Web accessibility should not be an afterthought!
We all experience frustrations and pitfalls when browsing the web. A drop down navigation may be a bit difficult to use and poorly structured so we might have to tap around a bit aimlessly on a button that’s a quirky font that you can’t read too well.
For most of us these are just minor annoyances, whilst frustrating, aren’t generally much more than inconvenient. However, for anyone with a visual, auditory, mobility, or cognitive impairment this could make your site virtually unusable and completely negate them from using a website or application.
In the UK under the Equality Act 2010, it is a legal requirement that all websites are accessible to those with disabilities. This law sets standards in place that, if your website fails to meet, could potentially leave your business in deep waters. This is even more important for those in the public sector, such as charities and educational institutions.
This is why we want to stress just how vital ensuring your website’s accessibility is optimised as well as regularly testing it for any changes.
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and are a set of standardised and clear rules set out that help you to understand the restrictions individuals with disabilities face, and break down these barriers. This ensures everyone can access your information easily and that your website or application can be used by any user, on any device, regardless of their capabilities.
WCAG 2, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2, has been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to support both individuals and organisations across the globe. The aim is to provide a universal expectation for web content accessibility that meets the needs of all parties (individuals, governments and organisations).
The WCAG has 12-13 guidelines, outlined in their 4 key principles;
The WCAG forms the basis of most of the accessibility legislation across the globe. The criteria of success for each core principle can be categorised into three levels:
Level A – The most basic requirements and the minimum degree that must be met. Failure to comply will result in a completely inaccessible website.
Level AA – Addresses some common barriers for people with disabilities. This is the highest level of conformance for most websites as it removes the biggest hurdles.
Level AAA – Highest level under WCAG and more difficult to achieve. Desirable but not of necessity.
What do the WCAG 4 Key Principles mean?
Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to be aware of the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
Understandable: Users can understand your content. Users must be able to understand the information displayed on the user interface, regardless of their capabilities.
Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable. Users can use your content and engage with it properly, regardless of how they choose to access it (for example keyboard or voice commands).
Robust: Content can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents (including reasonably outdated, current and anticipated browsers and assistive technologies). As technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 covers a wide range of recommendations for making content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities. These guidelines address accessibility of web content on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices and other user interfaces.
Revisions of WCAG (2.0, 2.1 and 2.2)
The success criteria for these guidelines are written as what is referred to as ‘testable statements. This basically means that they’re not technology-specific. The 2.0 (Dec 2008) and 2.1 (June 2018) success criteria are exactly the same as 2.2 (the latest revision of the guidelines updated in 2023), with two exceptions:
– Focus Visible changed from AA to A in 2.2.
– Parsing being obsolete and removed from 2.2
Later revisions (2.1 and 2.2) have additional criteria that are not outlined in the 2.0 revision. Sites that conform with the latest versions are likely to conform with the original, but it is always recommended that you use the latest version of the guidelines when testing your website’s accessibility.
So, what exactly is being tested?
To anyone unfamiliar with the WCAG guidelines and website accessibility, the guidelines can read like a foreign script. Some of the jargon and references to previous revisions can make you feel more confused about website accessibility testing than before you started.
For this reason, we’ve broken down some examples of what might be being tested for on your site for each of the core principles.
Principle 1: Perceivable
– Avoid using colour as a means of explaining something
– Use colours that clearly contrast with the background colour
– Text sizing, spacing and font is appropriate and readable
– Avoid using images of text itself. Images should be visual and have alt text.
– Works in conjunction with assistive technologies that individuals might be using (for example, marking important information in a way that screen readers can detect that this message needs to be emphasised)
Principle 2: Operable
– Having an option to disable animations, flashing images or moving text.
– Using titles for pages and paragraphs that are informative and descriptive about what the page is about
– Presenting information in a way that it’s easy to find and navigate through.
