Accessibility

How to actually understand WCAG

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen the WCAG guidelines and thought, ‘What does all this even mean?’. The way the rules and standards are written can feel overwhelming. Don’t worry, your brain isn’t broken – learning WCAG really can seem like a mammoth task.

We’re here to help make it a bit easier to understand, so read on.

Web Accessibility by definition refers to “the accessibility of a computer system to all people, regardless of disability type or severity of impairment”. (Source – external link)

Before we delve into the core principles of accessibility, it’s important to understand that disability is a spectrum of experiences which influences the ways people navigate and interact with the world around them.

Furthermore, not only are there different types of disabilities, but there are also a lot of intersections. For example, someone could be both deaf and blind or another person could have low vision and dyslexia. 

It’s very easy to get lost in all the checklists and success criteria, then panic about what you’re not doing right before understanding what the end goal is – to make the web as accessible to as many people on the spectrum of disability as possible.

What’s also important to understand, is that nobody actually loses out when you implement accessibility. For pretty much everyone, there’s more to gain and less to lose when you take accessibility seriously.  

Let’s explore the core principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to get an official understanding of how the criteria for Web Accessibility are categorized to meet the standard requirements. 

The way I interpret WCAG is that the core principles are supposed to help me understand what I need to know and be aware of, but not necessarily how it’s done. It’s a bit like reading the menu in a restaurant – it tells you what’s in the dish and it also alerts you to ingredients that may trigger allergies. However, it’s not necessarily telling me how it’s made from start to finish the way a recipe book would. 

There are also certain words you’ll come across a lot when reading documentation and guidelines about web accessibility. 

Assistive technology – These can range from a pair of glasses, a walking stick or hearing aids down to software such as screen readers that are used to read out content on a webpage. The aim of assistive technology is to help improve the quality of life for someone with a disability. 

WCAG Compliance – In order to keep up to date with the standards of Web Accessibility, markers are used to make sure that websites are meeting the success criteria. This is achieved using a rating system to determine how well a website is meeting the requirements. A, AA, and AAA build on each other, so you can’t be AA compliant without being A compliant.

A – Minimum level of compliance 

AA – Standard level of compliance 

AAA – Maximum/highest grade of compliance. 

Now let’s get onto the 4 principles of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and why they are important for web accessibility. I find that it’s much easier to take in information when I can understand why it’s important. 

REMEMBER THIS ACRONYM! – P.O.U.R.

Perceivable

Users must be able to perceive the information that’s being presented.

You need to make sure that the elements on your website are labeled and structured correctly. This is so people can access information with whatever technologies they’re using.

For example, some users are either blind or partially sighted and so rely on assistive technology, such as a screen reader.

By ensuring a well-structured site, assistive technologies can interpret the information and present that to the user.

Operable

The user interface and design components should be easily operable by the users.

For a user to be able to access any interactive element, you need to make sure that your website allows for a range of different controls. For example. some users only interact with their devices via a keyboard or through voice control.

You should also ensure users have enough time to fill out their information on your website and have options when they make errors.

This is important because some users have motor impairments which means they can’t use a mouse or have cognitive impairments that require otherwise require more time to complete the task

It can be very frustrating when you accidentally make an error and you don’t have the option to try again without a time limit.

Understandable

The information present should be easily understandable by the users without any external cues.

Users need to be able to understand what you do, so it’s important you write clearly and succinctly on your website.

Creating efficient user journeys and clearly explaining how to progress through them is also very important.

Remember, some users are not experienced in using the web and may feel overwhelmed to the point where they will leave and not return. 

Robust

The content must be developed using well-adopted web standards that will work across different browsers, now and in the future. 

This means that your website or app should work well across different platforms, technologies, and devices within reasonable limits.

It’s important because, for some users, using a mobile device is preferable to using a PC. It’s always better to give users more options.

Accessibility is a journey

The more you delve into the world of web accessibility, the more you realize that understanding accessibility is a journey. It’s ok if you don’t have it all figured out – it’s better to show that you’re working towards offering a more accessible experience than not to try at all.

Writing an accessibility statement is a great first step. It’s a single place on your site where visitors can learn about your progress, your limitations, and your goals for the future.

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