Why Does WCAG Compliance Matter?
Right now, you are visiting this website and the majority of you are likely reading this information by just looking at the screen. That is a privilege that you have, if you are a non-disabled person browsing the internet. You don’t have to worry about how you are going to access information, because the world is already set up for you.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1.3 billion people live with a significant disability. This equals 16% of the population or 1 in every 6 people.
Think of all of the information that you have read, all of the videos you have watched, all the forms you’ve completed online. Now realize that 1 in every 6 people does not have this same access.
By being WCAG compliant, you grant web accessibility to that 16%. This matters.
What are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the digital content guidelines that are followed when web developers and designers want to increase the web accessibility of their digital content, web site(s), and even mobile apps.
These guidelines were developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is an organization that develops and maintains web standards.
There are four principles when trying to meet WCAG requirements.
Ensures information and user interface elements are presented in a way that is noticeable and understandable to all users, including those with disabilities.
Ensures a web site or application is user-friendly and can be used effectively by people with various abilities.
Ensures information is presented in a straight-forward and intuitive manner. Allowing information to be interpreted reliably and without unnecessary confusion or complexity by any user.
Means creating content that remains dependable and accessible regardless of web browser, device, or assistive technology and will remain that way over time.
Levels of Success Criterion
Success criteria are the requirements necessary for making web content accessible to people with disabilities.
- Level A (Adequate):
- Level A compliance is the basic level of accessibility compliance and addresses the most critical and fundamental accessibility issues.
- Level AA (Intermediate):
- Level AA success criteria additional compliance that improves web site usability and mobile accessibility.
- This level may be a legal requirement in your area and is often a goal for many that aren’t even required by law to abide by.
- Level AAA (Advanced):
- Level AAA compliance has the strictest accessibility regulations. Level AAA content provides the most inclusive user experience available.
WCAG 2.0 vs WCAG 2.1
Before 2.0 or 2.1, there was 1.0. The WCAG guidelines 1.0 were published in 1999. Although an obviously important milestone, these accessibility standards needed further work and refinement. Technology moves fast and the WCAG accessibility guidelines working group understands that ever evolving web technologies requires continued change to ensure operable user interface components and ways past accessibility barriers.
Almost ten years later, WCAG 2.0 guidelines were published in 2008. There are 61 success criteria present in WCAG 2.0. 2.0 addressed new and emerging technologies while also addressing the needs of a broader range of disabilities.
Approximately another ten years was taken by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) working group to develop and release the changes needed to address the advancing technologies, such as smart phones and all matter of touch interfaces.
If you are looking to become WCAG compliant, there are few steps below that we will cover. Rest assured, if you are already WCAG 2.0 compliant, WCAG 2.1 was designed to be backwards compatible. This allows your organization to work to adopt the newest standards while still remaining in compliance with the older standards.
Working Towards WCAG Compliance
There are multiple steps a content creator can take when attempting the important task of being inclusive. The importance of working towards WCAG compliance can’t be overstated. The creation of an online environment that is inclusive and equitable to all levels of ability is beneficial to all users, not just those with disabilities. If that isn’t enough of a reason,
Conduct Accessibility Audits
You can’t know where to improve if you don’t know what accessibility options you currently have available. If the answer is “none,” well at least you know any step towards completing the success criterion is a step in the right direction towards inclusion. Evaluate accessibility through user testing or automated testing tools that can help identify the areas that need the most improvement.
Implement Accessibility Features
Once the areas of inaccessibility are discovered, use web accessibility technologies to correct the issues found.
Use Semantic HTML
Semantic HTML refers to the use of adding tags or other HTML elements that actually convey the meaning and/or structure of your content. Your web page HTML structure can be improved to allow better comprehension for users or the assistive technologies they may be using.
Semantic elements help organize your content and help define the purpose of the different sections. Some semantic elements examples include headings, lists, or landmark aspects like a navigation menu or footer, to name a few.
Test with Assistive Technologies
Although all of your code may look in order, the best option is to test your website or content using various assistive technologies, such as screen readers or voice recognition software.
