The topic of Web accessibility can seem a complex one. There seem to be different ‘rules’ depending upon the type of business or organization although the basic concept remains the same—any person, young or old, disabled or not, should be able to access the information that resides on your website.
There are several accessibility laws and standards that are often referred to:
- The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a federal law requiring that public accommodations provide individuals with disabilities equal access to their services, online as well as offline. This includes websites with features such as job postings, forms to download, online correspondence, etc. Several states also have similar laws.
- Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which applies only to federal agencies and requires that they make their electronic and information technology available to persons with disabilities.
- Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination of anyone with a disability and applies to all government agencies, educational institutions and federally funded.
- W3C WCAG 2.0, the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which have been adopted as law in several countries, although not in the U.S.
Section 508 and the WCAG 2.0 are especially helpful in providing detailed guidelines to follow in making your website accessible. In fact, WCAG 2.0 has become the accepted standard and if a site meets WCAG 2.0 guidelines, it will be Section 508 compliant.
As the Web plays a greater and greater role in everyday life, providing online services 24/7/365, it’s becoming increasingly important to make sure your website’s accessible. As of 2010, people who are older or disabled accounted for 57 percent of Internet users, a significant percentage, and that number has surely grown. Even if not required by law, it certainly behooves you to make your site available to this population. And there are many other benefits to building an accessible website.
- Accessible websites have been found to increase SEO and rank higher in search results—the use of alt text for images, for example, makes more content available to search engines
- Accessible sites can be used in less than optimal conditions—captioned videos can be watched in noisy environments and the site can be viewed more easily on mobile devices, for instance
- Accessible sites are more useable by everyone—navigation is clearer, legible fonts and colors are used, site is well structured, site loads faster, etc.
- An accessible site can help build a loyal customer base and bring in referrals from satisfied users
It’s certainly simpler to build an accessible website from the ground up and the WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines should always be used as a tool right from the planning stage, if possible. But, if your existing site needs work to become more in compliance, there are several things that can be done fairly easily:
- Provide a descriptive and appropriate text equivalent for every non-text item
- Ensure that information isn’t conveyed strictly by color
- Provide adequate contrast between text and background colors
- Ensure that users can complete forms by using appropriate labels on all fields
- Make sure your links make sense (avoid ‘click here’ or ‘more’ type links)
|Image by Giovanni Scala available for free download at http://www.quicklycode.com/wallpapers/accessibility-checklist-wallpaper|
Basically, WCAG 2.0 standards involve four principles, POUR—Perceivability, Operability, Understandability, and Robustness:
- Perceivability—are the visual elements of the site accessible in other ways? Do images have alternate text, do videos have captions or transcripts, etc.?
- Operability—can everyone use the tools available on your site? This involves site structure, navigation, etc.
- Understandability—is jargon defined, abbreviations explained, error messages meaningful, etc.?
- Robustness—is the site coded to standards so that it will continue to be accessible into the future?
If you’re concerned that your site may not be compliant and that you may be missing out on the benefits of having an accessible site, NMC offers an accessibility audit service and can supply you with a report outlining problem areas and solutions. With that as your road map, you can implement the needed changes yourself or we can make the changes for you. If the changes are such that an entire site rebuild makes the most sense, we would make that recommendation when we present you with your report.