Web accessibility 101 — putting users first
Stories about web accessibility are everywhere you turn lately — in the press, on your newsfeed, even popping up most recently in conversations about outdoor dining.
Being digitally accessible means that everyone has access to the same information, products and services across all platforms. And that really means everyone, including people with visual, hearing, cognitive or motor disabilities.
It’s important, because more and more website owners are being taken to court with allegations that their sites don’t stand up to the required standards. But what are the standards, anyway?
The legal need-to-know
The ADA is the US law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It applies to all areas of life, including digital experiences. In the UK, the rough equivalent is the Equality Act 2010. But the interesting part is that neither includes guidelines for websites.
That’s where the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) come in. WCAG is the only globally accepted set of guidelines, which details specific techniques for making websites accessible.
There are three progressive levels of accessibility under WCAG: A, AA, and AAA. AA is the most common, widely accepted target for accessible website design.
The other major term that’s thrown around when it comes to accessibility is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This is a US federal regulation covering all government agencies, contracts, and businesses that work with (or receive funding from) government agencies.
While the ADA doesn’t explicitly set out guidelines for maintaining digital accessibility levels, Section 508 is very specific about how it defines accessibility for websites: they must meet WCAG AA standards. And in the UK, since AA is what’s expected of public sector websites, it’s seen as a good yardstick.
Why is AA web accessibility important?
Estimates determine the number of people with some level of disability to be at least 15%. They might have difficulties viewing your website, listening to videos, or using a keyboard or mouse to access your digital content.
Accessibility isn’t just a trend or buzzword. It ensures your digital presence can be accessed by all. So that no matter how they interact with the world, everyone can successfully and confidently navigate your website.
And that also means they can buy your products. Or book an appointment. Or set up a subscription. So, if you needed another reason to put accessibility first, imagine losing up to 15% of your potential customers simply because they can’t use it.
How do you stay compliant?
While accessibility is an ever-evolving topic, it’s too much of a risk — both socially and economically — to ignore.
So how do you ensure your website will meet accessibility standards?
Well, you need to be able to prove that your company has taken good steps to work towards web accessibility. (And accessibility across other digital experiences.)
But the truth is that no website is 100% accessible, 100% of the time. They’re often too large, elaborate and dynamic.
Pair that with the ever-evolving global rules and regulations, and you’ll be constantly chasing a moving goal line that you never quite cross.
In reality, you need to make sure your company is constantly working towards accessible experiences to stay compliant. It’s not something you do once and forget about. It’s a long-term goal to keep in mind at all times.