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Your Guide to WCAG: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Insights / 12.18.2018

Red Door /

FACT: 56 million people in the US live with a disability (1 of 5 people). But these people still need to access the Internet regularly. Although more and more disabled Americans are using the Internet, their ability to access and make use of the web is still an issue. Fortunately, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, are helping people with disabilities gain crucial access to the online world.

What are the basic principles of WCAG?

WCAG is a set of guidelines and recommendations for making accessible web content for people with various disabilities – disabilities including visual, physical, cognitive, learning and more.

To understand the basic principles behind WCAG, you only need to learn one simple acronym: POUR. These four principles lay the necessary foundation for building accessible web content.
 
Perceivable - information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive, using one or more of their senses. This means:

  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
  • Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia aspects.
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing information or meaning.
  • Make it easier for disabled users to see and hear content.

 
Operable - User interface (UI) components and navigation must be operable. This means:

  • Users must be able to control UI elements.
  • All functionality available from a keyboard.
  • Users should have plenty of time to read and use the content.
  • Content should not be created in a way that can cause seizures or adverse physical reactions.
  • Users can navigate and find content easily.

 
Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. This means:

  • The user must be able to make sense of the information and how to operate the user interface.
  • Make the text readable and understandable.
  • Content must appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Help the user avoid and correct any mistakes quickly and easily.
  • Ensure copy is clearly written and easy to understand.

Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies, now and in the future.

How can you develop robust, WCAG compliant content?

Now that you have a better understanding of what WCAG are and why they are so important, let’s uncover a few methodologies to creating content that is WCAG compliant. Here are a few tips to keep in your arsenal for creating better WCAG compliant content.

  • Structure your content properly. Semantic markup and proper use of headings are crucial. By including semantic tags, you provide additional information to the material that aids in communication. Semantic tags will make it clear to the browser what the page means and what content it includes.
  • Use labels. If a control or form element has no text label, make sure you add one. Use alt attributes on all images, so they are clearly described.
  • It’s best not to rely on visual cues. The content of your pages should make sense regardless of whether or not the user is reading the page, having the page read to them, or if they are colorblind. Be sure to use sufficient contrast between the colors of the text and the background.
  • Make everything usable on a mouse and a keyboard. Does your site only support new browsers? Is the site operating with best practices? 

Here are some resources we found to be helpful:

What about conformance levels for WCAG?

First off, what is a WCAG conformance level?  According to UCOP.EDU, WCAG 2.0 guidelines are categorized into three levels of conformance in order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations: A (lowest), AA (mid range), and AAA (highest). Conformance at higher levels indicates conformance at lower levels. For example, by conforming to AA, a Web page meets both the A and AA conformance levels. Level A sets a minimum level of accessibility and does not achieve broad accessibility for many situations.

For compliance, one of the three levels must be fully met. Let’s look at level qualifications:

  • Level A: The web page satisfies all of the level A success criteria, or the minimal level of conformance.
  • Level AA: The page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA success criteria.
  • Level AAA: The website satisfies all success criteria for all three levels of conformance. Level AAA is the most difficult level to achieve. 

It’s important to note that there are five total WCAG conformance requirements that must be met: Conformance Levels (described above), Full Pages, Complete Processes, Only Accessibility-Supported Ways of Using Technologies, and Non-Interference.
 
It’s also a good idea to include an accessibility statement as public information on your site. This statement will indicate your internal organizational policies, your accessibility goals, and past successes for serving users with disabilities.

Can we guarantee compliance with WCAG?

The truth is, we can’t. It’s rare that any website will be 100% WCAG compliant at all times. Sites are dynamic, and their technology is always changing. Few third-party companies will certify a website as being WCAG compliant. If a company does offer a certification, that certification is only valid for a specific date and time. Those in pursuit of WCAG compliance should refer to their legal team to determine the level of compliance they need, and what that compliance would entail for their specific website.

How can we help clients develop a site that best serves disabled viewers?

We’re committed to helping our clients leverage their data to craft the right message for their viewers. If you’re looking to improve your site’s accessibility and usability, contact us today and let’s see what we can do to help.

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