More than perhaps any other invention in human history, the Internet is a worldwide entity. This diverse user base is an important part of what makes the Internet so powerful, but it also presents unique challenges. People of all types access online content every day. All of these people have their preferred methods of consuming content, and many users also face accessibility challenges like learning disabilities, sensory impairments, second-language learning, illiteracy, and more. As a natural consequence of the web’s diverse user base, web accessibility standards have been developed. These standards apply to websites, apps, content creation tools, browsers, and nearly every other aspect of the web. The goal of accessibility standards is to ensure that users with accessibility challenges can access the same content as everyone else, and that all web users are able to access content in an effective, efficient manner. This post summarizes the main categories that content owners need to be aware of and understand to make web content more accessible.
Accessibility Principles (based on WCAG 2.0)
The WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines defined by the W3C are broken down into four key categories, each with subcategories.
- First, the information and user interface of a website must be perceivable to all users. Not every user can see, hear, or read, so content and UI features need to be presented with alternative means for consumption. This includes adding text-based alternatives which accurately describe any non-text UI features or content. For users with visual impairments or reading challenges, these text-based alternatives can then be read aloud for example by text-to-speech software. Alternatives for video and audio content are also important, in order to accommodate users who cannot see or hear. These alternatives can include captions and transcripts for audio content, and audio-based descriptions for video content. Common-sense features also apply, such as making text size easily adjustable, using colors that contrast well, and allowing background audio to be adjusted, paused, or turned off.
- Next, websites must have an operable user interface and navigation features. Since there are many web users who navigate using a keyboard instead of a mouse, websites, browsers, and content creation tools should all be accessible by keyboard. Navigation is also important, in that users should be able to move from page to page easily, and always have a clear idea of where they are and how to get where they want to go on a given website. This can be achieved by having clear pages titles, sensible, straightforward navigation features, clearly labeled links, and by ensuring that there is more than one way to access a given page. In addition, users should be given enough time to use content, without distracting audio, or unreasonable time limits when applicable. Content that may cause seizures should also be avoided.
- The third key standard details the ways in which the user interface and information of a website need to be understandable. This includes making clear the primary language of a web page, and of any quoted content, while using clear, simple language and providing definitions for unusual words, phrases, or jargon. These steps give the user a better idea of what each page contains, and make it easier for technology like text-to-speech software to identify and read back information in an understandable manner.
- Finally, web content must be robust. This means that a website should function well on any browser, and that it can be navigated and understood by diverse user groups. In addition, web pages and content should be designed in a way that is compatible with assistive technologies. Much of the direction given regarding the first three key concepts also relates directly to creating a robust website.
[speech-enabling_websites lang=”en”] Image Credit: Jil Wright