Website accessibility has been mentioned a lot recently, as the number of website lawsuits continues to increase due to claimed violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is interpreted as applying to business websites that offer the same types of services as their brick-and-mortar buildings. Both entities must be accessible to those with disabilities, including those with vision problems, limitations regarding keyboard or touchscreen use, and so on. As you can imagine, this has many companies suddenly interested in checking their sites for compatibility.
But where do you begin when it comes to making accessibility changes, especially when so many of them happen at a code level or require input from multiple decision-makers? Fortunately, accessibility compliance has a universal guide for that called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG is based on four pillars of accessibility that make a great starting place: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR). Let’s look at what that means.
1. Website Content Should Have Multiple Options for Perceiving It
Individuals with disabilities may not be able to see or hear the content on websites like others can. Accessible websites have alternative means to perceive content through more than just one sense.
For example, all images on a site should have useful alt tags that describe the image or its purpose for those who may not be able to see it. These alt tags are designed to be perceived and read aloud by screen readers. In fact, all important text should be easily read by screen readers, and any web forms or calls to action should have explainer tags targeted at screen readers so that it’s clear what they are for.
Other important steps include making sure that videos or podcast files include captions and transcripts and making sure text contrast is high enough that all visitors can clearly read it. A lot of the nuts-and-bolts accessibility work is found in this pillar.
2. Websites Should Be Fully Operable by a Variety of Technologies
How do you operate a website? The traditional way is via mouse and keyboard, right? But websites can also be operated by joysticks, touchpads, and—especially in the mobile world—touchscreens. Additionally, not everyone can use both a mouse and keyboard, and many individuals with disabilities may only navigate using a keyboard.
Websites should be operable using all these methods. Keyboards are a great example; websites should allow for full navigation and interaction using basic keyboard functions like the Tab and Shift keys. The site should avoid “traps” where a keyboard user can’t get back to the menu and helpfully highlight where the focus of the keyboard is at all times to aid users.
3. Website Content Should Be Easy To Understand
Once content is perceivable, it should also be understandable. In other words, it needs to make sense. Websites should be compatible with translation services and should avoid confusing grammar that makes it unclear what you’re saying. When possible, sites should also avoid using industry lingo and acronyms or should always provide a glossary or definition for them. Any instructions the site gives for filling out a form or making a purchase should be consistent and clear.
4. Websites Should Be Built To Work With Assistive Technology for the Long Term
The “robust” pillar is about compatibility with assistive technology of all kinds. In other words, a site should be designed to be compatible not just with one screen reader app but any screen reader that users may prefer and any screen readers developed in the future. Likewise, videos should play through many different browsers, and menus should work with a wide variety of touchscreen devices.
Overall, websites should stay updated and ready for the latest waves of assistive technology. This also has the advantage of making websites compatible with the latest smartphones and tablets. Accessibility changes like this often benefits the website as a whole, for all users, thanks to the added advantages.
But How Do I Make my Website Accessible?
It’s tough to know where to begin when looking at your own website. While the WCAG does provide a lot of details and enumerates suggestions on how developers can make changes, it’s not a step-by-step handbook.
Instead, we suggest starting with an automated website auditing tool. We recommend these two free options:
Start here with your website so that you can get a broad overview of your current accessibility levels and a snapshot of what you need to do to become compliant. These audits are an excellent first step in creating a roadmap to compliance for your site.
Website audits are best interpreted by experienced accessibility developers. You may be able to make some high-level corrections based on the audits, but you will likely need the help of your website developer to fully remediate ADA compliance and accessibility issues.
The automated audits will show you the first step in the right direction, while a human-tested, manual accessibility audit will give you a complete review of all issues that exist on your website. These types of audits will go further in depth, so you may need to involve your web developer to interpret the results and make adjustments.