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What is digital accessibility?

Learn what's digital accessibility and how that impacts site usage.

Digital accessibility refers to providing an equivalent user experience for people with disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities. That means also providing web-based information, digital content, applications, and resources that are available and used by everyone.

Making a website accessible can be simple or complex, depending on many factors such as the type of content, the size, technology, complexity of the site, the development tools, and the environment.

Many accessibility features are easily implemented if they are planned and developed from the beginning of development or redesign. Fixing inaccessible sites may require significant effort, especially sites that were not originally coded properly with standard HTML markup, and sites with certain types of content such as multimedia.

Understanding and implementing accessibility: a practical guide

We know now what’s digital accessibility, but we don’t know how to implement it. Web Accessibility Initiative to the rescue. One of the roles of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is to develop guidelines and techniques that describe accessibility solutions for web software and developers. These WAI guidelines are considered the international standard for Web accessibility.

Web Accessibility Initiative: ensuring inclusivity for all users

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines are widely regarded as the international standard for web accessibility. WAI provides resources on its website and works by developing support materials to help understand and implement web accessibility and developing resources, through international collaboration.

Part of the Web Accessibility Initiative is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines.

In 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG; pronounced: way-cagg or wuh-cog) to specify how web developers should make content accessible for people with disabilities. The WCAG 2.0 and higher have Success Criteria split between three Levels of Conformance (low to high): A, AA, and AAA, with AAA being the level that makes your content the most accessible.

The latest version of WCAG is 3.0 and it’s marked as Working Draft of WCAG 3.0.

Web Accessibility Success Criteria: enhancing user experience for people with disabilities

WCAG is organized by four Principles, which state that content must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The four Principles are arranged by supporting Guidelines, which are further broken into individual Success Criteria. Success Criteria act as the specific and testable accessibility requirements.

There are 13 guidelines in WCAG 2.1 containing a total of 78 success criteria, that represent basic goals web authors and developers should aim for. Guidelines provide a framework for organizing success criteria.

WCAG Conformance levels: achieving optimal accessibility standards

There are three conformance levels of WCAG: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA.

Each Success Criterion is assigned a conformance level of A, AA, or AAA, with A as the lowest level of compliance and AAA as the highest. To qualify as meeting a certain conformance level, all content on a webpage or website must fully meet at least that level.

A Summary of digital accessibility best practices

Summary of WCAG Success Criteria and Conformance Level
Success Criteria
LevelDescriptionWCAG 2.0WCAG 2.1Total WCAG
2.0 and 2.1
ALevel A success requirements are the least strict. If your digital content does not meet WCAG Level A, it may have major accessibility concerns that prevent disabled visitors from using it.25530
AADigital content that conforms with WCAG Level AA can be considered reasonably accessible for most users. Most websites should aim for Level AA conformance. To meet this goal, content must conform with all Level AA and Level A success criteria.17720
AAADigital content that meets WCAG Level AAA is considered best accessible. To achieve Level AAA conformity, content must meet all of the WCAG guidelines (including Level AA and Level A success criteria). Some Level AAA success criteria, however, are quite strict, and some types of content cannot adhere to every criterion at this level.23528

Essential minimum requirements for web accessibility

The general recommendation is to comply with WCAG 2.1. Level AA standard for accessibility to ensure that content and functionality are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust for those affected by:

  • Visual impairment and blindness.
  • Hearing impairment and deafness.
  • Physical disabilities such as congenital conditions, long-term injuries caused by accidents Neurological conditions, and brain injuries.
  • Speech and language disabilities.
  • Learning disabilities or differences.

Additionally, persons without disabilities will gain from it:

  • People using smart watches, smart TVs, mobile phones, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc. Older people with changing abilities due to aging.
  • Those who have temporary disabilities, like a broken arm or lost glasses.
  • People who have situational limitations, such as those who cannot hear sounds in environments, with bright sunlight or high sunlight, those with a slow Internet connection, or with expensive or limited bandwidth.

Crafting an Accessibility Statement for your website

It is important to note that in some cases, accessibility statements may be legally required. For example, public bodies in countries that implement the EU Web Accessibility Directive are obligated to provide an accessibility statement for their websites and digital content published by public bodies.

An accessibility statement is a document that outlines the accessibility features and policies of a website, application, or other digital product. It provides information about the steps that have been taken to make the product accessible to people with disabilities, and it can also outline any limitations or areas for improvement. The purpose of an accessibility statement is to inform users about the accessibility features of the product and to provide assurance that the product has been designed and developed with accessibility in mind.

Accessibility statements typically include the following elements:

  • A commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities: This expresses the website owner’s dedication to ensuring equal access to information for all users, regardless of their disabilities.
  • The accessibility standard applied: This specifies the accessibility standard or guidelines that the website adheres to, such as WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).
  • Contact information: This includes relevant contact details, such as email addresses or phone numbers, that users can use to report accessibility issues or seek assistance.

Concluding remarks: essential considerations for digital accessibility

Quote from W3C:

When citing WCAG 2.1 as part of a requirement (e.g., a shall or must statement in a standard or regulation), the reference must include the specific parts of WCAG 2.1 that are intended to be required. When referencing WCAG 2.1 in this manner, the following rules apply:

  1. Conformance at any level of WCAG 2.1 requires that all of the Level A Success Criteria be met. References to WCAG 2.1 conformance cannot be for any subset of Level A.
  2. Beyond Level A, a shall or must reference may include any subset of provisions in Levels AA and AAA. For example, all of Level A and [some specific list of Success Criteria in Level AA and Level AAA] be met.
  3. If Level AA conformance to WCAG 2.1 is specified, then all Level A and all Level AA Success Criteria must be met.
  4. If Level AAA conformance to WCAG 2.1 is specified, then all Level A, all Level AA, and all Level AAA Success Criteria must be met.

    Note 1: It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance ever be required for entire sites as a general policy because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.

    Note 2: The sets of Success Criteria defined in WCAG are interdependent and individual Success Criteria rely on each other’s definitions in ways which may not be immediately obvious to the reader. Any set of Success Criteria must include all of the Level A provisions.

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