What is Web Accessibility?

What is Web Accessibility?

Last Edited August 9, 2019 by Garenne Bigby in Accessibility Testing

Information technology has developed at a staggering rate over the past three decades. Society has seen the rise of many scientific advancements. Everything has changed from the devices we use to communicate to the way we listen to music. There is even a home software assistant device that can make your grocery list, tell the time, and provide you with a weather report. The advancements don't stop there. One key innovation that has risen, and perhaps the most important, is the World Wide Web (www) or internet.

With the internet, people can access an overabundance of information at the swipe of a few keys and click of a button. Communication was completely revolutionized with the evolution of technology. Two persons across the globe are now able to have an entire conversation as though they are next to each other. This has expanded our world in many ways.

It is now possible to work anywhere with a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection, and friends from around the world can keep in touch through social media platforms. Most importantly though, information has never been so accessible.   

Any question can be answered by merely unlocking a smartphone and "Googling" it. As society moves forward into the technology era, it is vital that all its members can utilize these new tools to the full extent. With this change in how we retrieve and use information came the idea of web accessibility.

This article will discuss the connotation of web accessibility and what it means for our society, and other civilizations around the world. It will highlight the different technologies available to people with disabilities and how developers and users alike are implementing the idea. The tools available for those with visual, mobility, auditory, seizures, and cognitive impairments, will be outlined. We will also discuss how developers can create equally accessible web-based content and the legislation that centers around web accessibility, both here and abroad. Many different countries have gone on to pass laws regarding what web developers can and cannot do. Some countries do not have legislation on web accessibility, but they do promote and share information on how to make websites equally accessible.

The context examines what companies are doing to stay on the cutting edge of web accessibility, as well as make recommendations for how a website can be adjusted so it is accessible to everyone. It will cover the different techniques companies are implementing in hopes of being equally accessible. Some organizations are even going as far as to conduct self-audits on their web accessibility. The environment of a company greatly impacts the amount of effort the organization attributes to web accessibility. Depending on their image, they may put more effort into creating an equally accessible web to maintain their brand.

The various groups that address web accessibility and the guidelines they have presented will be discussed as well. We will primarily focus on what the W3C is doing to enhance web accessibility. Many countries have based their guidelines on the research conducted by the W3C and their many working groups.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility is, by definition, an inclusive practice that promotes demolishing barriers that could prevent people with disabilities from being able to access the online world. It aims to create an inclusive online world for all of societies members. Overall, it promotes efficient website design with even access to information for all.

The idea of web accessibility promotes the functionality of the internet. Developers, ideally, try to create web content that can be used by anyone with a computer. In other words, the internet is basically designed to work for all people. There are several different tools that developers and organizations can include on their site to make it more accessible for everyone. Not only are there tools available to developers to promote web accessibility, but there are also trade techniques that they can implement to make their content equally accessible.

The reason web accessibility is so important is that society today relies heavily on the internet for information. Other methods of gathering information, such as going to the library and searching through the encyclopedia, are vastly less efficient. While it is still possible to purchase a collection books to be used during the research process, there is no disputing this is less effective than the internet.

People with disabilities would be at a tremendous disadvantage if they were unable to access information in the most effective way possible which would not be fair or right—especially today where the majority of jobs require an individual to use a computer and implement technology.

So, the idea of web accessibility and the importance put on the topic will enhance society. By increasing efficiency for everyone and promoting an open line to technology, all of societies' members will benefit greatly. Not only that, but web accessibility creates a better platform for communication and information sharing across the board.

Society is more connected now than ever before as web accessibility seeks to allow all members to stay connected and thrive in today's society. Technology is used for education, communication, entertainment, and more. By encouraging equal access to technology, all of societies' members can benefit from the advancement.

Assistive Technologies for People with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities can access the internet with the assistance of different tools. Tools continue to be created to this day to help promote an equally accessible web, and companies are realizing the benefits of an equally accessible online space. Most businesses understand if a portion of societies potential users cannot access their web content they will be missing out of a subsection of the marketplace. Tools continue to be made each year to help users with disabilities access the web equally.

A variety of different technological tools are used to promote more efficient web accessibility. Some of these tools are more popular than others.

  • Semantically HTML coding. Semantically HTML coding involves images that are linked to written and verbal descriptions. The descriptions can be played aloud with text-to-speech software, so someone with a visual impairment will know what the image is. This can also make it easier for persons with disabilities that might have a hard time reading written text to understand a website.

  • Text-to-Braille hardware. This is a mechanical device that will display characters in braille. Typically, this is achieved with small smooth-tipped pins being raised through the holes on an otherwise flat surface. This machine is synced with a computer and was created for people who are visually impaired and can read braille.

  • Simplifying content with images. This web accessibility feature can be used to help people with learning disabilities or visual learners follow the material. Some persons do not respond well to the written word and instead learn best through visuals, such as images. By displaying content in multiple ways, everyone should be able to use the information provided.

  • Text and image enlargement feature. A computer feature that will enlarge texts or images on a web page, the text and image enlargement feature will make it readable for people with certain visual impairments. It is important that developers create content that is compatible with this software; otherwise, the user will not be able to implement the software.

  • Underlining words that utilize color. A web accessibility feature that is used to ensure people with a color-blind disability, by underlining words that utilize color, people with a color-blind disability can distinguish between different characters that may be different colors. When developers can avoid coding by color, it is recommended they do.

  • Avoiding the use of flashing material. Flashing materials have been known to cause seizures. One way to make a website more accessible is to avoid using any material that flashes. When materials must flash a website can be designed so that it is optional. In addition, anything over the flash threshold should be avoided.

  • Enlarged links. Links can be enlarged on a web page to help ensure people with motor disabilities that may have trouble using a mouse can click on the link. It also helps individuals with visual impairments see the link.

