Web Accessibility 101: A Beginner’s Guide

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This blog has been updated to reflect the release of WCAG version 2.2 in October of 2023.

web accessibility design layout

Your website appears impressive. According to your traffic analytics, whether it’s viewed on a desktop, tablet, or smartphone, you seem to attract a fair amount of attention and you know that you’re bringing new people into your organization.

But you seem to be missing a large part of your potential audience, and you’re unsure why.

Lack of web accessibility, also known as digital accessibility, may be the problem. People with disabilities cannot see or otherwise understand your web pages, mobile apps, and digital tools. Those who have sight, hearing, or mobile impairments encounter barriers when trying to digest what you have to offer, so they don’t bother.

If you’re not up on these issues, then this web accessibility overview is designed for you.

Who defines web accessibility?

Leading the standards on web accessibility is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).¹ This international network of accessibility experts wants to make the internet as inclusive as possible. The W3C states that:

    • Web accessibility “encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including: auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, visual.”
    • If web accessibility is achieved, people with disabilities should be able to “perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web,” as well as contribute to it.

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Imagine, for example, that you are blind or have low vision. Navigating and reading the text on a website or mobile app is difficult or impossible without assistive technology such as screen readers, which are programs that read digital text aloud.² Unfortunately, many websites are built in such a way that screen readers can’t properly convey what’s on screen. This frustrates and excludes many users.

W3C notes that improving web accessibility also benefits people who don’t have disabilities because they can interact with web content that is created in different ways for various devices, operating systems, and web browsers. Accessible content also works better on small screens, such as smartphones and smartwatches, and reduces bandwidth use and server load.

What does web accessibility look like?

W3C spearheaded the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to develop technical specifications, techniques, guidelines and resources that assist individuals, businesses, and organizations in making digital properties accessible. WAI produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are the most widely accepted accessibility standards.

  • WCAG 2.0 is the version required for Section 508 compliance of the Rehabilitation Act, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and other accessibility laws
  • WCAG 2.1 is backwards compatible with WCAG 2.0 because it covers more guidelines without replacing previous ones.
  • WCAG 2.2 was released in October 2023 and is the most recent update.

All WCAG versions feature guidelines divided among four principles of accessibility:

  • Perceivable: Users must be able to detect the contents of the page and user interface.
  • Operable: Users must be able to interact with the components of the page, such as navigation features and the user interface.
  • Understandable: Users must be able to understand the content and how to use the user interface.
  • Robust: No matter what the web page looks like or contains, it must remain accessible to a variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

The “success criteria” for each guideline are designed to make content such as text, images, sounds, code and markup on websites and in-applications more accessible. Examples of success criteria include the following:

  • Perceivable Guideline 1.1- Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Perceivable Guideline 1.2 – Time-based Media: Provide alternatives for time-based media (including pre-recorded audio-only content and pre-recorded video-only content).
  • Operable Guideline 2.2 – Enough Time: Provide users enough time to read and use content.

The WCAG guidelines have three conformance levels:

  1. A represents minimum accessibility.
  2. AA addresses the most common major accessibility issues. To comply with WCAG 2.2, organizations must meet this level for WCAG 2.1.
  3. AAA, the highest standard, complies with accessibility laws, which also demands compliance with the AA level.

For more details on how you can follow the latest WCAG standards, download our free Must-Have WCAG Checklist.

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Who can help you?

If you’re new to the web accessibility scene, WCAG 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 can seem overwhelming.

You may want to consult a firm that specializes in web accessibility. They can help you conduct thorough web accessibility testing – including automated, manual and functional testing – to evaluate the current level of accessibility of your digital properties. They can also help you to ensure you’re meeting ADA compliance.

While automated testing may seem like the most efficient solution, it is not sufficient by itself. A lot of usability issues on websites and in mobile apps are only identifiable by human testers who have disabilities and/or who use assistive technologies.

Once the accessibility issues of your digital properties have been identified, a trusted accessibility partner can help you comply with WCAG 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 efficiently, correctly, continuously, and at minimal cost.

An Innovative Solution

We at Level Access hope that you’ve learned the basics from this web accessibility overview. To help you follow WCAG, we have developed a comprehensive accessibility solution that complies with the latest standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities.

Learn more about Level Access’s innovative solution and reach out to us any time for a closer look at how our comprehensive digital accessibility platform can help your organization provide a better experience for all.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated in October 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More

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