Previously, we discussed why it’s important to make all public websites compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (also called WCAG), or Section 508 to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (usually called “508”), or the American Disabilities Act (ACA). These are references in international standards and U.S. laws that require information communication and technology businesses to be compliant.
I’m going to break down what WCAG is, share how to find the information you need, and where to find tools to get you started. We do this in a few steps: Understanding the user, what compliance means, which standard to follow, and how to know what to fix or build differently.
Understanding the users
In any project, the first thing you need to understand is how users with diverse abilities access information, products, or services on your website. The W3C® international community works hard to make the web standardized, useful, and accessible. Take a moment to review this section of W3C® guidelines to understand users with different needs might use your website so you can develop fluency with their tools and how they navigate, identify user hurdles, and read some of their stories. At the W3C®, you can learn more about why it’s so important to take the extra steps for users with diverse abilities.
What does compliance mean?
What standard should I follow?
For this post, we focus on the WCAG. There are three levels of compliance: Levels A, AA, and AAA. The goal is to meet Level A at the least but strive to Level AA.
The four principles underlying accessibility guidelines are that information must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
This means that information needs to be accessible by screen readers, including alternative text features for images so visually impaired individuals can know what the images are about. Caption software needs to be able to function for videos. Transcripts need to be available and clearly identified. A text-resizing feature should be easy to identify and use. Colors should follow color contrast guidelines and help users distinguish elements like important buttons for user actions.
“The best way to make it happen is to just start.”
These requirements and tips for implementation are clearly listed, detailed, and free to access for reference in this Quick Reference Guide. Using the filter makes it easy to locate the specific issue you need to correct or review. Check it out and look up a few things. It looks overwhelming, but after a bit, you get the hang of it.
How do I know what to fix?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed. This will take some time. The first step is to be aware of what is needed vs. what you can do yourself. If you prefer to ask an expert for support, there are many resources and third-party services to utilize. However, if you create a plan in your process that works for you and your team, you can break it down a little or set a deadline for when it will be compliant. The most important thing about working towards compliance is to have a plan that will keep it as a priority and have steady progress.
On the W3C® website, there is a comprehensive list of the 145 tools to choose from, including many free options. Though I have used just a few of them, the right one should be chosen by discussing with your team to determine which one works best for your process. It may seem overwhelming, but this can be broken down within your team’s various roles to ensure compliance is being met during different stages, including design, content, development, and iteration.
The best way to make it happen is just to start.
What’s next? What if you have a website that is already built and you need to check it for accessibility? In the next post, I will review the manual and automated tools you can use.