  • Coding to promote multiple methods of page navigation. Websites can be coded by developers to promote multiple methods of navigation including keyboard, touch screen, mouse, and more. This is ideal to promote web accessibility.

  • Video subtitles. When videos have subtitles people with an auditor disability can follow along with the material. If subtitles are not possible a written description should be present below the video.

  • Keyboard overlays. A keyboard overlay is a keyboard that does not have preset keys. It can be programmed to best fit the user. This is a great tool for people with motor disabilities.

  • Speech recognition software. Persons who have motor disabilities can use these tools. It involves a person speaking, and the software generates the computer functions based on what is said. The user can type documents, access websites, and more all with verbal cues.

These are just some of the main tools that are used by people with disabilities to access the online world. Other tools exist, while more continue to be created every day. The market recognizes the need for tools that will make the internet equally accessible to all members of society. Over the past 30 years, society has seen many technology advancements come to pass. More than likely, we will continue to see developments in tools that promote web accessibility in the future.

WAI Guidelines

WAI stands for Web Accessibility Initiative, which outlines a set of guidelines and best practices for developers and organizations to follow when creating web pages. The initiative began in the year 1997, and with the backing of the White House, it quickly gained headway.

The idea is that people with a disability who may access the internet differently than other web users will find it equally accessible. Persons with disabilities often access the internet from various, less mainstream devices. They may use a variety of different software to help them gather the information others can obtain simply by reading the web page. The WAI Guidelines seek to make all websites compatible with all devices. Also, they seek to ensure various software tools are compatible with online material.  

Within the written WAI Guidelines there are multiple different subsections. Each part is considered a "working group". These subsections include the following:

  • AUWG (Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines Working Group): This working group consists of individuals who work at companies that produce research, authoring, and accessibility tools. The accessibility guidelines within this subsection require two things to be accessible to all users, first the content created by the tool and second the user interface created by the developers.

  • RDIG (Research and Development Interest Group): The RDIG has two specific goals. First to improve the incorporation of consideration for people with disabilities and to improve the tools used by people with disabilities through research on the internet. The second is to promote research projects based on the topic and develop questions that lead to more work being done to make the net accessible to everyone. It is important to this group to understand the ways the internet is accessible and the ways it is not.

  • EOWG (Education and Outreach Working Group): This group develops material for education and training on the internet. They seek to develop educational content for every member of society including people with disabilities. They specialize in outreach programs that promote the accessibility of the web.

  • UAWG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines Working Group). The UAWG specializes in promoting the accessibility of the internet by user agents. The working group is made up of user agent developers, accessibility experts, and researchers. This group published the UAAG 2.0 in the year 2015. UAAG stands for User Agent Accessibility Guidelines. The original UAAG, or UAAG 1.0, was published in the year 2002.

  • ERTWG (Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group): The Evaluation and Repair Tools Working Group seeks to create a variety of different repair techniques for the internet that follow a specific technical specification. The technical requirements outlined by the ERTWG are meant to promote equal accessibility. They are supposed to help developers reconstruct web accessible conscience material when modifying web pages.

  • WAI Interest Group: This is a group that anyone can subscribe to. It is entirely open to the public. Individuals can sign up to be on a mailing list to receive updates on the WAI Guidelines and their headway with web accessibility. Many developers and businesses are subscribed to this group. Especially those that work in web content. They are also able to leave their own feedback and any information regarding web accessibility.

  • PFWG (Protocol and Formats Working Group): This subsection reviews every web technology for accessibility before the publishing stage. They have a comprehensive guideline available to developers and organizations to help them create web-accessible content. Before a site can be published online, it first has to meet a specified criterion.

  • WCAG WG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group): This group produces the overall guidelines, supporting documentation, and techniques for web accessibility. This is for all content including but not limited to, videos, images, sounds, forms, and texts.  

  • WAI Coordination Group: This area works to ensure that all the subsection groups within the WAI Guidelines listed above work together, sharing information and collaborating. They keep the entire WAI connected and geared towards the same goals.

Each of these groups publishes their work throughout the year, and members can meet in person anywhere from one to five times a year, depending on their scope of work. The groups generally have individual weekly or bi-weekly calls to discuss the scope of their work. The committees are made up of a variety of different individuals. The individuals in each working group go through an application process before being selected for the position. The majority of the group members have other full-time jobs.  

The WAI Guidelines seven working/interest groups vary greatly as outlined above. One thing they each have in common is all work must get approved within their group before publication can occur. Specifically, they must get approved by the WAI. Each of the groups also have at least one mailing list—some have more than one. The mailing list sends out updates on the subject matter and is used as a tool to keep everyone informed.

Within each group, the members form different task forces that are then used to delegate certain tasks to and accomplish fragments of the overall goal. They build these groups centered around solving certain web accessibility problems that all fall within the scope of their subsections work.

Another tool often used by the seven different interest and working groups is surveys. Surveys are used within the groups. They are also administered outside of the groups through email and mail to gather information on different topics and promote research within each subsection. Once researchers have drawn a conclusion they take that information back to their group, undergo the approval process, and then publish. Each group seeks to make the online world a more accessible, user-friendly domain.

The WCAG 2.0 guides web content authors and developers and was designed to meet the needs of persons who need an established and recognized, referenceable technical standard. Other supporting documents like those contained in WCAG 2.1, address other vital issues that are based upon WCAG 2.0. These additional documents will be discussed a bit further in this article.

Web Accessibility Abroad

There are multiple different countries, who like the United States of America, have implemented a program that seeks to ensure web accessibility for all its members. The scope of work being done on web accessibility varies significantly between these countries. Some are more motivated to promote change than others. For the most part, they all are use technology within their educational system, at their jobs, and within their governments. Some of the countries working to promote change are, Canada, Sweden, United Kingdom, Philippines, Japan, and Spain.