Assistive technology testing can highlight the real-world complications when trying to get an accessibility supported web page to interact with your device or software. Experience your content as those with disabilities would to see if they will be able to breach any barriers.
Regular Testing and Maintenance
Very rarely is digital accessibility static. Your commitment to accessibility will be ongoing. To remain accessible, you should plan on consistent testing and maintenance.
Differences in WCAG Internationally
Although Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an international standard, and although the guidelines do not change based on location, how areas implement them does change. WCAG guidelines are consistent worldwide, however, it is important to understand that how a location adopts or enforces these guidelines will vary greatly from one country or region to another.
Legal and Regulatory Frameworks
Depending on where a person is located, that location may have multiple levels of legal and regulatory frameworks that could decide a content developer’s legality to adhering to these web accessibility guidelines.
- United States: Section 508
- “Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 794d, requires Federal departments and agencies, and the United States Postal Service,… to develop, procure, maintain, or use information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities and to give employees and members of the public with disabilities access to information comparable to the access available to others.”
- European Union: Web Accessibility Directive
- “…Member States and the Union have committed themselves to taking appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to…facilities and services open or provided to the public, and to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet. … [This directive] aims to eliminate barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis. It sets out actions to be taken in several priority areas, including accessibility of information and communications technologies and systems, and its objective is to ensure accessibility to goods, services (including public services) and assistive devices for people with disabilities.”
Adoption of Specific WCAG Versions
Although WCAG 1.0 is a crucial step, many places recognize 1.0 does not go far enough to provide access. The advances present in WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 provide better guidelines that include a larger percentage of the population. There are more versions being planned considering accessibility issues are always evolving.
Some areas are going to be quicker to adopt all new iterations and want to provide expanded access as soon as possible. Whereas there are also going to be other locations that may still abide by the older WCAG 2.0. Regardless whether a location is abiding by 2.0, 2.1, or any future iteration, any addition to accessibility is always appreciated by those granted this access.
Level of Success Criteria
- These same regulating bodies may select a certain level of success criteria (Level A, Level AA, Level AAA).
Beyond just the governmental bodies used in the examples below, the scope of how these guidelines are implemented can be different. They may apply to educational institutions, public sector organizations, while others may even apply to private sector businesses or commercial websites.
Let’s use the examples provided above about the United States’ Section 508 vs. the European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive (WAD)
- Section 508 is a focus on Federal departments and agencies, such as the post office.
- WAD is a slightly wider scope directed at all services provided to the public, not just government services.
Enforcement and Penalties
When these deciding bodies deduce the involvement or level at which digital content needs to be participating, the next decision is the consequences of non-compliance. Non-compliance may lead to legal action, fines, or other penalties. Other areas may not have official penalties, but may encourage compliance through incentives. Other areas also may rely solely on a process of self-regulation.
Some other aspects that are going to change how these guidelines are implemented worldwide:
- Timelines for Compliance
- Support and Resources
- Monitoring and Reporting
Examples of Web Accessibility Changes
The web accessibility initiative of using WCAG guidelines has helped many disabled users navigate the internet they previously couldn’t access. Below are some examples of ways websites are increasing WCAG compliance. This list is not exhaustive.
- Text Alternatives for Images / Audio Descriptions for Multimedia
- This adds a descriptive text to images / This adds audio descriptions to visual content, such as videos
- Assists people with visual impairment to hear content, often using screen readers, and understand web content that is usually consumed visually
- Keyboard Navigation
- This ensures all sections of a website that can be interacted with is able to be accessed and operated using solely the keyboard, whether through tab navigation or key shortcuts
- Assists people that rely solely on the keyboard, such as people with motor disabilities who may have difficulty using a mouse
- Captioning and Transcripts for Videos
- This provides a visual text for all audio in videos
- Assists people that are deaf or hard of hearing
- High Contrast Text and Backgrounds
- This provides different color options beyond the default
- Assists people with color blindness or anyone with difficulty distinguishing text from the background
- Readable Fonts and Text Spacing
- This ensures all fonts are legible and there is adequate line spacing for readability
- Assists people with low vision or dyslexia who may have difficulty with complex fonts
- Consistent and Predictable Navigation
- Keeps navigation menus and links organized or presented in predictable ways and consistent across multiple web pages
- Assists any users who may get confused by changes in navigation or those with cognitive and learning disabilities
Examples of Assistive Technologies
Assistive technologies are any devices, tools, or software applications that work to assist people with disabilities in performing a task. This assistance can enhance the independence of someone and improve their quality of life.
