Ensuring digital accessibility Implementing the WCAG guidelines
Digital accessibility should ensure that people with physical and cognitive disabilities can easily use websites and apps. However, companies often find it difficult to implement-also because they do not know which guidelines must be met. assistance.
How can applications and websites be designed in such a way that as many people as possible can use them without restrictions?
(© cirquedesprit – stock.adobe.com)
Compared to accessibility in the physical world, the digital world still has a lot to catch up on – a problem that affects an estimated one billion people worldwide with one limitation. At the same time, all users benefit from an improved user experience. And in addition to the mandatory requirements that apply to some industries anyway, the investment in digital accessibility also improves the general brand image of companies.
Since more and more activities – not only in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic-have been primarily digital, extensive improvements in digital accessibility are required. Otherwise, companies run the risk of losing sales and trust both in the short and long term.
One aspect that companies underestimate is, for example, the degree of restriction of certain users. Some limitations, such as blind people, are obvious. But there are a number of limitations of vision that are not considered, such as color vision problems or even color blindness.
The WCAG guidelines
So how can applications and websites be designed in such a way that as many people as possible can use them without restrictions? The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) serve as a reference point for companies.
The goal of WCAG is to provide a single common standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments at the international level. WCAG currently has 13 guidelines, which are organized according to four principles:
- Perceptibility: Users of an application or website must be able to capture information and elements of the user interface with their senses. It is primarily about visualization, but haptic feedback, audio signals and theoretically even smells and tastes play a role here.
- Usability: This involves being able to use the elements necessary for use, navigation and interaction without restriction. The corresponding buttons, drag elements and other switching elements must be identifiable at all times for interaction to take place. It is important to bear in mind that voice commands are just as natural today as the use of keyboard and mouse.
- Intelligibility: With regard to comprehensibility, it is above all about the consistency of the presentation of content – be it through the intuitive design, the addressing of usage patterns or the conveying of memorable and repeatable operating steps. From simple language to tutorials to audio support.
- Robustness: Content must be designed to be interpreted by a variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Simply put, this means that it should not matter what technology users use to interact with websites, multimedia content or other digital formats. The result must always be the same.
For each guideline there are verifiable success criteria, which have three levels: A, AA and AAA. The criteria are cumulative – in order to meet level AA, level A must also be met, and in order to meet level AAA, websites and apps must also meet levels A and AA.
In order to partially relieve operators and developers, according to WCAG, it is not recommended to require level AAA compliance as a general guideline for entire websites, since it is not possible to meet all Level AAA success criteria for some content. The most recent version is the WCAG 2.1, which was released in June 2018. According to the Web Accessibility Initiative, the publication of WCAG 2.2 is planned for early 2021.
Companies should monitor this process closely, because even if the guidelines of the WCAG are not binding, those of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) are very soon. Adopted on 9 April 2019, this decision, which mainly concerns the areas of e-commerce, computers, operating systems and smartphones, must be transposed into national law across Europe by next year at the latest.
Keeping track of progress in accessibility
When it comes to compliance with the WCAG guidelines, a checklist helps. This shows the company how many points are met or not met and how many problems with different urgency (critical/high/medium/weak problems) have been found. In this way, the improvements can be “measured”in a certain way by the number of errors found by the testers.
If the number of errors decreases, this hopefully means that the company is getting closer to compliance. However, the number of aspects for which companies do not comply with the WCAG guidelines is not an indication of how barrier-free, for example, the website is. A page that does not pass 50 percent of the WCAG test points could still be quite easily accessible, while a page that does not pass “only” 5 percent of the WCAG test points could have many blockers and be very inaccessible.
Step-by-step accessibility of your website
It is important to start the examination, even if this means that only the first small steps are taken. If an existing website is to be checked, it is best to select 20 to 30 pages for a first run that are important for the customer journey.
After testing, all serious bugs should be fixed before testing again to ensure that everything has been implemented correctly. After that, it is decided whether the errors of medium severity will be corrected in the next step or whether a rating of another 20 to 30 pages would be better.
For new projects, it is recommended to take a different path. Here it is important to consider accessibility already during the design process. Checking all wireframes and other mockups taking into account the criteria saves companies a lot of work later. However, this requires that the design team is informed about the principles of accessibility. The feedback then goes straight back into the design process to minimize errors before the project is handed over to the development team.
Next, the development team must be trained to apply the principles of accessibility when implementing the designs. The first step in the barrier-free implementation is to use as much native semantic html as possible, such as genuine <button> or <h2> elements.
Today, the network provides a variety of tools to test the accessibility of websites on different devices and different browsers. The most famous are:
- JAWS Screen Reader for Google Chrome on Desktop
- VoiceOver for Safari on macOS
Technical assistance for developers is already available. In the course of automated tests of accessibility with regard to the code, programs such as the Applause Accessibility Tool draw the attention of software developers when certain requirements of the developed section affect accessibility, and provide suggestions for improvement.
Understanding accessibility is crucial
In the end, however, it must be clear that even the best tool or fully automated testing setup identifies only about a quarter of the accessibility-related problems. Many WCAG checkpoints are subjective, such as ” Does the heading describe the purpose of the section?”and a program cannot make these kinds of findings. These are areas that can only be uncovered by manual testers.
Jan Wolter (Picture: Applause)
In addition to testing, companies should consider integrating accessibility training for design, development, marketing and legal departments. Marketing email campaigns, for example, should be written with accessibility in mind, and contracts with design companies or software development service providers should include appropriate clauses to respect accessibility.
* Jan Wolter is General Manager EU at Applause.