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What Is Web Accessibility? Here's What You Need to Know

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Summary: The Internet is important to everyday life. This means website accessibility is also critical. This article is about what website accessibility is and how to ensure your digital content is compliant.

Updated: 04/02/2021

The internet is a vital part of day-to-day life. It's used for work, recreation and shopping, and for most people, it's the ultimate resource for finding information. That's why it's more important than ever for everyone to have equal access to what's on the web.

Unfortunately, certain disabilities may prevent individuals from easily consuming online content, which is where website accessibility comes into play.

What Is Website Accessibility?

Website accessibility is the practice of making sure that websites and web-related tools and technologies are usable by everyone, regardless of ability. The term is typically used to refer to online functionality that's designed for individuals with disabilities or conditions that may impact their access to the web, such as:

  • Visual, auditory or cognitive impairments
  • Physical limitations, including motor control difficulties
  • Neurological disorders
  • Speech impediments
  • Learning disabilities such as dyslexia
  • Age-related ability concerns
  • Temporary disabilities such as broken bones and post-surgical restrictions

In other words, web accessibility is the digital equivalent of installing handrails and ramps to make a building more accessible to someone with a physical disability. But web accessibility goes even further: it also supports the social inclusion of individuals who may be isolated due to age, geographic location or other factors.

The practice of ensuring website accessibility through development strategies and standardized design guarantees that all individuals, regardless of ability, can use and interact with web content in all of its many forms. The goal is to enable navigation and interaction with website pages and allow users to contribute to the web through interactive features, including forms, chat boxes and comment fields and even to create their own website content.

The four WCAG principles represented by icons

What Are The 4 Principles of Web Accessibility?

According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), website content must be “POUR”: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. Answering the question of “what is web accessibility?,” can start with these four principles, as they guide organizations in developing ADA-compliant websites.

Perceivable

Content on a website must be perceivable, meaning the information and user interface components must be presented in a way that all users can comprehend. Nothing should be “invisible” to any of their senses. For example, text alternatives must be provided for any non-text content, and content must be made easier for users to see and hear.

Operable

The operable component of web accessibility requires that the interface of a website must omit any user interactions that a user cannot perform. Some examples include making all functionality on a keyboard accessible and providing enough time for users to read and use content.

Understandable

Users must be able to understand the information and operations of the user interface on a website. This can be done by making text content clear and readable, web pages more intuitive to navigate, as well as helping users avoid and correct mistakes with clear navigation, labels and instructions.

Robust

Content must be robust enough that it can remain accessible, even as technologies and user-agents evolve. Websites should be compatible with current and future user-agents, such as browsers and assistive technologies like readers.

Website with features called out for well-organized content, alt text, and warnings

Ways to Achieve Web Accessibility

The goal of web accessibility is to reduce or even eliminate the barriers that make it difficult or impossible for individuals with disabilities to use visual or audio content. That's typically accomplished by modifying web content and behind-the-scenes coding to account for users with special needs. This may include, for example, adapting your site to accommodate the assistive technologies (such as magnifiers for increasing print size and screen readers) that those individuals may require in order to complete daily tasks,.

Web accessibility may be accomplished using a variety of techniques, implemented alone, or in combination, depending on the audience. The tools listed below are just a small fraction of what's available today.

Alternative Text

Websites that use graphics or images to deliver a message or enhance their visual appeal may become more accessible by incorporating alternative text. Also known as alt text, alt attributes or alt descriptions, alt text is defined as words used to describe the appearance or function of a website image for a user who is unable to see it. This text can also be used in conjunction with text-to-speech technology to help website visitors who have visual impairments better understand the content of a page.

Keyboard Input

Keyboard input functionality lets users navigate and interact with a website exclusively through their keyboard instead of requiring the use of a mouse. Consequently, keyboard input accommodations allow for the use of assistive technologies that simulate keystrokes. This includes speech input, touchscreen PDAs and handwriting interpreters, which can make websites more accessible for users who experience difficulties with fine motor control.

Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is the process of displaying text in conjunction with a running video. It typically includes all spoken words and sounds or background noises that are relevant to the context, and it's synchronous with what is happening onscreen. It's beneficial (sometimes indispensable, even) to users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and also makes video accessible to individuals who live, work or visit a place where conditions make audio difficult to hear or understand.

Subtitling

Similar to closed captioning, subtitling also requires onscreen text that correlates to words and sounds in a video, but typically, subtitling includes translations into a language of choice. This provides accessibility for individuals who may not speak or be fluent in a particular language.

Transcript Availability

Offering text transcripts for audio elements of websites ensures that content is accessible to users who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Time Limit Adjustments

To make sites more accessible for users with cognitive impairments, neurological disorders or physical limitations, this functionality extends or eliminates time limits on websites. It may suppress interruptions due to time-outs or permit reauthentication at the end of a session without the loss of data. Blinking or scrolling text may also be frozen.

Warnings and Controls

Multimedia content that flashes in certain patterns or at specific rates may cause seizures or other photosensitive reactions in certain individuals. Warnings can alert users to potentially problematic content prior to presenting it. Sites may also provide functionality that lets users switch off any animations or flashing content prior to exposure.

Well-Organized Content

One of the most important aspects of accessible pages is the provision of well-organized content that's easy to navigate, which is typically defined by the following features:

  • Pages with clear titles and descriptive headers
  • Large buttons in intuitive locations
  • Easy-to-understand links
  • Consistent labels
  • The primary language is identified
  • A predictable user interface that is consistent from page to page
  • Readable text that's aimed at a broad audience
  • Available help

As assistive technologies advance and designers and developers learn more about the changing needs of users, website accessibility will continue to evolve, and new tools and techniques will continue to become available.

Who Else Benefits from Website Accessibility?

First and foremost, website accessibility is meant to ensure vital digital access for individuals with disabilities, but other people may also benefit from the tools and techniques employed in accessible design. Creating an accessible website can benefit people who have situational limitations, such as those who work or browse in high-noise environments that prevent them from accurately hearing audio or settings where lighting conditions hinder screen viewing.

Website accessibility features may make web navigation easier for people using mobile devices with small screens, including cell phones and smart watches, as well as for individuals who are using technology with alternate input modes, including smart TVs or video game interfaces. People who are accessing the web over a slow internet connection or who have limited bandwidth may also benefit from certain techniques.

Two shields representing WCAG and ADA

Why You Should Consider Website Accessibility?

In the United States, many organizations are legally required to provide accessible websites thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In particular, federal agencies and their contractors must uphold standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

For private businesses, the legal aspects are less clear, and there are no definitive technical standards that companies must adhere to. Still, the ADA recommends that all websites provide reasonable accessibility. It’s worth noting, too, that courts are ruling that the internet is a place of public accommodation more and more frequently all the time and, as such, that it must be accessible to all users. Workplaces that use internet functionality for daily tasks may also be required to ensure accessibility for employees who have special needs.

Regardless of the legal concerns, web accessibility is a great goal to strive for when designing and developing a website. Making a site accessible serves to benefit individuals, businesses and society as a whole by providing access to all users.

AudioEye can help your company drive business by enabling equal access to content and enhancing the user experience for all your visitors. Contact an AudioEye professional today to learn more about our hybrid web accessibility solutions and how we can put them to work for you.

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