  • Canada. In the year 2011, the Canadian Government began working on an accessibility standard that was later implemented in the year 2013. The web accessibility standard includes a set of guidelines for internet developers. These new rules were meant to promoted equal accessibility, usability, and optimization on all devices. The first standard was an exclusions list that is routinely updated each year. Their criteria also include a Web Experience Toolkit, named WET that helps developers by setting a standard building innovative for websites.  

  • Sweden. The Swedish Administrative Development Agency handles their web guidelines. They established a set of guidelines that address web accessibility in the year 2006. Their guidelines cover the complete process of a website, from development to publication. These guidelines have seven different factors for every developer to consider including, accessibility, authoring tools selection, information architecture, content development, privacy protection, web-based standards, and usability.

  • The United Kingdom. In the year 2010, the United Kingdom released their own research in support of web accessibility. It was very similar to the WAI's research. Their policy involves accessibility to automated tools and managing the process of modifying original publication that does not promote accessibility. The United Kingdom also seeks to create educational material and training initiatives that encourage the development of accessible web content on the internet.

  • The Philippines. In 2003, the Philippines adopted an initiative aimed at promoted web accessibility. Their group the NCWDP (National Council for the Welfare of Disabled Persons) is made up of webmasters that implement their user-friendly, agreed upon framework. The framework they follow is called the Biwako Millennium Framework, and the NCWD approved it. The Philippines holds the ICT (Interregional Seminar and Regional Demonstration Workshop on Accessible Information and Communications Technologies) each year. Eleven different countries attend to discuss creating a more inclusive online environment. They continue to conduct research in support of web accessibility.

  • Japan. In the year 2004, Japan established a set of guidelines called the JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) which addresses how to make a website accessible to everyone. The document is like content published in previous years by the WAI. They now have an updated version of the original document which was published in the year 2010.

  • Spain. Spain adopted the United States WCAG 1.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0). They have since used it as their method of regulating web accessibility. It is unknown if with the developments made in the WCAG 2.0 the country will change their standard to meet this new standard.

While these countries have created a standard for web accessibility, unfortunately, most still have not. With the technology era constantly adapting and changing these countries have shown a commitment to continuing research on web accessibility and promoting equal access to information. The research being done has been led in part by the government and in part by the citizens. What started as the United States of America implementing a policy on web accessibility has grown into multiple countries following suite.

Understanding the Role of Web Developers

A web developer is someone whose job it is to create web content. Such one uses authoring tools, for instance, HTML code, to create web content. Besides, there are multiple evaluation tools they use when developing content for the internet. These evaluation tools can help them understand when content material they produce is not equally accessible, easy-to-navigate, or efficient in delivering information.

Web developers might possibly have the most crucial role when it comes to creating an equally accessible online space. This is because developers control the material that users can access on the web. Society relies on them for information about virtually everything from sports to the news. More than that society relies on web content for research purposes. It is commonly used within the education system. Modern day society uses it to shop for everyday goods. The possibilities are endless.

In this present system, when someone has a question, they can pull out their smartphone and Google search the answer all within mere minutes. This is due to developers creating easily accessible, informative content. They create, publish, update, and maintain the websites our society has grown to love and depend on.

As countries begin to understand the importance of technology today and stress the creation of an equal environment, it will be up to the web developers primarily to create an inclusive internet. In the countries that do have an outlined set of guidelines for creating web-accessible content developers can simply follow that. However, as discussed there are still many countries that do not have a set list of guidelines to follow. It is then up to the developer to ensure their creation is inclusive. Most of the web content created is accessible all over the world. If it is created in Canada, it is accessible in England. This immersive nature makes web accessibility even more relevant.

Developers can test a website before submission with a variety of different evaluation tools. As discussed, in some cases, a review is required while other times it is not. It is left up to developers to make the right choice and create accessible material for all.

Some tricks to creating accessible web content are as follows:

  • Evaluate website semantics before publication. Semantics are the qualities, features, elements, and structure of a page. A developer should consider all these factors to ensure a web page is equally accessible. Proper semantics are created through HTML coding.

  • Conduct user testing. Testing a website prior to its publication to ensure it is equally accessible is a technique used by developers to ensure equal access to information. There are two testing methods human and software.

  • Understand the different content types. There are a variety of different content types a developer may encounter. It is vital that they use the correct content type to ensure their material is easily accessible. Some examples include script, markup, and media players.

  • Ensure cookies are functional. Cookies are name-value paired information that is stored on a web page. All software that installs a cookie should be evaluated before publication to ensure it works appropriately.

  • Website authentication. Most websites undergo an authentication process before publication. Any website that requires authentication will gather consumer information before the users get access to the page. To ensure equal access to all information developers and organizations should test the authentication resource and make sure anyone can access it.

  • Testing hyperlinks. All hyperlinks included in a web page should be tested by the developer to ensure web accessibility before the site premieres. Hyperlinks can be a great tool when implemented correctly.

There are three methods a developer can choose from to test material and ensure it is web accessible. It is always recommended a developer tests their web page before posting to promote equal access to information. The three methods include:

  1. Manual. Real people do manual method. These ones emulate a standard user. Human evaluators test the website before it is premiered. There is a testing procedure written for the evaluator to follow and then review based on its criteria.
  2. Automatic. This is a testing method where a computer software tests a website. The software evaluates the website on multiple different web accessibility factors, and the results are displayed for the developer to use.
  3. Semi-automatic. This is the testing method that combines the manual and automatic modes of testing. Human evaluators and computer software do testing. The main component of this method is the computer software's evaluation. Human evaluators use the computers software's analysis to determine then what they agree with and what changes should be made to the website. This would be considered the most accurate method of testing.

