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What is website accessibility?

Website accessibility is a big area of discussion at the moment. It’s a vague and complicated world of good intentions versus what is practical and possible to achieve. It’s something that all website owners need to keep at the forefront of their minds when planning every element of a new site or managing their existing one – it is a vast topic and it’s easy to get lost.

This article gives an overview of website accessibility, a view on how it’s measured and shows how Fresh01 has worked towards this in the past and what it is doing currently to enhance its websites. By reading this article technical and non-technical readers alike should have a much firmer understanding of what this topic is and how we can all help.

Are there website guidelines on accessibility?

The short answer is yes. The W3C, that is responsible for web standards (it writes what is HTML and what isn’t), developed the ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ which is currently in its second version; more often than not this is abbreviated to WCAG 2.0 or just WCAG (wiki entry here on history and with a couple of interesting court cases). However, these standards can be stifling to creatives, ramp-up costs of web build and put a lot of pressure on the client to write content in a particular way. 

The WCAG standards in a nutshell

Without going into each point in the guidelines they roughly break down to the following key areas:

Perceivable

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

Operable

• Make all functionality available from a keyboard
• Give users enough time to read and use content
• Do not use content that causes seizures
• Help users navigate and find content.

Understandable

• Make text readable and understandable
• Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
• Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Robust

• Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.

How are the WCAG standards measured?

Now this is where it get complicated, convoluted and very subjective. 

The full guidelines are here:

 https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/  and each point (1.1, 1.2, 1.3) has several sub points (1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3).

Each one of these sub points has a testing criteria and each criteria has its own test in order to achieve ‘sufficient’, ‘advisory’ or ‘failure’. If you have a quick look at the site and open a few areas and you should see the typical structure.

If you pass a sub point it is ranked as either level A, AA, or AAA – with AAA being the top.

Each sub point is a different level and to be level AAA for a single point (1.1 for example) you have to pass each sub point with the testing criteria to ‘sufficient’.

If you fail one point (regardless of level) the maximum you can achieve is level AA. If you fail one level AA, the maximum you can achieve is level A. Even if you pass every  every level AAA, if you achieve lower than ‘advisory’ on a single AA point, the maximum is still level A.

Obviously AAA requires a lot of effort. Where it is quite difficult to achieve this standard is on points like:

3.1.5, “Provide a text summary that can be understood by people with lower secondary education level reading ability.”

There are subjects and topics that are borderline impossible to be written in such a way without loosing their accuracy and without alienating their customer. For example some Fresh01 clients like Source BioScience, Just Between Us, Ubiquigent deal with highly complicated subject matter and some highly sensitive matters that would make this difficult to achieve in some cases.

What does Fresh01 do for website accessibility?

A lot of the guidelines are common sense. As Fresh01 is expert in website design, certain accessibility guidelines, such as not putting black text on a black backgrounds, making sure buttons do what they should – you get the gist – are naturally considered and would not be in any any website produced by Fresh01. For the majority of websites (and eLearning courses) the Fresh01 team has gone with the: ‘reasonable alternative to get the same information’  route. This is Fresh01’s minimum standard and has proven to be quite affective. For some clients that is enough and meets their own personal stance on accessibility.

My website’s not accessible, what do I do?

Everything is subjective and no single person can say if a site is ‘accessible’. You realistically need to conduct tests over many months with many users with different difficulties. Also as content is part of the guidelines you’ll need to review each new page or even blog post once it’s published. On the other side of this discussion is the rest of the web community. If you make a true AAA-rated site, you will likely alienate users who don’t have accessibility problems.

With this in mind, Fresh01 has put several steps in place for the most recent crop of websites that showcase good design with accessibility options for users to choose an alternative view according to their needs. These features meet more of the WCAG standards and aid keyboard controls. Example websites include; accessibility2016.comamnet-systems.com, and center4publishinginnovation.com.

Also within the footers of these sites, the company gives a statement of understanding and its values towards accessibility. This means each site owner can be honest about where their site does and doesn’t meet the criteria and what the next steps are to achieve more. Being honest about how the site performs is helpful for a user, knowing what part of the site they can’t access means they won’t get frustrated or stuck. This is where the ‘other reasonable’ ways of getting the information comes in to play. Even with a truly AAA rated site, having a alternative to contact a real person can be invaluable – even if you are fortunate enough not to have any accessibility problems. Each one of these statements has a real person who can assist if the content can not be found on the site easily.

wcag statement footer screenshot

Does the ‘back office’ of my site need to be accessible?

This might not be directly considered when talking about the WCAG, but WordPress as a CMS (content management system) is rated as level AA out of the box. Regardless of the front end, employers have a duty to their staff to make sure the tools they use are accessible. Technically (as you will have to exclude content), every website Fresh01 builds is to a level AA standard for updating and using from an administrative point of view. If you are considering a new web project WordPress is a great platform to allow for people with access issues to contribute to your site’s content.

To sum up

Accessibility in websites relies on many factors and is subjective. There is no reason why the WCAG can not be considered while building your website and there is no reason why this should hinder what you can create. It all about make reasonable efforts to help all users and make sure they get they content they need.

If you feel your website is struggling to achieve the guidelines, get in contact with Fresh01 to discuss options and for advise on what you should do next; this could be an audit, tools put on the site or maybe a design tweak by an expert.

Links for further reading

http://webaccessibilityexplained.ca/wcag-simple-version/

https://www.w3.org/WAI/

https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag

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

https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/