And why is it important?
With people relying on websites and apps for more and more regular tasks, like shopping and banking, these applications need to be accessible to a wide range of users, including those with a disability. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines aims to provide standardised guidelines to increase accessibility across online platforms.
What are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG are a set of guidelines developed through the W3C process to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility for simple web pages to complex web applications. WCAG provides the necessary guidelines to make web applications accessible to people with disabilities. The web content in WCAG refers to any information in a web page or application from text, images, audio, and video to its structure and presentation.
Currently, there are two referenceable WCAG standards; WCAG 2.0 enacted in 2008 and the newer WCAG 2.1 standard enacted in 2018 with a greater focus on improving accessibility for users with low vision, cognitive and learning disabilities, and disabilities on mobile devices.
While WCAG is a complex standard, it comes down to the following principles:
This principle refers to how users perceive the content in the web application. All components and information in the interface should be presented in a way that can be easily perceived by any user. It includes options like captions and subtitles for videos, adjustable contrast, font type, size changes, clear styling, etc.
Operability is how users can interact with the web application. It ensures that any user can interact with the application without facing difficulties. This fact is especially relevant for users with motor disabilities and includes functionality like keyboard navigation and sight-assisted or voice-based navigation.
Both information on the site and the structure should be easily understandable. It not only helps users to navigate the application easily but also to quickly understand its content.
Robustness refers to the ability of the application to provide an accessible experience across different user agents, browsers, and devices, including different assistive technologies. As web applications and technologies evolve, accessibility should also be impacted to be able to provide a consistent experience.
Who is WCAG aimed at?
Since WCAG is a technical standard, it is primarily aimed at technical personnel such as;
- Web developers
- Web content creators
- UI/UX engineers
- Web authoring tools and accessibility tool developers
However, WCAG is not limited to the above types of users. WCAG provides a solid foundation for anyone who wants to adopt accessibility with their web application, from organizations to governments.
Who should adhere to WCAG?
As WCAG is considered the golden standard for web accessibility, anyone who needs to provide an accessible experience should adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Some countries have enforced WCAG for all governmental and related organisations. For example, in the United States, the updated version of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all online platforms by federal bodies and any organizations that receive federal funding to be compliant with WCAG 2.0 at a minimum. European Union’s regulation that mandates all public sector web platforms requires adhering to WCAG 2.1. Other countries like Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore have also adopted WCAG in some manner.
Additionally, major technological organizations like Google and Microsoft have adopted WCAG across their products and services. Adopting WCAG will enable you to provide an accessible user experience regardless of whether it’s an individual project or a business entity.
Importance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are not just a collection of technical standards. WCAG is created by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with input from leading industry experts, scientists, nonprofit organisations, universities, and government entities to provide accessible guidelines that meet the needs of individuals, organisations, and governments globally. Thus these guidelines have undergone a rigorous W3C process before becoming adaptable standards, ensuring that they are the best possible guidelines for increasing accessibility.
As the web is becoming an indispensable part of everyday life, simple tasks like shopping and fulfilling banking needs are facilitated through a web application. With increasingly busy schedules, online services provide a convenient way to fulfil day-to-day tasks. Therefore, facilitating accessibility is crucial for providing access to all these online services to the widest audience.
Examples of specific WCAG standards
- Using distinctive text alternatives. Specify an alternative text for an image that properly describes the image.
- Providing synchronised captions and, if possible, sign language options for audio or video content.
- Creating web application structures that can be easily interpreted by screen readers.
- Ensure content can be viewed properly on any device, screen size, orientation, etc.
- Providing keyboard navigation option with keyboard focus indicator clearly visible at all times.
- Provide input assistance with clear error messages for easy understanding.
- Use correct HTML elements when creating interfaces. Using input elements other than an image for a button will ensure that the button will be correctly presented regardless of the device or user agent.
You can refer to this checklist by WhoisAccessible.com and C2 Groups WCAG 2.1 examples for additional information. Furthermore, directly consult the relevant guidelines through the W3C site or refer to the GitHub WCAG repo for examples to get a complete overview.
What types of businesses/organisations in Australia are required to have it?
The Disability Discrimination Act in 1992 (DDA) was created to provide equal access to people with disabilities. It has been expanded to include online services by the Australian human rights commission and other authoritative bodies.
Thus, any online service provider operating within Australia must meet the required accessibility standards to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act. From 2010 onwards, the National Transition Strategy enforced WCAG 2.0, requiring all government agencies and public-facing organisations to adhere to these guidelines.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Compliance is the key to providing users with disabilities an accessible experience for web services. With WCAG standards constantly evolving to meet the emerging needs of the technological landscape, widespread adoption of WCAG has made the web a more accessible place.