Achieving Greater Web Accessibility with W3C-WAI
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) represents an international community consisting of member organizations, full-time staff, and participation from the public related to Web standards. At the helm of W3C is none other than the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. The W3C launched the Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI) in 1997 with endorsement by The White House and W3C members. WAI consists of several working groups and interest groups that work on guidelines, technical reports, educational materials and other documents that relate to several components of Web accessibility. These include web content, web browsers and media players, authoring tools, and evaluation tools.
WCAG: What it Is and How it Impacts You
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, typically referred to as WCAG, was first published under W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C-WAI) in 1999, coined WCAG 1.0. It consisted of 14 points for accessible design for individuals with different types of disabilities. Because of rapid advancements in technology, and the increased use of the Internet for information, communication, entertainment and e-commerce, the technology rapidly outpaced WCAG 1.0, necessitating the publication of WCAG 2.0 in 2008. Although it can be argued that WCAG 2.0 is beginning to also show its age, it represents a robust and comprehensive set of 12 guidelines under four principles abbreviated as P.O.U.R. that continue to be relevant today:
• Perceivable: Text alternatives are equivalents for non-text content.
• Operable user interface and navigation
• Understandable: information and user interface
• Robust content and reliable interpretation
The WCAG 2.0 standard is the most detailed and up-to-date guideline for creating accessible web content. It has been voluntarily accepted and employed by numerous American educational institutions and organizations. It has also been referenced by laws in 14 countries and the EU. W3C-WAI’s contribution to the creation and publication of WCAG has been one of the most significant contributions to Web accessibility around the world.
W3C-WAI provides comprehensive information for creating a more accessible online experience including resources to promote a better understanding of people with disabilities, and technical code inspection, remediation tools and techniques to enhance Web accessibility.
Strategies, Guidelines and Resources
Overview of Web Accessibility
W3C-WAI provides a number of resources, including ways in which people with disabilities access the Internet. W3C-WAI has recently created a number of brief, high quality videos called “Perspective Videos” that illustrate common barriers that people with disabilities experience when accessing the Web. They also introduce key design strategies that address or prevent these barriers. These videos, which can be accessed at Perspective Videos
- Keyboard Compatibility
- Clear Layout and Design
- Large Links
- Buttons and Controls
- Customizable Text
- Understandable Content
- Colors with Good Contrast
- Video Captions
- Voice Recognition
- Notifications and Feedback
Tips and Tutorials for Getting Started with Web Accessibility
W3C-WAI provides some well written, role-based resources that assist designers, writers and developers in incorporating greater Web accessibility. These include user interface and visual design, writing and presenting content, markup and coding. These resources can be accessed at: Tips for Getting Started with Web Accessibility
W3C-WAI also provides a list of ‘Easy Checks’ for web accessibility which, in most cases, require minimal effort to incorporate such as relevant page titles, effectively coded headings, improvement of contrast ratios and effectively labeled form elements: Easy Checks: A First Review of Web Accessibility
Another especially helpful resource is W3C-WAI’s “Before and After Demonstration” that compares how an inaccessible website looks and functions with one that has been made accessible: Before and After Demonstration
WCAG: Past, Present and Future
One of the weaknesses of WCAG 1.0 was its dependency on specific technology. For example, it referenced HTML almost exclusively. WCAG 2.0 was designed to be more technology agnostic than WCAG 1.0. In other words, if the technology has accessibility support, and you use it appropriately with that support, you can very often meet the requirements of WCAG 2.0.
Nearly a decade after its finalization, WCAG 2.0 continues to remain relevant and applicable today. In fact, many of the settlements by Department of Justice pertaining to inaccessible websites specifically reference WCAG 2.0. The AccessGA website lists several such settlements: Settlements and Topics Related to ICT Accessibility
As forward-thinking as the design of WCAG 2.0 was at the time, the exponential growth of technology in recent years has necessitated the need for standards and guidelines that could not have been foreseen when WCAG 2.0 was published. The proliferation of mobile devices with smaller displays, additional touch-based user input methodologies, payment systems and driverless vehicles are just some examples requiring an expansion of WCAG 2.0. In order to account for these rapidly evolving technologies, work is currently underway to provide an updated version of WCAG 2.0, referred to as WCAG 2.1. Current projections are for WCAG 2.1 to be finalized in mid-2018. The goal for WCAG 2.1 is that it be restricted in scope, be as similar to WCAG 2.0 as possible, and be fully backwards compatible, thereby complimenting rather than replacing WCAG 2.0. W3C-WAI is currently requesting comments for WCAG 2.1 by November 1st
Web Accessibility as Necessity, Not Philanthropy
With an in increase in our aging population, along with the awesome potential for technology to level the playing field for people with all disabilities, Web accessibility has become more important than ever. Providing a more fully accessible Web experience for everyone is a wise financial investment to an agency’s bottom line and provides a number of benefits, including an expansion of its customer base, employee productivity and retention, reduced risk of litigation, search engine optimization (SEO) and improved public relations. The challenges related to improved Web accessibility are very often less about technological hurdles and more about education and a greater understanding of people with disabilities. With the international impact that W3C-WAI continues to have on guidelines and standards, the World Wide Web will be experienced more fully by all people across the globe, regardless of abilities.