Understanding the Role of the Users

The role of users differs from that of the developers greatly. Users are the people accessing the content created by the developers. They interact with the content provided to them on the internet by developers and are using it in most cases daily. As technology and society become more and more integrated, the role of the users will adapt and change.

There are many different areas of the internet that a user will interact with and such one must understand these different areas. These zones include web browsers such as the Internet, media players, design creation software, writing programs such as Microsoft Word, and so forth. It is the job of the user to recognize and implement the various assistive technologies available to them.

The technologies available to a user with disabilities may vary based on their location. Whether their country requires web content to be equally accessible or not may vary. While some countries promote web accessibility through various programs, and even in some cases legislation, others do not. Some countries implement technology into their educational systems, while others do not. The role of the user will depend on their location.

Despite the disconnect between some countries on the topic of web accessibility, society has never been more connected. For the first time, web users can work online—remotely—from anywhere in the world. This enhances the importance of equality on the internet at large.

One key role of all internet users is to advocate for web accessibility. Whether it directly affects an individual or not, it is important as technology moves forward to speak up for equal access to information. As society begins to rely more and more on technology it is reasonable to think web accessibility will grow even more in importance.

Legislation on Web Accessibility Around the World

As the world moves forward into the technology era and the internet becomes the primary source of information provided to society, some countries are addressing the issue of web accessibility with legislation. Civil rights legislation is being used to treat the issue and protect people with disabilities. The United States, like some other countries, has implemented a technology procurement process. The WCAG 2.0 is often referenced in legislation regarding web accessibility in a variety of different countries.

Several countries, in addition to the United States of America, have implemented legislation regarding web accessibility. These countries include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, The European Union, Italy, Norway, Brazil, and Australia.

  • The United Kingdom. The Equality Act of 2010 makes it illegal in England to discriminate against people with disabilities. While this does not directly state regarding web accessibility the topic has been approached. The Act states it applies to anyone providing a service which arguably, includes developers creating web content.
  • Ireland. The Disabilities Act of 2005 requires all electronic communication methods are accessible to those with disabilities. This would include the internet, so developers and organizations must do everything they can to promote accessibility.
  • Israel. The Ministry of Justice requires web content created by developers to follow the WCAG 2.0. The only difference is The Ministry of Justice is slightly more lenient with their audio requirements then the WCAG 2.0 is.
  • The European Union. The European Parliament endorsed a law in the year 2014 that stated the public body would all have equal access to the internet. Later in 2016, they revamped this ruling to include mobile apps and other devices that websites can be accessed on.
  • Italy. In the year 2004 Italy created an Act that implemented the WCAG 2.0 guide, ruling in favor of web accessibility. It is unclear if they will continue to adjust their law as the WAI comes out with more recent versions of the WCAG.
  • Norway. In the year 2008 Norway established a law that requires all web content to be equally accessible. The Act is in accordance with the WCAG 2.0. However, there are a few exceptions.
  • Brazil. In the year 2005 Brazil published a paper like the WCAG, but it was not until the year 2007 that they made it legislation. They specifically took their guidelines and made them official legislation.
  • Australia. They established the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 which later it was determined included web accessibility when a man sued the Olympics for violating the act based on their web content. He was unable to access their web content because of a disability which they ruled violated the law.

Over the past 30 years, there have been several substantial changes regarding web accessibility. More countries are beginning to understand the importance and establishing legislation in support of web accessibility. With technologies new significance in the work world and on the majority of educational systems, it is becoming more relevant than ever.

What are Companies Doing to Promote Web Accessibility

Whether it is the law or not, most companies are adapting to the modern world, implementing the necessary tools for web accessibility. What companies are doing to make their web content equally accessible for people with disabilities varies in accordance with a few factors. First, location. Companies located in countries that have legislative requirements are held to a different standard than those that are not.

Second, the size of the companies. Some companies simply have more online content than others. Vast Fortune 500 companies, for the most part, seem to be implementing web accessibility guidelines. Other businesses, such as a small mom and pop restaurant with one simple web page, might be less likely to implement accessibility features. This is primarily due to public scrutiny and web development budgets which would vary significantly between the two different types of organizations.

Another big factor would be image. Some companies may be more likely to promote web accessibility because they are working to maintain their brand. If a company has a reputation for being service-oriented, accommodating web accessibility guidelines is important if they want to maintain this image online. In today's modern world, almost every business has an online presence. This increases the importance of web accessibility in the business world.

Some organizations have implemented a system they call web accessibility auditing. This is the process of conducting an audit regarding their online presence and then correcting any issues that may arise. Besides, any new web content is compared to their auditable list before it is premiered or submitted for review. This technique can help companies stay within the guidelines of the WAI research. In countries where legislation has been passed supporting web accessibility, it can help companies remain within the law.

Some even have an entire team or subsection of their organization that is solely dedicated to web accessibility. The team ensures the companies content is easily accessible for everyone. This can have many benefits. Not only is it easier to use for people with disabilities but it also easier to use for the public. Having easy-to-navigate web content can result in more sales due to an increase in efficiency and customer satisfaction. For countries where it is the law to have web content that is equally accessible a team dedicated to accessibility is a great resource to have within an organization.

WCAG 2.0 and 2.1

There are multiple versions of the WCAG. The original WCAG was created in the year 1999 and is referred to as the WCAG 1.0. Later in the year 2008, the WAI released a second document referred to as WCAG 2.0. The WCAG 2.0 is composed of four main principles: operable, perceivable, robust, and understandable, which form the basis of web accessibility. In addition, it also outlines 12-13 guidelines that authors/developers should aspire to implement. These four main principles organize them.

