team, an agency partner with experience in performing and resolving complete ADA audits can take your site accessibility and inclusivity to the next level.
For a full accessibility audit of your site, or to get more information on how we can help you build an accessible site from bottom to top, contact us!