What is Web Accessibility?
Web accessibility is a broad term that refers to the inclusive practice of making websites usable for as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. Making your website accessible is very important, because not only do you provide access to your content to everyone regardless of their ability, but you also open yourself up to an entire new user pool.
Creating an accessible website can be done in a number of ways, but there are two main types of web accessibility: structural and functional. Structural web accessibility refers to the design and code of the site itself; functional web accessibility refers to how content on a site is presented or interacted with.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines web accessibility as “the practice of making web content accessible to people with disabilities”. This means that all parts of a website, including the images, links, and text, should be usable for all users.
How do you make websites accessible for everyone?
The need for web accessibility is increasing as the internet becomes more and more part of our daily lives. Luckily nowadays, it is a lot easier to make websites accessible. In order to make websites accessible for everyone, here are some things to consider, check and monitor:
- The website’s navigation
- The website’s content
- The website’s language settings
- The website’s color contrast settings
- Whether there are any obstacles on the page that might cause issues for people with disabilities or impairments (i.e. flashing, flickering, or moving images)
- Whether the website provides cognitive content (i.e. selecting an element by focusing on it, recognising an element on a page)
- If the website has alternative text for images and icons providing a description
- And lastly, whether the website is accessible to assistive technologies such as screen readers and magnifiers.
Web Accessibility tools:
There are many tools that can be used to check and improve web accessibility. One of the most popular is Google’s Lighthouse. It is a Chrome plugin available on the Chrome Web Store and you can add it as an extension. The plugin is open-source and it can be used to test webpages for accessibility issues.
Another great tool to check out is Siteimprove! It is a web accessibility program that helps companies identify and fix their website’s accessibility issues. Siteimprove provides a suite of tools to help organisations meet the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
Depending on your budget and how accessible you would like to make your site, there is a slightly more premium tool called EqualWeb which is also great to use! EqualWeb works by providing screen readers and screen magnifiers, as well as different keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures for those who are blind or have impaired vision. Here is an interesting fact: the EqualWeb was originally started by Google back in 2013 after they found that 1 out of 7 people worldwide had a disability and 34% of those use smartphones as their primary means of accessing the internet.
What you can do
Making a website accessible could take some time. Especially if it was set up years ago before website accessibility became a mainstream topic. However, there are some steps you can take which are quite easy, and they could make a huge difference to people with disabilities who are interested in your content.
Using alt text:
Alternative (alt) text is meant to convey the “why” of the image, as it relates to the content of a document or webpage. It is read aloud to users by screen reader software, and it is indexed by search engines. Below is an example of using “alt text” in the markup/code to describe an image. Without alternative text, the information about the image/video is inaccessible to people who are either blind or use screen readers, as the description of the image is read aloud to for them.
Alt text is not just helpful for people with visual impairment or for search engines, but also to anyone who is unable to view images on websites which could be due to low bandwidth.
One of the biggest shortfalls we have come across when looking to make our clients’ websites accessible is not providing enough contrast between the background and text content. How do you know if your colours provide enough contrast? Use a colour contrast tool such as the one provided by WebAIM.
Another quick fix is to ensure that all copy on your website uses font that is easily legible and not too small.
Web Accessibility in different countries:
The rules and regulations in every country vary to some extent, but they are generally based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA standards, which are internationally recognised and have been adopted by many countries.
The Standard on Web Accessibility is a set of guidelines that ensures that web content is accessible to all Canadians. It covers the following areas:
- Web content must meet WCAG 2.0 Level A criteria, which means it must be readable and understandable by people who are blind, have low vision, or who have a cognitive disability.
- All web pages and web applications must be designed with an understanding of the diverse needs of Canadians with disabilities. This includes providing appropriate alternative text for images and audio descriptions for video content.
- Web pages and web applications should not rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies to provide essential information about their content or functionality. This includes providing clear instructions for interacting with the site’s controls, navigation mechanisms, and features.
In the United Kingdom, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and Equality Act 2010 have made it illegal for organisations to discriminate against disabled people in employment, education and access to public places. This includes provision of goods, facilities and services including websites. They also follow the WCAG 2.0 guidelines.
The Australian Government is committed to providing equal access to digital services, programs and information for all Australians. This includes people with disabilities, older Australians and those from culturally diverse backgrounds.
The Australian Government has enacted a number of laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), the Age Discrimination Act 2004 (ADA) and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). These laws set out what organisations must do to make their digital services accessible.
A key principle of these laws is that organisations should provide access in a way that best suits the needs of each individual user.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that was enacted in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and mandates accessibility for those who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
The ADA requires that web content be accessible to people with disabilities. The law defines “web content” broadly to include everything from the text of the page, to images, to videos and other embedded media.
In 2017, Section 508 was revised with the requirement that all federal agencies and contractors must, among other revisions, comply with WCAG 2.0 A/AA.
In the European Union, web accessibility is a legal requirement. Websites are required to be accessible and provide information in different languages. The Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102) is a European Union law that sets minimum standards for accessibility on the web.
The Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102) was established to make the internet more accessible to people with disabilities, as well as to older people with age-related problems. This directive sets minimum standards for accessibility on the internet and includes a requirement for all new websites and web applications to be fully accessible by 2020.
The European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive is an important regulation that aims at ensuring that the internet remains open and inclusive of all citizens, regardless of their disability or age. It is all about everyone having equal access. The law does not apply to software or websites used for private purposes.
WE CAN HELP!
- Not sure if your website is accessible?
- Want to learn more about web accessibility?
- Do you need help conforming to accessiblity regulations?