Ensuring Web Accessibility: A Deep Dive into WCAG

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Key Takeaways

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content accessible to users with disabilities.

WCAG 2.1 provides 13 guidelines and 78 success criteria, each with specific instructions for creating accessible content.

The principles of WCAG are POUR, which stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

WCAG is developed and documented by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) within W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

Compliance with success criteria is crucial, but it’s not enough to overcome all barriers for users with disabilities.

WCAG 2.1, released in 2018, adds 17 new success criteria to improve accessibility for users on mobile devices, users with cognitive or learning disabilities, and users with low vision.

The WCAG categorizes success criteria into compliance levels A, AA, and AAA, describing different levels of conformance.

In the United States, Section 508 mandates that any organization working with the US government must ensure their digital content meets at least WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines.

When creating content using an authoring tool, it is crucial to ensure the final output meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to make it accessible to all users.

Introduction

Sarah Stricker, an experienced Instructional Technologist at ansrsource and a certified Web Accessibility Specialist (WAS) from IAAP, spoke at Continual Engine‘s “All About WCAG Accessibility And What’s Next” webinar. Sarah emphasized the critical role of accessibility in creating a better and more equitable world. She discussed the importance of going beyond WCAG compliance and applying usability principles for an optimal user experience. Sarah’s extensive knowledge and practical approach to accessibility made the webinar enlightening and inspiring for attendees.

Here are a few topics from Sarah’s session:

What is WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content accessible to users with disabilities. WCAG covers the content, structure, and presentation of a web page. WCAG 2.1 provides 13 guidelines and 78 success criteria, each with specific instructions for creating accessible content. The guidelines cover topics ranging from providing text alternatives for non-text content to keyboard accessibility and compatibility with assistive devices.

The principles of WCAG are POUR, which stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.

  • Perceivable means that the content should be detectable by users with disabilities
  • Operable means they should be able to interact with that content as expected.
  • Understandable means that the content should be readable for users with disabilities.
  • Robust means that the webpage should work well for all users, regardless of the assistive device they may be using.

Following these principles makes the web more inclusive and accessible for all users.

Who develops the WCAG?

The WCAG are established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization responsible for developing web standards, including those for rendering web pages. W3C is a values-driven, non-profit organization that aims to lead the web to its full potential by creating open standards that ensure accessibility, security, and interoperability for everyone globally.

The WCAG is developed and documented by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) within W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The AG WG includes representatives from corporations, universities, and invited experts, with 225 participants in the working group.

Does WCAG compliance ensure accessibility?

Ensuring web accessibility is about more than just ticking off success criteria. It involves applying usability principles and considering users’ ever-evolving needs and technologies. Compliance with success criteria is crucial, but it is not enough to overcome all barriers for users with disabilities. That’s why it is essential to design websites prioritizing perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness.

It is crucial to stay up-to-date with ongoing research and the latest technological advancements to ensure your website is accessible. By creating an inclusive website, you are not only benefiting users with disabilities but also providing a better online experience for everyone. The rewards of an inclusive website are immeasurable, and the impact is profound.

What is the difference between WCAG 2.0 and 2.1?

WCAG keeps evolving to ensure digital content remains accessible to individuals with disabilities as technology and web design practices change and new accessibility barriers arise. The WCAG working group, comprising accessibility experts, regularly reviews the guidelines and considers feedback from the community to keep them relevant and effective.

WCAG 2.0, introduced in 2008, provides comprehensive guidelines for making web content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. WCAG 2.1, released in 2018, adds 17 new success criteria to improve accessibility for users on mobile devices, users with cognitive or learning disabilities, and users with low vision. Despite the new criteria, WCAG 2.1 maintains the same structure as WCAG 2.0 and is backward compatible. This ensures that digital content is accessible to a wider range of users.

What do the different WCAG compliance levels; A, AA and AAA mean?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) categorize success criteria into compliance levels A, AA, and AAA, determining the level of necessity to conform to the criterion. The A level is necessary for conformance, while the AA level is a ‘should conform’ and the AAA level ‘may conform’ as needed.

For instance, if a website fails to provide a text equivalent for non-text content, it is not compliant and does not meet the A standard. On the other hand, if a pre-recorded video does not provide sign language interpretation when there is an audio component, it fails to meet the highest level of conformance to the AAA standard.

The compliance levels are also used to describe a site or service as a whole. For instance, if a site is designated as WCAG 2.1 AA-compliant, it meets all the A and AA criteria. AA is the most common level of conformance required by accessibility laws that refer to WCAG.

Is WCAG the same as Section 508?

