Concepts of accessibility and inclusiveness are quickly spreading beyond their traditional bounds, and have started to change the standards in the digital world. While each country has its own guidelines, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which form the basis for many other standards – and are the best guidelines for bringing digital assets up to modern expectations.
Why should I make my website accessible?
From a purely economic standpoint, making your site accessible opens up a valuable audience segment. In his 2001 report on the “Business Case for Accessibility”, Bill Wilkerson cites the Royal Bank Financial Group finding that in Canada alone, persons with disabilities control an estimated $25 billion in consumer spending.
The other side of the economic coin is that digital accessibility is slowly becoming the law in many jurisdictions, and those found non-compliant can be fined. And these fines can be strict. In Ontario, fines for offences under the AODA can reach up to $50,000 for each and every day or part day that an offence happens for individuals (and corporate directors) and up to $100,000 for corporations.
Accessibility also offers numerous benefits to the business involved, and especially the team working on the website. On the face of it, accessibility can look like a labyrinth of laws and arbitrary bureaucracy, but for website accessibility, it’s overwhelmingly an application of sound design principles.
For example, one of the requisites is that web sites need to meet WCAG 2.0 colour requirements. This is really just a way of classifying correct use of colour on websites, and helps to ensure readability of website text through the use of tools like contrast controls.
Example of contrast controls on a website
This is a positive feature to offer your users. And for the most part, the WCAG 2.0 updates are in a similar vein. There’s a clear business case here as well; the clearer you make your website for everyone, the more you reduce your offline queries and requests and their associated costs.
Another benefit of adopting WCAG guidelines is that, apart from making your content more accessible to everyone, it will also make your content more accessible to search engines. Search engines rely on content structure, semantics, and functionality to determine the relevance of content on a site, and adopting accessible practices will bolster these aspects of your site. The areas where SEO and accessibility practices are closely aligned is long - and this combination is great for your site and your user's experience.
Finally, making your website accessible is the right thing to do as a good corporate citizen. The internet is rapidly becoming the lifeblood of our society, and the social glue that holds us all together. It should be a totally inclusive medium.
Moving Towards WCAG Compliance
It’s important to remember that these types of changes don’t happen overnight. Here are our top recommendations for start embracing website accessibility compliance.
- Meaningful alternative text tags. For example, when you have an image of a dog on a blog post, the alt text is ‘dog’, not ‘123456788.png’ or empty
- Appropriate contrast. People need to be able to read your copy
- Make text resizable
- Make things like graphs or tables keyboard-accessible
- Avoid time limits on form and fields
- Avoid CAPTCHAs all together
- Make link anchor text specific, not generic. For example, link to WCAG 2.0 instead of ‘click here for WCAG 2.0’
- Make error messages clear and concise
Naturally, this looks like a bit of a laundry list but in fact, it’s not that many changes. Several of these practices are common things websites already avoid, so sites may be compliant without much work, and achieving compliance should be a process of fine tuning and iteratively improving rather than a total overhaul.
The first step is the hardest. Once you’ve achieved WCAG 2.0 Level A, reaching the next level is much easier, as Level AA and Level AAA have significantly fewer requirements, including:
- Captions for all live (Level AA) and pre-recorded (Level AAA) audio-visual content
- Resize up to 200% and retain full content and functionality
- Accurate and relevant headings and labels
- Robust error correction systems for all users
- 100% keyboard functionality
- No need to re-authenticate after an authenticated browser window has timed out
- No flashing lights
It’s important to remember that many of these requirements are currently being met on most sites. For example, most websites will have robust error correction systems as a part of their standard user experience. Moreover, most companies and designers work with at least some knowledge of the contrast requirements, so it’s entirely possible that you find that the necessary changes aren’t as substantial as you might have thought.
Our last recommendation for how best to cope with changing digital accessibility requirements is to aim to do more than the minimum. WCAG 2.0 Level A requirements are a great place to start, but beefing up your compliance efforts to hit Level AA is a relatively small effort with a significant improvement in how your users will experience your website. So aim high!
Accessibility is extremely important, both to businesses who work online as well as the online community as a whole. For businesses, there are growing legal requirements to make their digital properties accessible - like with the AODA in Ontario - but there is also a noteworthy business case for companies to pursue digital accessibility on their own:
- Improved user experience for everyone (so, better conversion rate and website ROI)
- Increased number of potential customers
- Decreased offline queries
For the community, the internet is premised on the fact that anyone can become a part of it, no matter what. WCAG generally, and AODA specifically, are big steps towards turning the idealism for the internet into a reality. The more we connect with each other, the better off we’ll all be with more ideas, more collaboration, and more understanding and compassion. WCAG compliance and accessibility are all about making that happen.
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