A website launch is no feeble undertaking. Hundreds of cumulative hours go into user, competitor and analytics research, IA and UX, creative design and content development. Then of course there’s the site development, the testing and so on. Imagine launching that site stuffed with inherent barriers between potential web users and your message.
The section 508 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act is intended to remove barriers in information technology so that people with disabilities can access federal information, but the standards are also helpful in making all websites accessible.
What does it mean for a website to be accessible? In 2012, the National Federation of the Blind estimated that there were over 6.5 million people, aged 16 and up, who reported significant vision loss. The American census estimated more than 4 million people with hearing disabilities. Color blindness affects 10.5 million American men and over half a million American women.
So to put it bluntly: if you’re not intentionally making your website accessible, you’re potentially confusing or blocking out over 20 million Americans alone.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have laid out best practices you can adopt in order to ensure your site is free of barriers.
Principle 1: Perceivable
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
Sighted and hearing individuals may take it for granted how easy it is to consume information online. Photos, text, video and more are juxtaposed in ways that create meanings that each component, taken alone, wouldn’t have. Luckily, it isn’t difficult to use alt tags, closed captions and design practices that help simulate the full effect of your site for users with vision or hearing impairment.
The rest of this principle describes making content adaptable to simpler layouts and making it easy to read, such as making text clearly visible over the background. These practices may seem obvious, but they often get lost under flashy designs or stubborn code.
Principle 2: Operable
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
In addition to screen readers, the WCAG guidelines aim for accessibility for users with limited mobility, seizures and a number of conditions associated with old age. The items under principle 2 again remind us that accessible design is often just good design.
Principle 3: Understandable
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
Again, these principles often boil down to “make your website legible.” It includes instructions for making it easy to correct mistakes in fillable forms, and it encourages designers to keep the operation of their sites predictable.
Principle 4: Robust
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
Here, we’re reminded that modern programming can almost assure backward and forward compatibility across a number of devices. If you want users to see your content and interact with it, making sure they can load it is a great start.
We’re both happy and proud to help our clients bring their site into compliance with all levels of accessibility and have vast experience making sure we are implementing best practices in the Sitecore back end (templates including alt tags, descriptive links, etc.) to ensure the client is able to easily maintain compliance moving forward. Here’s an outline of our approach:
- Confirm what level of compliance a client needs to achieve.
The WCAG contains different levels of compliance:
- WCAG 2.0 Level A harmonizes with Section 508 and is required—you must do it.
- WCAG 2.0 Level AA is preferred—it would be nice if you did it, but it’s not required.
- WCAG 2.0 Level AAA is equivalent to Section 508 compliance—optional for all but government agencies, and it would be extra amazing if you complied.
- Complete an accessibility audit.
We can formulate a plan only after we:
- identify and prioritize all accessibility errors.
- define a method for addressing any issues.
- document the system’s overall conformance with Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and with WCAG.
- Present to client stakeholders.
We’ll explain the audit report, which contains:
- an executive summary.
- compliance metrics with the selected accessibility standards.
- product-specific examples of significant violations.
- extensive technical documentation about every type of accessibility best practice that was violated.
- Work with the client stakeholders to prioritize violations.
We’ll design a joint roadmap to address violations.
- Implement website updates to conform to compliance guidelines.
And now your site is accessible to more users than ever!