There are over one billion people who live with some form of disability globally. While there have been efforts to promote inclusion and accommodate everyone’s needs, many spaces and services still remain inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, the internet and the World Wide Web are among these spaces.
Most of the internet is far from being accessible. This widespread lack of accessibility ultimately limits the ability of people with disabilities to take enjoy the comforts and conveniences that the web brings.
In an effort to have more websites cater to people with disabilities, the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) has come up with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that outlines a set of technical standards that web content developers and site owners must follow to make websites accessible and help organizations comply with many web accessibility legislations around the world.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
The WCAG, which is currently in version 2.1, has thirteen guidelines that are based on four essential principles for developers and site owners to follow. These principles are:
- Websites must present information and user interface to users in ways that are easy to perceive. The WCAG requires websites to address the following senses: sight, sound, and touch.
This means that they must provide content that is easily seen and heard by users. All non-text content must have text alternatives that can be changed into other forms depending on the needs of the person with disability. Media content including videos and images must also have captions and transcriptions. Websites must also ensure that their content can be presented in multiple ways or in simple layouts without losing important information.
- Websites must have user interface and navigation components that are easy to use. This is to ensure that websites can address the needs of those with motor disabilities.
As such, users must be able to navigate websites and find content easily. Websites must provide support for alternative navigation and be fully navigable using the keyboard. They must also provide users enough time to read and browse the site. Websites must also not contain design components that can trigger seizures or physical reactions.
- Websites must ensure that the information they contain and the operation of their user interface are easily understandable. They must contain content that is readable and comprehensible.
Websites must use simple language and provide guides or mechanisms that will help users identify the definitions of unusual words such as idioms and jargon as well as abbreviations. There must also be input assistance and labels that help users avoid and correct mistakes. Websites can also offer simplified versions of technical articles as an alternative.
- Websites must have content that is robust enough to be interpreted by various user agents, including assistive technologies. They must use clean HTML and CSS and contain content that has parsed data.
To accommodate different disabilities and situations that require greater accessibility functionalities, the WCAG has three levels of conformance or three levels of success criteria: A, AA, and AAA for its guidelines. Testing the success criteria involves a combination of automated testing and human evaluation. To achieve conformance, sites must at least satisfy the Level AA success criteria.
Why are they needed?
Despite improvements in technology and connectivity, the internet remains largely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Most websites, for instance, aren’t designed to work with assistive devices. As a result, people with disabilities may find it difficult, if not impossible, to browse the web. Fifty percent of disabled Americans are less likely to use the internet on a daily basis than those without disabilities.
To address this, concerned parties have made it clear that the laws that promote inclusion such as the Americans Disabilities Act must also be applicable to websites that provide products and services to the public. Many regulatory bodies have adopted the WCAG as the standards to follow in implementing web accessibility laws. Failure to comply can result in costly legal fees, hefty fines, and a damaged reputation.
Unfortunately, many websites fail to comply with these standards and now risk litigation. In 2018, 2,258 web accessibility-related cases were filed in federal court. Over 95 percent of web accessibility lawsuits are settled outside of the courts where the defendant has to shoulder a plaintiff cost and must remediate their website. Most companies are given two years to fix accessibility issues and make their sites achieve WCAG Level AA standards.
How can websites comply?
Adhering to the WCAG has its challenges. Site owners must screen every element of their site pages to identify the accessibility issues that must be fixed. Performing this manually can be a laborious task. In addition, remediation will commonly involve editing content and fixing design issues. It can also require adding functionalities such as navigation for alternative keyboards and built-in dictionaries. Quality assurance testing must also be done to ensure that everything runs smoothly after the modifications.
Businesses that don’t have the necessary technical expertise to successfully implement such changes might have to tap third-party developers and outsource their web accessibility compliance needs, leaving small businesses with meager budgets out of options.
Fortunately, there are now web accessibility platforms such as accessiBe that even leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to fully automate web accessibility remediation and help sites achieve full WCAG compliance cost-effectively.
Unlike manual remediation that can cost anywhere from $4,500 to $75,000, web accessibility platforms are more affordable.
Site owners, for instance, can avail use the service for only $490 a year. A typical website can achieve a 96 percent WCAG success rating.
A More Inclusive Web
The emergence of web accessibility platforms is a welcome development for all stakeholders. With accessible, businesses now have a cost-effective solution that can help bring the internet to the underserved.
While these platforms still have limitations, it can’t be denied that they significantly reduce the pressure and burden that organizations face in making their sites more accessible. Of course, site owners must remain updated and aware of how those with disabilities use the web. They must see to it that they make their site content as accessible to them as possible.
Regular users must also show their support for these guidelines and demand that businesses comply with the laws that are instituted by regulatory bodies. This will greatly encourage organizations to do the right thing. Ultimately, everyone—businesses as well as regulatory bodies and even regular users—must do their due diligence to work toward a more inclusive and accessible internet.