Website accessibility

Removing Barriers to Website Access

Just part of your website

Accessibiltiy is an important element of making sure that everyone can participate equally in our village. With websites, it is making sure that people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive disabilities can interact with and contribute to the Internet. As a business, or organization, you want to make sure that everyone can have access to the information you are providing. 

There are many components to making a website accessible, giving the impression that it is an difficult process to implement. It doesn’t have to be that way. Like many other facets of building a website, it becomes part of the process.

History of the Standard

The standard originated in in 1999 when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Accessibility Initiative, and published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 1.0. The goal was to ensure that people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive disabilities can interact with and contribute to the Internet.

In December, 2008, the standard was updated to WCAG 2.0, being published as a W3C Recommendation. It has 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA. The A level is the minimum standard to adhere to, AA is the level that should be strived for and AAA is a level could be strived for. The techniques are periodically updated however the principles, guidelines and success criteria are stable and do not change.

In 2012 Ontario updated its Accessibility of Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to "make incorporate new internetwebsites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA, other than criteria noted in the legislation".

In October 2012, the International Organization for Standardization accepted WCAG 2.0 as an ISO International Standard.

The value of Internet access is unparalleled. Every individual, regardless of disability, should have this access. Websites should have the capability to be experienced using screen readers, text should have the option of being made larger, and all links should be able to be seen clearly. These are just best practices of making good websites.

Making it part of the website creation process

Website accessibility touches on virtually every aspect of the website creation process. If done right, the process is not as arduous or difficult as it may seem.

The important activities in the process include:

  • Designers making sure that their designs have the proper colour contrast
  • Content people making sure that image and files have the proper filenames and tags on them; forms have proper labels and minimizing the use of tables as much as possible
  • WCAG 2.0 AA complaint starter templates which take care of many of the invisible (to a person with sight) requirements;
  • Implementers checking to ensure that it is simple for end users to add content, worrying as little as possible about accessibility requirements;
  • Implementers rechecking the colour contrast of the design elements;
  • Testing the website through accessibility checks and screen readers to ensure everything was done right.

If this process is followed throughout the entire website creation, then testing at the end is as simple as going through a checklist. However, not following this can lead to an arduous, time consuming process that gets tacked on at the end.

Making sure the website stays compliant

The goal of an accessible website does not end when the website goes live. Having good web software that makes it easy to create content in an accessible way is important, however not everything can be made foolproof. Updates made to websites also need to be accessible.

As an end user or content creator, the important elements to remember are:

  • Don’t override the CSS to create different colours on the page. Generally this is not a good idea as it also takes away from the branding of the website
  • Write as clearly as possible
  • Provide descriptive headings and ensure headings are created in order on every page (i.e H2 after H1)
  • Make sure that all images have descriptive Alt-tags (unless there is already a descriptive title next to the image on the page)
  • Stay away from tables as much as possible
  • Add equivalent alternatives to audio and video
  • Hide redundant images and content from screen readers

Ensuring that your website is compliant opens it up to a larger number of people who can access your information. It is well worth the effort. It is also worth nothing that many of the above features are also good criteria for Search Engine Optimization.

Additional Reading

The following is a short summary of resources about accessibility.

Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_accessibility
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Content_Accessibility_Guidelines

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/accessibility.php
https://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility

Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act (AODA)
https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/05a11 https://www.ontario.ca/page/accessibility-laws

Web Accessibility in Mind
http://webaim.org/intro/

Accessibility Best Practices
https://www.webaccessibility.com/best_practices.php

Website Accessibility Tools
FANGS Screen Reader Emulator for Mozilla Firefox
WAVE – Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
WAVE Chrome Extension