The WCAG 2.0 also provides a comprehensive list of techniques to help developers meet the guidelines. The document is updated regularly to stay relevant. New version updates that support the information contained in WCAG 2.0 came out in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2014, 2014, 2015, and 2016. Some highlights are as follows:

  • Provide alternatives for non-text content.

  • Provide alternatives for synchronized multimedia.

  • Make sure structure and information can be removed from any presentation

  • Make foreground and background information easily distinguishable.

  • All functions should be accessible with a keyboard interface.

  • Users should be able to control any time limits.

  • Photosensitivity should be considered, and flashing lights should not be used.

  • Use multiple mechanisms to navigate through content.

  • Websites should be user-friendly and designed to avoid mistakes.

  • Ensure text content is readable.

  • Ensure content is logically organized.

  • Support compatibility with assistive technologies.

  • Always provide accessible alternatives when content is not accessible.

These guidelines remain some of the most popular in the world, regarding web accessibility. Not only has the United States implemented these guidelines but multiple other countries have as well. Developers, organizations, and businesses frequently reference them. They encourage equal access to the main source of information in our current society—the World Wide Web. The relevance of these documents only grows as the world continues to move forward into the technology age. There are many individuals whose research goes into making the documents. Other countries have readapted the information available in the WAI and conducted their own study in support of their findings.

On June 5, 2018, WCAG 2.1 was released as a final W3C Recommendation Web Standard. It addresses additional success criteria that are not mentioned in 2.0. It covers a vast range of guidelines and principles for making website content more accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. It covers recommendations for disability areas including deafness and hearing loss, blindness and low vision, speech disabilities, limited movement, photosensitivity, cognitive limitations, learning disabilities and combinations of these.

Following these guidelines will make website content more accessible to users of mobile devices, desktops, tablets, and laptops. WCAG 2.1 provides an alternate means of conformance. Meaning, once 2.1 guidelines are understood and covered, page authors and site designers don't have to worry about meeting 2.0. All of 2.1 criteria conform to 2.0, and its publication does not deprecate or supersede it in any way.

All success criteria from WCAG 2.0 are included in WCAG 2.1 and are precisely the same. WCAG 2.1 adds 17 new success criteria that are as follows:

  1. SC 1.3.5 Identify Input Purpose (AA) - content created with markup languages needs to be communicated through programs such as autocomplete attribute in HTML.

  2. SC 1.3.6 Identify Purpose (AAA) – this adds to SC 1.3.5 and incorporates interactive purpose for user interface elements, icons, buttons, links, and regions, all in support for people with learning and cognitive disabilities.

  3. SC 2.2.6 Timeouts (AAA) – this criterion prevents barriers for people who need to take breaks or more time to complete various interactions such as completing an order form.

  4. SC 1.4.10 Reflow (AA) – when the vertical height is 256 CSS pixels and the horizontal width is 320 CSS, the content on the page must reflow without losing functionality or scrolling into two dimensions. This is primarily for users with low vision.

  5. SC 1.4.11 Non-Text Contrast (AA) – all parts of graphics and active user interface controls must have sufficient contrast with a ratio of at least 3:1 with adjacent colors. This is necessary so that people with low vision can easily identify features such as buttons, selected state indicators, form fields, and focus indicators.

  6. SC 1.4.12 Text Spacing (AA) - with this criterion, people with dyslexia or low vision may override text spacing to enable increased reading speed or readability.

  7. SC 1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus (AA) – content must be hoverable and dismissible with the keyboard utilizing the escape key and give users the options to dismiss blocking content.  

  8. SC 2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts (A) – shortcuts must be accessible using a key, such as punctuation, a symbol, letter, or a number without using a modifier key. The is especially for speech input users.

  9. SC 2.5.3 Label in Name (A) – for speech input users that require adding text for visuals labels.

  10. SC 2.3.3 Animation from Interactions (AAA) – for users with vestibular disorders, such as migraines and nausea.

  11. SC 2.5.1 Pointer Gestures (A) – this criterion is for users who lack the dexterity, accuracy, or tools to perform complex gestures correctly.

  12. SC 2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation (A) – since some people with motor disabilities can accidentally trigger the wrong item or create an unwanted event by the move of the mouse, this section highlights information that allows for undo or cancel actions.

  13. SC 2.5.4 Motion Actuation (A) – performs an alternative input method or equivalent operation to combat user motion such as tilting, gestures, or shaking picked up by the device’s camera.

  14. SC 2.5.5 Target Size (AAA) – this covers the adjustment of target size to match the pointer input needs of 44×44 CSS pixels.

  15. SC 2.5.6 Concurrent Input Mechanisms (AAA) – benefits users with low vision and others with disabilities. It allows for a variety of input mechanisms such as pointer devices and keyboard-like interfaces when interacting with web content.

  16. SC 1.3.4 Orientation (Level AA) – this criterion covers guidelines that protect users who have a mounted device like a wheelchair, or those who are not able to access content in a particular orientation.

  17. SC 4.1.3 Status Messages (AA) – users with cognitive or learning disabilities, who have low vision, or users who are blind must be aware of new status content that is added to the screen, without interrupting their work.

UAAG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines)

The User Agent Accessibility Guidelines is a concise, specific set of checkpoints outlined for internet user agent developers. The first version, or UAAG 1.0, was recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium as a standard that everyone should follow. It was first recommended in the year 2002.

Any web user agent—from web browsers to media player creators—should seek to follow this recommendation for their creation to be equally accessible. Not only did this original version come with supporting documentation but it also was released with a comprehensive How To—aimed at helping developers create web-accessible content.

