Compliance, Accessibility and Legislation
According to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, “the power of the Web is in its universality.” It was created for everyone, regardless of race, gender, creed, or disability. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) states that the internet is designed to work for all people.
To stay true to these ideals, breaking down barriers to accessibility is always a top priority.
Generally, accessibility refers to the ability of those with disabilities to access services, products, or devices. The internet is one service that demands close attention.
Website accessibility focuses on developing and designing websites that are more accessible to those with people with disabilities. Website accessibility is essential for those organizations, businesses, and developers who seek to create high-quality, accessible websites, content, and services for everyone.
In short, website accessibility seeks to remove the communication and accessibility barriers for those with disabilities so they too can enjoy the full benefits of the internet. Poorly designed websites can exclude people with disabilities and become a roadblock to accessing those benefits.
Website accessibility allows those with disabilities to understand better, navigate, and interact with the internet. It also helps give them a voice — an ability to contribute.
A few examples of website accessibility include:
Fundamentally, website accessibility supports social inclusion and helps to remove the barriers of discrimination when it comes to those with disabilities.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that access to information and communication technologies (internet) is a fundamental human right.
According to the statistics, it is estimated that over 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability. These statistics include the 61 million American adults within the United States living with a disability.
Website accessibility seeks to address all the disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:
This also includes neurological disabilities (e.g., Parkinson’s disease), various speech impairments, motor function disabilities (e.g., limited fine motor control), those with changing abilities due to aging, and those with temporary disabilities.
Website accessibility is important as it seeks to provide a more inclusive web environment for everyone.
Website accessibility relies on several components working together, such as web browsers, web technologies, and web tools. Thankfully, the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C helped develop web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG).
These international accessibility standards layout guidelines, technical specifications, techniques, and resources to help make websites, devices, and content more accessible to those with disabilities.
The four principles of website accessibility are known by the acronym POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. If one of these principles is neglected, accessibility for those with disabilities is reduced.
This refers to how the senses perceive information and elements of the website. All elements must be easily perceived by sight (visuals), sound (audio), and touch to accommodate all web users.
The elements of the user interface should also be easily controlled as well. The controls, buttons, and site navigation should be operable; this includes the use of things like voice commands and head wands for those that cannot physically navigate sites.
All technology and user interfaces should be clear and consistent in presentation, formatting, and design. Users should have no issues comprehending the purpose or meaning of the content presented to them.
This simply refers to the ability for web content to function for various technologies (e.g., assistive devices and technologies).
The accessibility of web content is paramount. This includes all information on the web page, including text, markup codes, scripts, web applications, and all forms of multimedia (images and videos). For example, accessibility can include providing text alternatives for non-text content and captions for multimedia.
An accessible design is equally as important. Accessible designs include the user agents, such as platforms and software, to access the web content. The user agent considers the type of browser used (mobile, desktop, or voice browsers), plug-ins, widgets, and assistive technologies.
The design may include how content is presented to end-users, making content easier to see (or hear). It also provides site navigation features.
Authoring tools that help produce dynamic content (code editors, conversion tools, content management systems, etc.) must take accessible technologies into account. Taking them into account includes how they interact with assistive devices. An example would be keyboard functionality, allowing all functionality available with a mouse to be equally available from a keyboard.
Evaluating accessibility should be done early and throughout the process of website development. There are simple ways to check, such as changing browser settings to check some aspects of accessibility.
However, more in-depth evaluations are advised. This can be done through various evaluation tools. The W3C does provide recommendations for selecting web accessibility evaluation tools.
The good news is, everyone benefits from website accessibility. Good website accessibility practices help your users with disabilities, but many can overlap with other web practices, such as SEO. Overall, accessibility helps create a positive web experience for all visitors.
Unfortunately, many websites are still riddled with accessibility errors (low contrast text, lack of alternative texts, etc.) and fall well below the requirements of WCAG. This failure could lead to lawsuits.
Website accessibility is more than a mere suggestion; it is a requirement backed by legislation.
Compliance and legislation are different for every country. But, the most prominent guidelines and regulations for the U.S. consists of those laid out in the WCAG, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The WCAG lays out three-tiered success criteria for website accessibility conformance:
Website accessibility is also backed by legislation, namely, Title III of the ADA. This title protects those with disabilities in all areas of public accommodation. Recent lawsuits have prompted the U.S Department of Justice to expand the definition (public accommodations) to include websites and online applications.
Website accessibility audits (ADA website compliance audit) is performed by accessibility professionals who seek to evaluate the WCAG conformance levels of websites.
Furthermore, federal and local government agency websites are subject to the legislation laid out in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It helps protect federal employees that have disabilities.
All forms of web accessibility legislation seek to protect those with disabilities from discrimination. Again, the whole point is breaking down the barriers to allow the web to be accessible to all. The legislation ensures compliance.
Website accessibility seeks to break down barriers for those with disabilities, allowing them the same access to the web and its content as everyone else.
Thankfully, the Web Accessibility Initiative of the W3C provides web content accessibility guidelines to help online providers meet the needs of web users with disabilities, helping make websites clear, operable, and understandable for all.
Website accessibility errors are common; however, providing an accessible design with accessible content is not a suggestion. Website accessibility is a requirement that is backed by U.S. legislation, like Title III of the ADA. This legislation helps protect those with disabilities from discrimination and ensures accessibility.