You’ve probably heard of it already: the WCAG-guidelines or ‘Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’. What is this about? And do you have to keep this in mind while creating a website?
You obviously want your website to be as accessible as possible. But what exactly does that mean? What are the minimum requirements and who can help you with this? We'll clear that up for you!
The advantages of good digital accessibility
How to address digital accessibility?
What is not always considered is the broad spectrum of disabilities and obstacles that make it difficult to use a website online. When we think of "Accessibility Issues," we may think mostly of the extreme end of that spectrum and how blind and visually impaired people must interact with our websites. It is just as much about people who are hard of hearing (people who, for example, deal with auditory information in videos), people with a reading disorder (6% of adult Flemings), low literacy (14% of adult Flemings) or even situational limitations (for example, a slow or poor mobile Internet connection, just when you need the train or bus service).
In short, there are many things to consider when looking at digital accessibility, but the importance to your visitors is enormous. And you will benefit too.
The good news is that many tools already exist to facilitate online navigation (text readers, accessibility settings in devices...). 90% of what still needs to be done to your website is to apply solid standards so that those tools work properly. Because this often has an impact on the construction of a new website, we recommend you keeping this in mind from the start.
Digital accessibility checklist
At Dropsolid, we use an accessibility checklist: guidelines that should prevent problems in terms of content, structure, design (UI), and development. These make it easier to ultimately comply with the WCAG 2.2 AA. The list below makes it clear that accessibility is a shared responsibility. A website can only be optimally accessible if all aspects are fulfilled, so everyone who contributes (including those who create content) works on this.
Here are some basic guidelines to get you started:
2. Semantisc HTML
Use the right HTML for the right function. This ensures that screen readers can find the navigation and content and other tools can use it (including keyboard navigation).
Links should be clearly distinguishable. So make sure you use a color that contrasts with the surrounding text and background.
A higher contrast helps with various types of color blindness and blurred vision. It can be easily measured with numerous contrast checkers found online.
11. Responsive design
By now it almost goes without saying, but make sure a design can clearly conveys the information on different screen sizes but especially on small screens and devices.
We also converted the checklist into an extended version in the form of a PDF, so you can easily check which points your website does not yet meet and where you can still add improvements.
Validation en certification of digital accessibility
Using only the guidelines above will not necessarily result in a fully accessible website, but it is a good starting point. Finally, the result should be validated by comparing it to the appropriate version of WCAG. At Dropsolid, we do a comprehensive audit of your website, using our accessibility knowledge and automated test suites like Axe. When we validate or audit a site, the check is always done by someone who has been trained in accessibility (e.g. AnySurfer).
It is important to note that test suites are not a comprehensive solution, therefore manual checks are necessary. Context is important when applying the guidelines and an automated system cannot (yet) estimate this. So certain expertise is required to apply the rules correctly and to set the right priorities.
If you want to go a step further, it is possible to have audits and reports prepared by individuals who have received specialized training, for example through the IAAP (International Association of Accessibility Professionals). A site that is tested by them (and passes) will then receive a certificate.
In Belgium, there are a number of organizations that have these kinds of professionals, the best known being Eleven Ways and AnySurfer. For example, if someone from AnySurfer positively evaluates your website, you can put a label in the footer of your site that lets everyone know that your site was tested by them. This is not a must to be accessible, but an external validation sometimes provides extra confidence.
Conclusion about digital accessibility
No one can take all the aspects around the accessibility of a website into account 100% of the time. Especially when it comes together with time and budget. Fortunately, we can do a lot of things right such as:
- Using the WCAG guidelines as a tool.
- Prioritize and address issues that have the greatest impact.
- Include these priorities and guidelines in the (construction) process from the beginning.
- Evaluating your results.