The checkpoints outlined in the UAAG cover user control over both content and interface. These checklist items go on to talk about how a developer can ensure content is rendered in an equally accessible way. Besides, they discuss how a developer can maintain control of the user interface while remaining equally accessible for everyone.

The UAAG checklist also covers standardizing the process of the program interface. This means they seek to create a standard for all programming. It may seem complicated because there are so many different types of programs; however, it is an integral part of creating equal access to the online world. Lastly, all users should have access to all content on the web, including people with disabilities. Website designers should seek to ensure their website is accessible and easy to use for everyone.

Before the second draft of the User Agent Accessibility Guideline or UAAG 2.0 came into effect in 2008, the document was not publicly shared. The first draft was never publicly approved and accepted; however, some people still used it as a guideline. It was specifically made to help promote web accessibility and create a better understanding of the concept for developers. However, in 2008, it was published for the first time with approval as the second draft.

The UAAG 2.0 then became the first public draft of its kind. Currently, there is a committee dedicated to creating a new, and even more modern UAAG. This version will include checkpoints for the most modern technology. Today, things with tech are continuously changing. The working group creating the third draft of the UAAG understands that and aims to implement these changes to help create an equally accessible web.

ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines)

The original Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines was called the 1.0 version because they knew they would go on to adjust and improve the document as technology changes. The original version was released in the year 2000 by the Authoring Tool Accessibility Workshop.

Specifically, ATAG is a list of guidelines provided to developers of various authoring tools, such as HTML coding, social media creators, and learning management systems. This set of guidelines provides a criterion to ensure all the material created is inclusive. They aim to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to information on the internet.

The World Wide Web Consortium first published the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 in the year 2015. ATAG was written by the Authoring Tool Accessibility Workshop which is a group of people whose focus is finding ways to make the internet more accessible to everyone.  

The key highlights from the current ATAG are as follows:

  • Ensure the production of easy-to-access content for everyone.

  • Promoting and encouraging web author developers to create content that can be accessed by everyone easily.

  • Ensure the materials created are accessible to the authors despite any disability.

The ATAG is another document created to help ensure companies and developers can create web-accessible material. It is a tool that can be used to ensure content is accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities. The document, like many others provided by the W3C, will simplify the thought process of the developer. They have an easy-to-use checklist available on their website that web developers can download. It can also be used during a company's self-audit process if they do so wish.

The document will continue to be modified over time, and the Authoring Tools Accessibility Workshop is continuously meeting and adjusting their guidelines to stay relevant. Technology will continue to grow and change, and they will adjust their checklist and recommendations accordingly. They are one of the seven working groups that work to promote web accessibility.

Web Accessibility for People with Visual Impairments

Developers typically design their material with state-of-the-art equipment in perfect scenarios. This can make it challenging for them to identify areas that are not equally accessible or functional. Luckily, there are guidelines and recommendations in place to help developers create material that is easy-to-use for everyone. Understanding the different tools used by people with disabilities can help a web developer to make equally accessible content and material.

Multiple different tools can be used by people with visual impairment to access information on the web. Some of the most essential ones include screen readers, special browsers, screen magnification tools, adjustable color, adjustable font, and enlarged icons.

 

  • Screen readers. These tools analyze what is displayed on a web page then send the information to a speech synthesizer. The speech synthesizer will then say aloud what is on the screen. In some cases, the speech synthesizer can send the data to a braille display. This will depend on the type of software the user has access to.  Screen readers are one of the most popular tools for people with visual impairment. The screen readers today, typically can generate a detailed description of virtually any page that has been written to web accessibility code. A screen reader would not work on a web page that was not written intelligently. Therefore, it is so vital developers produce materials that implement the W3C guidelines. Screen readers should be used with browsers that are mainstream. Two of the most popular brands of screen readers are Window-Eyes and JAWS.

 

  • Special browsers. These browsers are specifically designed for persons with a visual impairment. They can decode and process the information in a way that can be depicted by the user. Unfortunately, a lag problem can sometimes occur with the use of this tool. A lag typically occurs with the newest computer features. Therefore, it is so important that development is an ongoing process with web accessibility. Web accessibility is continually having to keep up with new technology.
  • Screen magnification tools. For users that have some sight, but not all, screen magnification can be a great tool to use. There are several screen magnification programs available for download that are compatible with a few popular browsers. The tool must be built into the operating system that is being used. Because the user can only see part of the screen at a time, it is important that web developers consider these software when writing programs. If a page is laid out poorly the screen magnification tool may not work. For example, if a website has the headers on the left-hand side and then the descriptions, or paragraphs on the right, it would be challenging to read the content. The W3C's various guidelines help to outline the best layouts that are compatible with the variety of web-accessible tools available.
  • Adjustable color. Sometimes color is used throughout a website to make a point, differentiate between two items, or highlight a particular message. Anytime the color is used for any purpose there should be a mechanism built into the web page that will assist people with a color-blind disability distinguish between the colors. When the use of color can be avoided it would be recommended that a developer does not implement it.
  • Adjustable font. There are several tools available that can adjust the size of the font on a web page to help assist someone with a visual impairment. Websites should be written to be compatible with these tools. It should still be easy-to-understand and follow the layout even after adjustments to the text have been made. This will make web information accessible for everyone.
  • Icon enlargement. Icons, graphs, pictures, and more can be used to display information on the internet. It can be challenging for persons with visual impairments to see the different icons. So, a type of screen magnification tool was made to help those with visual impairments see and understand the icons. Websites should implement icons, graphs, and pictures so that they are compatible with these different programs. They should flow in an easy-to-follow way so even if the person cannot see the whole picture at once they can still gather the meaning.

People with visual impairments have a variety of tools available for them to use. These tools rely heavily on websites being written in correspondence with the guidelines outlined by the W3C. If a developer does not correspond with their guidelines the tools may not work how they are intended, and the information could be inaccessible to some people, which does not benefit anyone.