In the United States, digital accessibility is governed by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which includes Section 508. Section 508 mandates that any organization working with the US government must ensure their digital content meets at least WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines. It’s important to note that while Section 508 references WCAG guidelines, it’s not the same as WCAG.
Similarly, other countries, including Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, use WCAG guidelines as the standard for digital accessibility. These guidelines provide a minimum standard of digital accessibility for individuals with disabilities and are essential to protecting their civil rights.

Tips for creating WCAG-compliant content with content authoring tool

When creating content using an authoring tool, it is crucial to ensure it meets the WCAG to meet the minimum standard of accessibility for all users. Here are some tips to help you ensure that your content is WCAG-compliant:

Check for an accessibility statement

Look for an accessibility statement on the tool’s homepage that explains how the tool supports accessibility and meets WCAG guidelines.

Look for a VPAT

A Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) provides specific information on how a site or service conforms to the WCAG criteria. The VPAT lists each criterion and comments on whether and how the tool conforms.

Use accessible original content

Use accessible files, videos, and images that meet WCAG guidelines before adding them to the authoring tool.

Test the final output

Use automated accessibility checkers to test the outcome of the authoring tool for accessibility issues. Additionally, follow up with manual checks, such as keyboard navigation and screen reader testing.

Refer to WCAG guidelines

To understand WCAG guidelines better, refer to the WCAG site or search for “WCAG Quick Reference“. This will provide you with an overview of the guidelines and help you understand how to apply them effectively.

Tips for ensuring web content accessibility for non-web developers

For individuals without a background in web development, there are several measures you can undertake to ensure that your digital content complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Here are some pointers to get you started:

Consider accessibility at every project stage

Ensure that any multimedia elements included in your content are accessible. For example, providing alternative text descriptions for images and captions for videos can make your content more accessible for individuals with visual impairments.

Use resources available on the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website

The WAI website provides an array of tips and resources that offer practical advice on how to incorporate the principles of WCAG into your project before it enters the development or testing phase.

Read the WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines

The guidelines provide invaluable insights for anyone who wishes to make their digital content more accessible. They cover various topics, including color contrast, keyboard accessibility, and text alternatives for non-text content.

Complete the Digital Accessibility Foundations Free Online Course

The course, available on the WAI site, can equip you with the requisite knowledge and understanding of accessibility principles and their application to your content.

Future of WCAG

The future of WCAG encompasses the development of WCAG 3 and the update to WCAG 2.1, known as WCAG 2.2. WCAG 3 is presently under development and aims to broaden its scope to cover more than just web content. It is intended to be easier to understand, more flexible, and cater to a more extensive range of user needs, including those of people with cognitive disabilities.

One new aspect of WCAG 3 includes incorporating different testing methodologies, including atomic tests for specific elements and holistic testing for sites or applications. Meanwhile, WCAG 2.2 is an update to 2.1 that introduces nine new success criteria specifically designed to assist low-vision users, users with cognitive disabilities, and users who use alternative input devices for screen navigation.

Preparing for WCAG 2.2 compliance

In order to ensure compliance with the forthcoming WCAG 2.2 standards, it is advisable to verify that your website or digital content is currently meeting the requirements for WCAG 2.1 AA. Although the final version of WCAG 2.2 is yet to be released, it is imperative to remain informed of any updates or changes. Adhering to the guidelines of WCAG 2.2 involves taking specific measures, such as guaranteeing keyboard operability with visible focus indicators, refraining from using drag and drop functionality, providing sufficient spacing between clickable areas, maintaining a consistent location for the help feature, furnishing an accessible password retrieval method, and programming form fields to fill in repeated fields automatically. By proactively adopting these measures, you can enhance the usability of your digital content and prepare for future compliance requirements.

Watch the recording of the webinar, or download the presentation for detailed information on the webinar.

Continual Engine as Your Accessibility Partner

At Continual Engine, we offer innovative AI technology solutions to make learning accessible and transform content accessibility. With our cutting-edge AI technologies, such as automation, deep learning, machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing, we ensure high-quality services that meet the most stringent accessibility standards. Our AI-powered services, like image alt-text authoring and PDF remediation, are designed to help organizations create accessible digital content more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Our proprietary tool, PREP, enables the remediation of large volumes of pages at a faster turnaround time and precise accuracy. A panel of highly qualified SMEs ensures the highest level of precision and compliance. Additionally, our award-winning platform, Invicta™, generates high-quality alt-text descriptions for complex STEM images and automatically tags print PDF and ePub content to make them compatible with JAWS and VoiceOver screen readers.

Contact us today for a free demo, and discover how our solutions can transform your content accessibility needs.

Get Expert Website Accessibility

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Editors:

Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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