As more of our clients are asking about A vs AA vs AAA website compliancy, we decided to write a short blog post about online accessibility rules.
What is WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (in short “WCAG”) are a series of instructions for making a website accessible to all users- especially users challenged with a disability. WCAG is internationally adopted standards, with three levels of accessibility:
Level A – the most basic web accessibility features
Level AA – solves the most common limits for disabled users
Level AAA – the highest (and most complex) level of website accessibility
To us, it’s best to apply as much technical guidance as your website can possibly accommodate, regardless if you aim to reach level AAA or not. For most websites, level AA ends up being the optimum accessibility benchmark as recommended by the ADA, as some of the AAA rules cannot always be applied and most government websites are using the AA guidelines.
What Website Data Do Accessibility Guidelines Examine?
Most of the guidelines are common sense ideas to help developers integrate help for impaired users. WCAG is formulated around 4 core principles.
The web content must be perceivable: users must be able to access the information using one or more of their senses: sight, hearing, or touch. Some of the advice here includes:
- Think of providing text alternatives for all non-text content (images, buttons, forms, maps, etc.). (AA)
- Think of providing captions for all media that contains audio. (AA)
- Add descriptive text or audio description for videos without audio tracks. (AA)
- Add sign language to all media content that includes audio. (AAA)
- Think of marking all semantic headings and data table captions. (AA)
- Your reading and navigation order must be logical and intuitive. (AA)
- Make content easily distinguishable by separating the foreground from the background. (A)
- Do not use color, sound or visual shapes as the sole method of conveying content. (A)
- Your pages must be readable and functional when zoomed to 200%. WCAG recommends the text to be at least 24px. (AA)
A website must be operable: users must be able to interact using a mouse, a keyboard, voice command, etc.
- Think of developing your interface forms, buttons, and navigation to be available from a keyboard. (AAA)
- Your website needs to provide users with enough time to read the information. Automatically updating content must be paused or stopped by users manually. (A)
- Content must be designed in a way to not cause seizures or physical reactions (for ex: no flashing content more than 3 times per second). (A)
- Your website must be easy to navigate, must contain exact landmarks, must include a logical structure, order of links, labels and interactive controls. (AA)
- Users can operate the website functionalities beyond the keyboard. (AA)
The content must be understandable: and readable by all users.
- The language of the page must be identified using the HTML language attribute. (A)
- Words should not be ambiguous, unfamiliar or used in a very narrow meaning. If unfamiliar, words and abbreviations should be defined the first time they are used.
- When the pronunciation of a word is vital to its understanding- the pronunciation must be provided via a link or glossary. (A)
- The website should operate in predictable ways. For example- elements, navigation links, and controls must operate in a consistent way across all pages.
- Form validation should help users avoid and correct mistakes. Sufficient labels, cues, and instructions should be provided along the way.
The website must be robust: developed using the best code that works across all browsers and screen devices.
- WCAG provides testable criteria to check the design specification, purchasing options, regulation, contractual agreements, etc. There are different markup validation services.
Making your website fully compliant takes design and coding experience. Think of it as building an entire house to custom-fit impaired users with distinct disabilities. Every block of content, media tool, and UI link must be framed to suit different needs. There are many technical details about the code and development of a website we have not included in this short overview. For detailed information, please have a look at the WCAG document itself.
If you are worried about the legal implications of your website accessibility, we would recommend you check the specific legislation governing accessibility for the web/public resources in your country or local government. If accessibility is a crucial part of your online community and users, please seek advice with a qualified lawyer to assess the appropriate level of risk and compliance target to achieve.
As a web developer, we can help you design or audit your website for accessibility. Should you require full AA or AAA compliance, be prepared to invest in a much heavier development process and marketing content management that will pass detailed validation and testing specifications.