There is a vast array of disabilities and there are many forms of assistive technologies. This is not an exhaustive list, but great examples of how technology can assist our disabled citizens in living their life with as much access as the next person.
- Screen Readers
- Software programs that convert any on-screen text, and if non text content contains alt text alternatives for images. This can also output to a Braille device.
- Braille Displays
- These are devices that will provide tactile outputs of digital text, allowing blind individuals to read and interact with websites.
- Screen Magnifiers
- There are many people that have poor eyesight. Software, or even devices that fit over a computer screen, can help our low vision and elderly population better access data through enlarging text that was previously unreadable.
- Text-to-Speech (TTS) Software
- Similar to screen readers, it also converts text into spoken language.
- Alternative Keyboards and Input Devices
- These can include any devices that have been altered to allow easier use in inputting or retrieving the data through user interface devices, such as keyboards or mice. There are specialized keyboards, custom gaming controllers, and lots of options in how to move a mouse cursor.
- Voice Recognition Software
- If someone has mobility issues, voice recognition software can be used to navigate a computer screen and dictate text that needs to be entered on-screen.
- Closed Captioning and Subtitling
- Closed captioning is likely the assistive technology most people have been exposed to, if any.
- Other examples
- Eye gaze and head-tracking systems
- Cognitive assistive software
- Wheelchair-mounted tablets
Benefits of Being WCAG Compliant
The only way to end this discussion of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is to talk about the benefits of abiding by these guidelines. Although some reasons are listed below, it’s important for individuals, businesses, or other entities to decide their own reasons as to why they believe they should work to abide by these WCAG guidelines.
When you are WCAG compliant, you reach a broader audience and a more diverse user base. Whether you are in the business of gathering information, spreading information, or even selling products, your ability to reach a larger portion of the population is always of benefit.
Currently the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all state and local governments, and all businesses open to the public, are accessible to people with disabilities. This accessibility extends to their websites as well. Web accessibility regulation by the ADA is guided by WCAG guidelines.
It should be noted that although ADA legalities are important for brick and mortar businesses, online businesses are not exempt. In fact, if the only way to access your products or services is through a website, then it would seem granting access to a larger portion of the population would not only be of benefit, but crucial.
It’s best to avoid any legal complications and work to gain WCAG compliance of at least Level AA. Accessibility laws are changing every year and we believe digital accessibility will continue to be an important aspect when creating digital content.
Improved User Experience
When your user interface is easy to understand and navigate, this can lead to an increase in engagement and increased customer satisfaction. When digital content is difficult to navigate, frustration can build and some consumers or customers will abandon your web page. When digital accessibility isn’t available, people with disabilities have no option other than to abandon your site and move to another that will provide a better user experience.
There are even accessibility practices that can assist in improving your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). A website’s SEO determines when your site will appear in search engine searches.
By adding aspects like descriptive alt text for images or other non text content, you increase the ability to add keywords that will assist in driving more traffic to your site. If some of that traffic includes people with disabilities, they won’t have to navigate away due to the increased digital accessibility of your web pages.
We live in a world that rightfully is putting more pressure on society to be more inclusive of all peoples, irrespective of their abilities. Businesses or service companies that demonstrate a commitment to accessibility for all are viewed more positively. This commitment to social responsibility can reflect quite well on your brand and create a positive reputation amongst those sensitive to these matters.
Still the easiest way to state the benefit of being WCAG compliant is that it matters. Information is power. It matters that you are giving 16% of the world’s population the same access to this power as the other 84%.
If You Have WCAG Questions
If you still have questions about how to best maximize compatibility for your websites or digital content, take a look at Accessibly’s features or please reach out through our contact page. We will be happy to walk you through our accessibility widget!