Web Accessibility is a concept related to practices aimed at making content and functionality of digital solutions easier to read. All people responsible for creating websites (as well as digital documents) should be aware of global guidelines in this area.
Today, one cannot do without the Internet. Nevertheless, there are barriers on the web that make it difficult for many people to freely use certain types of websites or digital documents. There is a large group of Internet users with special needs, disabilities and handicaps. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to use any website or digital product. It shouldn’t matter what the user’s state is or what hardware and software they are using. This is one of the basic principles behind the concept of web accessibility.
Unified standards for everyone
It is estimated that 1/7 of the world’s population are people with various types of disability. A long time ago, in many countries, starting with Canada and the USA, and then in Europe, arose the need to implement uniform standards for websites and mobile applications to facilitate their access by such people. These guidelines are included in various national documents. One of them is a document called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are used more and more widely in the context of people with any kind of limitation, as well as using the Internet via the so-called assistive technologies.
Assistive technologies include:
- screen readers that will localise text on each page,
- speech recognition softwares that converts speech to text,
- Braille terminals,
- alternative keyboards for people with special needs.
The division of Internet disabilities:
- motor – difficulties in using a mouse (working with a mouth stick or only a keyboard), or the need for specialised devices for communication with a computer;
- visual – various degrees of amblyopia, colour blindness (perception of colour contrasts) as well as total blindness require software that will process the content on the screen and deliver it through a synthetic voice or Braille reader; photosensitive seizures due to epilepsy, often associated with flashing lights;
- auditory – varying degrees of hearing impairment mean that when application transmits audio signals, the person may need visual cues or subtitles;
- cognitive – problems with understanding content (dyslexia), with remembering (dementia), with language, with maintaining attention or with perception, require creating pages so that all information is easily accessible and understandable.
Each website should be accessible to people with motor, visual, auditory and cognitive dysfunctions
To get around these problems, many people use assistive technology while browsing the Internet. However, even assuming that only 1/10 of such people use the Internet, it is reasonable to introduce a recommendation that every creator of a website or digital product (such as a telephone interface, POS or PDF) ought to read WCAG documentation. Learning its principles should be a base for creation websites in accordance with the principles of accessibility. The website has to be friendly for both blind and visually impaired people, people with motor disabilities, deaf, dyslexics or with various intellectual dysfunctions. Also, it needs to be more friendly for the elderly and those who are not very experienced in using the Internet.
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
There are already many organisations and initiatives in the world, developing technologies supporting people with disabilities. One of them is the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. This organisation works on standards for the accessibility of applications and websites. The four primary areas of recommendations produced by WAI are:
- WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, criteria recommendations, website accessibility. Version 2.0 has been adapted as the ISO / IEC 40500 standard.
- ATAG – Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines, showcases the available offers of tools with which one can create content.
- UAAG – User Agent Accessibility Guidelines for devices such as browsers, plug-ins, media players, screen readers, and other software that renders the content on the screen.
- WAI-ARIA – Accessible Rich Internet Applications, a framework for improving the accessibility of web applications and content, is applicable to dynamic elements.
The WCAG standard (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) was published as the first, already in 1999, of the WAI recommendations. It contained 14 guidelines for creating accessible pages.
In 2008, version 2.0 was published, which introduced 12 guidelines divided into four categories (visibility, feasibility, understandability, resilience). Each procedure has its own testable criteria (61 in total).
In 2018, the WCAG 2.1 version was released, supplementing version 2.0 with another 17 measures, with the improvement of the guidelines for three user groups:
- those with cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties;
- the visually impaired;
- disabled people using mobile devices.
WCAG is a collection of recommendations regarding accessibility, how to create and develop websites with a purpose to ensure the highest possible readability for as many groups of recipients as possible, especially people with disabilities.
WCAG instructs how to create websites accessible to all recipients, including people with disabilities
The WCAG 2.0 version is accompanied by two more detailed supporting documents, i.e. Understanding WCAG 2.0 and Techniques for WCAG 2.0, which already have almost 800 pages. Perhaps its size means that the vast majority of websites do not meet even the minimum documentation requirements. Not every website developer will be able to spend a lot of time reading all available WCAG extensions. Therefore, to facilitate their work, hundreds of summaries are created around the world. However, more and more often, especially in larger companies, UX designers, and to some extent product owners, are responsible for designing available solutions. Programmers and content creators are less accountable for these issues.
WCA Guidelines for programmers
These guidelines can be summarised by pointing to the most critical issues they concern:
- enabling users to use content or functionality of the website so that no one is discriminated because of some disability;
- limiting redundancy to what is necessary and removing complexity where possible;
- adjusting the website to the needs and preferences, governed by the so-called personalisation;
- providing alternative content formats where needed (e.g., text alternatives to images, graphics, charts, and audio and video recordings);
- enriching content and functionality with appropriate descriptions, instructions and labels, which concerns, for example, text fields for data entry, tables, etc. elements;
- compliance with industry standards confirmed by the validation of the XHTML and CSS code, compatibility with supporting technologies;
- collecting data about users by actively communicating with them (using questionnaires or interviews) to avoid mistakes.
Benefits of designing a site for high availability:
- the humanistic approach to inclusive design means that no one is excluded and everyone can be a user of the network;
- the overall impression of the site is significantly improved – its appearance, flexibility and future outlook;
- the base of potential users is expanding;
- being one step ahead of the competition that has not taken the same actions;
- multi-million dollar lawsuits can be avoided (this year alone, MIT and Harvard had cases as a result of problems people have reported with access to their websites);
- complies with the standards and regulations of countries with laws governing the availability of web and software.