– Using HTML which enables assistive technologies that individuals might be using to interpret the content
– Make it simple to turn off the use of shortcut keys (e.g. ctrl + alt)
Principle 3: Understandable
– Clearly establish what language the content on your page is written in
– Keep the layout/presentation consistent throughout the site where possible
– Make sure any forms or call to actions clearly labelled with the information they are asking for
– Alert users when information has been put in incorrectly in forms so they can amend them
Principle 4: Robust
– Any important information is clearly identifiable by assistive technology (e.g. cookie pops ups, helpful chat bots, presentations)
– Code tells assistive technology user might be using, what device they are using and how to navigating sites across multiple devices (such as mobiles, tablets, laptops)
These are just a few tips and tricks to ensuring that your website meets accessibility guidelines, however there are many more elements that should be considered, especially if you are looking to create a AA or AAA accessible solution.
What makes a website potentially inaccessible?
There are numerous factors that could potentially make your website restrictive for those with limitations. If we were to cover them all, we’d be sitting here for ages. It’s worth understanding some of the most common ones however so that you can recognise them if your site requires changes to be made to make it more accessible.
One common mistake many make is the overuse of colour to present information. This is restrictive for those that may be blind, have low vision or struggle with colour blindness.
Many websites also sometimes overly rely on audio to convey information, such as when a form has been completed you might hear a bell chime. All too often videos are not provided with transcripts, meaning screen readers cannot understand what is being spoken about in the information to relay this to the user. Overuse of audio makes your website less accessible to those.
Another common pitfall many sites fall down is not making the site usable through keyboard functions. This isolates those with motor issues, such as painful or slow muscles, limited control over movement or the inability to move at all.
One final mistake we see time and time again, is the over use of jargon and complex terminology to describe (what is often very simple) instructions or information. This makes the content on your page difficult to comprehend for people who might have neurological impairments, such as autism, dyslexia and a whole host of other learning difficulties.
Why is getting web accessibility right so important?
According to the World Health Organisation’s 2011 Report on Disability around 15% of the world’s population struggles with some form of disability. That’s a massive amount of individuals you’re eliminating from your potential pool of customers by not ensuring your website’s accessibility is optimised.
More importantly, beyond doing a disservice to your business, you’re preventing such individuals from having the same access to information, services and products which is essentially a form of discrimination.
Increased accessibility shows that you’re championing inclusivity in both society and your business; it really is a win-win situation.
On top of all this, from an SEO perspective, accessible websites are more likely to rank higher SERPs, reduce long-term costs made to make changes, be user friendly on multiple interfaces and be used by a larger audience of individuals.
Accessibility testing at Alt Agency
At Alt Agency, every member of our team has the knowledge and understanding of why testing is so important for both inclusivity and business. Every employee is trained to understand the regulations established by the WCAG, how these impact each business we work with, and how to carry out thorough testing to ensure your website meets accessibility guidelines and can be easily used by all.
We run numerous Test Scripts in order to access a website’s accessibility rating. These test scripts ensure that all four principles (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust) are covered. These scripts highlight what aspects of your website are not accessible or in line with the WCAG guidelines, and provide recommendations for improvements.
We use a combination of WordPress plugins as well as software recommended by WCAG themselves, like WAVE and Siteimprove. We used automated testing systems to provide accessibility reports and suggestions for the most part, however when required, we have an in-house team of experts who have the knowledge to test manually.
This software includes testing tools like screen readers that work closely with a device’s Operating System (OS) to help individuals with visual impairments. With this, they can access and interact with digital content, using a Text-To-Speech (TTS) engine to translate on-screen information into speech which can then be heard through earphones or speakers.
Need help improving your website’s accessibility?
If you need help improving your site’s accessibility, whether that’s advice on where to start, more hands on support in designing and implementing features or testing for accessibility and making those essential improvements, our team of accessibility experts are here for you.
We work with many clients and charities, both in the public and private sector, whose websites demand accessibility accreditation of AA+ standards. If this sounds like you, why not give us a call or send us an email? We’d love to talk to you about your project.