“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
-Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.
When he created the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee envisioned it to be a space where everyone can freely access information, services, and connect with one another in ways that are not possible in the physical world.
Despite advancements in technology, millions of people with disabilities are still living in digital alienation. With the ongoing digitalization of virtually every aspect of life, digital exclusion poses a major obstacle for our disabled peers, preventing them from benefiting from internet technology or to participating in the workforce.
To unleash the power of the web, digital accessibility legislation has become mainstream. Organizations from the public and private sectors are increasingly prioritizing accessibility compliance to accommodate the needs of disabled employees and customers.
“So what can I do to be an agent of change?” We’re glad you asked.
There are various guidelines on web accessibility that specify the requirements for universal websites and web-based products and services.
Meet the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG is by far the most widely accepted and implemented principles on accessibility and web standards. Together with Section 508, WCAG is mandated by the federal government as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
To get started, it’s important to understand how the web impacts people with disabilities. We’ve also compiled the fundamentals of web accessibility under the Website Content Accessibility Guideline.
Digital Inclusion: Embracing People with Disabilities
Nearly a quarter of disabled adults in America have never gone online (source). Many people with vision, hearing, or motion impairments are limited in their abilities to use the Internet.
Accessibility barriers inhibit them from participating in cyberspace and enjoying its many benefits: the convenience of online tax filing, job applications, online shopping, e-learning, etc.
Understanding the accessibility imperative, the next practical initiative is to consider the needs of people with disabilities when developing websites and digital products or services.
While assistive technology has become commonplace, accessible design is often an afterthought when it comes to developing digital properties like websites and intranets.
Below are common best practices to promote accessible design:
– Enabling people with visual impairments to access online content by adjusting the screen contrast and font sizes, or those without vision to use screen readers or voice-enabled apps to consume information.
– Advancement in transcription technology enables automatic closed captioning with high accuracy to aid people with hearing loss.
– For those who can’t use a computer mouse due to motor impairment, designing digital content to support keyboard or voice commands to simplify navigation.
By making web accessibility mandatory for designers and developers, you can enable everyone to experience the digital world with unrestricted liberty.
It’s almost criminal that programmers have not had their feet held to the fire to build interfaces that are accommodating for people with vision problems or hearing problems or motor problems.
-Vint Cerf, “the father of the Internet”
Website accessibility isn’t rocket science. Continue reading to learn how you can create high-quality websites and digital tools with WCAG compliance.
Overview of WCAG and the Pillars of Web Accessibility Compliance
Revised and published in 2018, the latest version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 provides global standards for web content that meets the needs of all users with diverse abilities.
Reflecting standard web design principles, WCAG outlines the components of accessibility around the four pillars:
These pillars cover the core elements of web development like semantic HTML mark-up, keyboard inputs, and enhanced screen visibility. They are relatively easy to implement.
WCAG accessibility requirements at a glance:
1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
– Employ alt-attributes to give voice to visuals like images, icons, charts, and tables
– Use image maps to define clickable images and their destinations
– Provide captioning, transcripts, and text descriptions for multimedia content
– Optimize webpage content and layout for adaptive presentation and orientation
2. Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
– Establish a clear information architecture with focus indicators for keyboard navigation
– All web content functionality must be operable through a keyboard
– Enable skip links and auto-fill forms
– Enable speech recognition for voice commands
– Controllable timeouts (adjustable timing or re-authenticating)
3. Understandable: Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable
– Avoid overly complex words, jargon, and acronyms
– Provide expanded form or meaning of abbreviations
– Enable input assistance (error detection, suggestion, and prevention)
4. Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
– Ensure web content is compatible with assistive technologies
In general, there are three levels of WCAG compliance: level A, AA, and AAA, each level is progressively more extensive and harder to meet.
- Level A: 25 criteria
- Level AA: Additional 13 criteria (total 38 points)
- Level AAA: Additional 23 criteria (total 61 points)
Level AA is the most common accessibility evaluation standard, which is legally required for federal websites.
How to Apply WCAG to Your Digital Transformation Initiative?
In the business context, these guidelines are not limited to websites but also apply for digital workplace tools such as collaboration and communication applications.
Business digitalization frequently starts with intranet deployment, as an intranet provides a single source of truth where your teams can access information, collaborate, and share knowledge. Most importantly, a great corporate intranet also acts as a driver for workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The good news is, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to build an accessible intranet platform. If you are already using Confluence, you are well on your way to digital accessibility. Utilizing our Atlassian market-leading app, Accessibility for Confluence, you can instantly enable WCAG compliant features for your Confluence instance.
To make accessibility the core principle of your digital workplace, conduct WCAG compliance evaluation for all third-party applications, whether web-based or desktop. WCAG recommends, “When an author makes a decision to use a third-party implementation, they should choose products that meet WCAG requirements. If all content on a page, including third-party content, meets all WCAG success criteria then the page conforms to WCAG.”
Major workplace apps like Microsoft Office also feature built-in Accessibility Check so you can ensure all documents are accessible by everyone.
You can assess your web accessibility compliance against WCAG success criteria via this reference.
Note that accessibility is determined by a set of web components, such as web browsers and screen reader apps. So you need to adopt an ecosystem of accessibility to ensure successful implementation.
Essentially, it’s all about creating a digital environment where anyone can access and interact with digital content in any situation. Web accessibility is essential for some and useful for all.
To learn more about digital accessibility and how you can achieve WCAG compliance in your organization, get in touch with us today!