Web Accessibility for People with Mobility Impairments

To understand how to accommodate people with a mobility impairment, it is important to understand the difference between assistive and adaptive technology. Assistive technology is hardware or software that is modified to help with the impairment. For example, a keyboard with buttons set explicitly in an order that is easiest for the user. Then there are adaptive technologies. Adaptive technologies are techniques used to improve the interaction between people with disabilities and the internet. An example of adaptive technology is enlarged text. Both can be used to promote web accessibility.

There are many different tools that people with a mobility impairment can use to access the internet. From a developer's perspective, and to ensure equal web accessibility, it is important to make sure everything is accessible from the keyboard. Some individuals with a mobility impairment cannot use a mouse but can use a keyboard.

Another essential feature for promoting web accessibility for people with mobility impairment is to have easily accessible tabs. Developers should work to ensure all tabs are in a logical order so that it is easy for people with mobility impairments to click on them. Developers should also make sure every page has a skip tab so that it is not necessary to use the sidebar on a web page to scroll.

An added mechanism developers should be aware of when designing web pages that are accessible for people with mobility impairments is the use of shortcut keys. Shortcut keys can interfere with several mobility impairment devices and tools. Lastly, developers should always design standard, logical keyboard commands that can be used to interact with the web content.

A tool that can be used for people with a mobility impairment is a touch screen device. Some persons with mobility impairments have a difficult time using a keyboard and mouse but can use a touch screen. It is possible to enlarge the touch screen content and make it even easier to use.

Special keyboards and mouse can also be configured to help people with mobility impairment access information on the web. Some companies can make customizable keyboard and mouse tools for an individual that will fit their needs. For example, they have created a keyboard and mouse combination that accommodates for people with hand tremors.

Voice recognition software is another favorite tool often used by people with mobility impairment. Voice recognition software takes vocal cues from the individual to navigate through content. Websites should be designed so they are compatible with these kinds of software. This tool allows for hands-free interaction.

Web Accessibility for People with Auditory Impairments

Websites that include sound should work to ensure they are accessible to people with auditory impairments. There are a few different methods that can be used to promote web accessibility in this case. Some of these methods include providing multiple contact options, use basic terms, use captions, ensure all verbal material is available in writing, and label any music.

  • Provide multiple contact options. Web developers should provide multiple different contact options on their site. If it is a company website, they should not just provide a phone number. Instead, considering their entire potential audience, they should also include other methods of contact. An example would be a company includes their phone number, address, and email address. This would allow virtually anyone to contact them because there is a wide array of methods.

  • Use basic terms. Using simple, easy-to-understand language is the best method for web accessibility. Anytime a developer can simplify the content they are providing it will make it easier to process for all users.

  • Use captions. Captions are a great way to ensure content is equally accessible. Anything verbal should be captioned with a description. Descriptions should be simply put and easy-to-understand for the entire audiences benefit.

  • Ensure all verbal material is available in writing. All the verbal material, whether it is a video, interview, music, and more should be available in an easy-to-locate spot on the website. Developers should work to establish links to this material so that information is equally accessible to all its users.

  • Label any music. If music is playing in the background of a web page it should be specified somewhere easy to see. It should be labeled with the song and captions.

  • Text-to-speech software. Text to speech software allows the user to type out what they would like to vocalize and then the software will speak it. This can be an excellent tool for individuals with an auditory and speech impairment. There are multiple different programs on the market that are available.

  • Web browsing settings. Settings on the web browser can be adjusted so that any sound that may pop up while searching the web notifies the user. This way the user will not miss out on any notifications they might be receiving.

  • Headphones. Some people with a hearing impairment can have headphones custom designed for them that they can use to hear the content. There are multiple different providers for this software, and it can be a great tool in some cases.  

Some websites are even opting to have video content available both verbally and in sign language. This is not required and is at the discretion of the website provider. Developers continue to work on ways to make content more accessible to people with auditory impairments.

Web Accessibility for People with Seizures

Some persons are more susceptible to seizures when searching the web. These seizures can be caused by flashing, flickering, and strobing lights. This type is called photosensitivity seizure. Other factors that could trigger a seizure are color and repetitive patterns. Video games are another common cause because of their interactive nature. To create a web page that is equally accessible, it is important that developers consider this. Websites that contain material that flashes could be potentially harmful to some viewers.

There are software programs that can be downloaded onto a computer to help identify websites that might put someone at risk. These programs can be used as a tool to help avoid harmful sites. The tools take into consideration certain levels of flash thresholds to ensure the user is not at risk. Web developers should be aware of the acceptable level of flash threshold to avoid creating content that would put others at risk.

One specific tool that people with seizures can use is the PEAT. PEAT stands for Trace Center's Photosensitive Epilepsy Analysis Tool. Any user can download this tool for free onto virtually all devices including laptops, computer desktops, tablets, and more. The tool will help developers during the initial stages of web development determine material that could put people prone to seizures at risk. The PEAT works by analyzing the content based on an engine developed specifically for computer and web use.  

The W3C has layout a set of guidelines to be followed that should reduce the chance of a user experiencing a seizure. They created the three-flash threshold, stating that less than three flashes are typically considered safe. There are a few other methods that outline to decrease the risk of seizures. The methods are as follows:

  • Avoiding fully saturated reds for all content that flashes

  • Slow live material in an attempt to prevent any rapid flashes

  • Providing a mechanism that limits flashing content in its initial stages

  • Freezing images for a single moment whenever they detect multiple flashes within a single second

  • Allowing the users to customize and limit their flash rate

  • Dropping the contrast ratio whenever three or more flashes are detected within a single second

  • Limiting the number of flashes to fall below the approved threshold

  • Minimizing all flashing content

All these things are possible for a developer to implement in the initial stages of website creation. When the content has been created it should meet the guidelines specified by the W3C. Even those who are not prone to seizures will benefit from web creators implementing these guidelines. Flashing lights have been known to make people nausea, cause headaches, and more.

