Confused by website accessibility terminology like WCAG or Level A to AAA compliance? Wondering if your tech company’s website needs to abide by Section 508? Here’s a quick rundown of how website accessibility guidelines could (and should!) affect your site.
What websites need to be compliant?
First off, breathe easy…only government websites are required to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as part of the Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws are designed to make web content accessible to people with visual, auditory, physical and other disabilities.
If you’re a private company, then you’re not mandated to follow any specific accessibility guidelines…but check your partnership agreements and client contracts to make sure that isn’t required in the fine print!
What are the pros and cons of being compliant?
At its core, accessibility is obviously a good thing. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to consume your website content in a way that’s best for them. As an easy example, if someone is blind, they would want to use screen reading technology to “hear” the content on your website.
That said, there are actually three levels of compliance: Level A (the basics) to Level AAA (super strict). And while aiming for the highest standard is admirable, it’s not practical…Level AAA is nearly impossible to obtain and would require huge time and financial investments to retrofit your website. Plus, your site wouldn’t look very “cool” since most modern web technologies don’t abide by the strictest accessibility standards.
A better goal? Working toward Level A compliance. While it’s the minimum level of conformance, most of the requirements are really just website design best practices anyway…so hopefully your website isn’t too far off from being compliant today!
How does a website achieve Level A compliance?
For WCAG 2.1 Level A compliance there are almost 30 guidelines (which we have summarized here). Some of these are items are things you can do yourself as an in-house marketer, but some are code-related and will require a developer.
Disclaimer: This is a summary of guidelines; for a full list of requirements, visit the WCAG Quick Reference Guidelines.
Level A Perceivable Requirements
Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Add alt text to images
- Provide text versions of pre-recorded audio-only files for the hearing impaired
- Provide audio tracks of pre-recorded video-only files for the visually impaired
- Caption pre-recorded videos
- Supply an audio or text file to supplement video, such as a finalized screenplay
- Include controls in tracks to adjust the audio independently from the overall system volume level
- Apply header types (H1, H2, H3, etc.) in outline style
- Indent to break up important points
- Use lists (ordered and/or unordered)
- Make sure there is white space between paragraphs
- Use background color suggesting items should be grouped together
- Layout content in readable sequence
- Verify your website doesn’t rely solely on shape, size, visual location, orientation, or sound to relay information or instructions
- Avoid calling out information by color alone
Level A Operable Requirements
User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Allow users to be able to maneuver your website with only their keyboard
- Avoid trapping users in sections. Hitting tab (or other keys) should be able move someone to another section
- Unless there is a specific reason why a session needs to be timed, like an auction, include a way to adjust, remove or extend time for those who need it
- Make moving to the next step as easy as pressing an arrow key
- Allow users to be able to turn off single-key shortcuts off
Mobile Device Functionality
- Include alternate gesture actions, such including zoom in and zoom out buttons for pinch gesture maps
- If there is a swiping function, allow the function to be disabled
- Create an alternate way for mobile users to control device motion functionality (or cancel it)
- Avoid moving content or text
- Stop the use of blinking content
- Make it easy for users to bypass content repeated on every webpage
- Keep your titles relevant
- Highlight links to be obvious by using another indicator besides text
Level A Understandable Requirements
Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
- The default language of each web page needs to be identified in the coding so screen readers can load the correct pronunciation rules.
- Get rid of auto expanding drop downs menus.
- When a user is entering data into your site, the outcome should be predictable.
- If there is an error while inputting data, such as filling out a form, there should be a clear message of why the input was incorrect.
- Adding instructions and labels on your form fills is necessary.
Level A Robust Requirements
Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- Making sure web pages have complete start and end tags help assistive technologies analyze your content accurately and without crashing.
- Avoid customized controls which have a different role and/or function.
While there are number of requirements for obtaining the WCAG 2.1 Level A compliance may seem like a laundry list of to-dos, for the most part they are web design best practices which should be already be in place. More than likely, you already have most of these tasks checked off, so a few additions or tweaks will create an inclusive user experience your audience will appreciate.
If you have any issues, look us up. We know a thing or two.