Web Accessibility for People with Cognitive Impairments

The internet is used today as a teaching mechanism for many students. It is society's primary source of information. People with cognitive impairments can use the web for information and to learn with certain tools that make the web more accessible.

Guidelines have been set in a few countries requiring web creators to make the internet accessible to individuals with cognitive impairments. The guidelines listed under the W3C endeavor to create a web that is not only accessible but also usable for people with cognitive impairments.

Accessibility and usability vary. Accessibility is the requirement that all people can gain access to a website's information. Usability means all people can understand and use the content. Both concepts are very important to the users of the online sphere in our society.

One of the most critical aspects of making a website usable and accessible for people with cognitive impairments is to divide information into easy-to-digest chunks. Keeping text simple, and to the point can help any user process the content. This method can help individuals with attention deficit impairments.

Websites should be designed with less clutter. For example, a website with multiple pop-up windows that each have various information and images could simplify its design. The website could do away with the pop-up windows instead opting for a single page design with headers and simple text.

Next, ensuring a simple, easy-to-use navigation method will help people with cognitive impairment access a web page. Navigation menus should be kept short and simple to understand. Another simple navigation feature that can be implemented is prompts that outlines where you are at on the website. For example, if the user clicks into a separate page, a prompt exampling where they are at and how to navigate back to the home page can be very helpful. Having an easy-to-navigate website can help people who may struggle with problem-solving.

User participation is another method that will promote web accessibility for everyone. Participation ensures that the user is following along and comprehending the material. This is a great method for any websites that are being used in an educational setting.

Display information in multiple ways when it is possible. By displaying information via text but also with images, such as graphs and pictures, users with cognitive impairment have multiple means of understanding the content. For example, if a website is providing information about butterflies, they could display the content first in a simple-to-understand language then also through an image. This can make the content more accessible to follow.

Providing list items and defining words is another method for creating easily accessible content. Lists make content easier to skim through and can help to make the message clearer. Defining words can help people with a cognitive impairment better understand the concept of a website's content.

XML Accessibility Guidelines

The W3C released the information in the XML Accessibility Guidelines document in the year of 2002. Specifically, the document provides guidelines for Extensible Markup Language applications web accessibility. The document was published by the PFWG (Protocols and Formats Working Group). It is still technically a working draft and was never officially published by the W3C.

The PFWG does not still modify this document, but it is still available online to view. They presently accept comments about the topic which they implement into their new research. The document covers different format suggestions to promote accessibility, as well as feature recommendations.

They recommend a variety of different authoring tools that can be used to ensure a website is equally accessible. All the recommendations found in the XML Accessibility Guidelines should be considered as a second priority to the WCAG 2.0, which is the most current W3C published document.

WAI-ARIA Accessible Rich Internet Applications Defined

The first draft of the WAI-ARIA was proposed in the year 2008 but not yet published. The WAI-ARIA is a W3C technical specification that was put forth in the year 2014. A general overview of this document is that it promotes web pages calling themselves applications instead of just being considered static documents. Web pages may add state, role, and property data to their applications on a website.

The Accessible Rich Internet Application is meant to be used by web content creators. It can also be used by developers of web browsers, accessibility tools that are used during the evaluation process, web applications, and assistive technologies.

It has become a common practice amongst developers to utilize client-side scripts to make user interface panels that could never be made by HTML alone. They use these client-side scripts to change sections of previously made pages, without having to create an entirely new page. These new sections are not also in compliance with web accessibility legislation. This process is referred to as Rich Internet Applications.

Final Words

Technology is perhaps the greatest tool of this generation in regard to accessing information. Web Accessibility is the practice of ensuring inclusion on the internet by breaking down barriers that could prevent someone with a disability from using it. It is important in today's world because so much is now being done online. We shop, learn, communicate, work, and socialize all through the web.

The concept of web accessibility says that developers should take into consideration the different assistive technologies that people with disabilities might be using. Then the developers should accommodate that tool. Developers should work to ensure their content is equally accessible by testing their webpage. There are three main methods of testing, human evaluator, computer software, and both. Using both is the best method. The role of the user is to advocate for accessibility and to understand the tools available to them. The role of a web developer is to ensure accessibility.

While in some countries it is entirely up to the developer to ensure accessibility in some countries there has been legislation passed on the matter. Other countries do not have official legislation on the topic; however; they do support web accessibility. Some countries fund research in support of web accessibility, while others hold yearly conferences to go over ways to make the web more accessible.

Companies in some countries are being helped to a legal standard when it comes to web accessibility. In some countries, they are not. Whether a company implements an equally accessible web presence will depend on the organization. The length they go to, to promote web accessibility depends, not only on their location but also the brand of an organization.

WAI Guidelines are what the United States of America uses to promote equal web access. They have come out with several different working groups and research studies that support the subject. This includes WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), UAAG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines), ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines), XML Accessibility Guidelines, and the WAI-ARIA. The W3C created the WAI. W3C is a group that strives to create an equally accessible web. It was created when the internet grew in importance about three decades ago. Since then their ideas have been implemented by a few different countries as legislation and guidelines.

There are many different techniques and tools available for people with disabilities—people with visual impairments, mobility impairments, auditory impairments, people prone to seizures, and those with cognitive impairments. While to tools they can use may vary one thing remains the same, across the board. Society will continue to work to establish new mechanisms to ensure equal accessibility of the World Wide Web.

 

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.

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