The Importance of Web Accessibility

by Stone Ward Staff

It’s interesting to consider how much the World Wide Web has changed in the relatively short time it’s been a staple of our society. The days of just having a basic web presence for your brand is just not enough anymore and there’s major movement in the design and development industries that focus on making websites fully accessible to everyone. It’s estimated that over one billion people in the world experience some form of disability so it is imperative that we consider the implications of poor web development practices and UX design – especially when it affects organizations reaching their target audiences.

The concept of having an accessible website is nothing new. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the resident overseer of most internet standards, and has created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to develop and maintain some best practices for ensuring content on the web remains accessible to everyone.

It’s important to note that web accessibility standards are a fluid concept – constantly evolving with technology. Advancements in screen readers and other assistive devices that help people interact with websites ensures that the W3C is constantly revising its documentation and standards to maximize the utility of these resources.

While all websites are encouraged to maintain high levels of compliance, some industries are legally required to. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to provide software and website accessibility to people with disabilities. All federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding are required to be 508 Compliant. This includes government agencies, federal-funded nonprofits, public higher education institutions, and public K-12 schools.

A, AA, AAA standards? What’s the difference? Are they all important?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) consists of three levels of compliance (A, AA, AAA) which are benchmarks for measuring conformance against a defined set of accessibility standards. Images that are not decorative in nature should have alternative text that explains the context of the image to the user. Form elements (such as input fields) should have descriptive names telling the user what type of information to provide. Time-based media such as a video playing in an iFrame should have a descriptive title that explains what the video is about. Some, but not all media, will benefit from having captions or a transcript.

When it comes to color contrast of background and foreground colors on a web page, the W3C has AA and AAA levels of compliance in order to accommodate people with visual impairment. For a web page to meet AA compliance, the contrast ratio must satisfy a 4.5:1 ratio whereas AAA compliance requires a 7:1 ratio.

Examples:

text contrast ratio examples

Content organization and hierarchy should, also, follow a logical order. That means that header elements should be in sequential order and users with screen readers should be able to easily navigate page content in a well-structured manner. There should only be one H1, which will typically be the page title, but there can be many subsequent headings based on the content structure as long as they stay in sequential order, not H3 then H1 and then H2, for example.

This could be the difference between someone navigating to your site and understanding the information you’re presenting or leaving the site altogether because they can’t easily find what they are looking for.

Pro Tip: A simple way to determine if your page content is well-structured is to disable style sheets that affect how the page markup is displayed. Without styles, you can get a raw assessment of how information will be presented to a user using assistive devices.

Tab order is very important for users navigating your site with a keyboard, too. Elements that can receive focus (such as buttons, links or form inputs) should be tab-focusable in chronological order based on the way your content is organized. It’s important to ensure that your website’s main menu (and especially any dropdown menu items) are also in the tab order to ensure that keyboard users can fully access these sections of your website.

The use of a content management system (CMS) is ideal for many website development projects. Drupal, one of the most widely-used and prominent PHP-based CMS’s has even strived to make its brand new version release – Drupal 8 – more accessible out-of-the-box. Being open source, developers are encouraged to provide contribution modules to extend the functionality of the CMS and there has been a major emphasis on keeping accessibility in mind throughout the module development process.

True or False:  The W3C requires every website to maintain full compliance with A, AA, and AAA standards.

False – The W3C merely encourages organizations to strive to achieve the highest practical level of compliance for their website. The standards are developed with an understanding that full AA or AAA compliance may detract too far from an overall design and may not fit a brand strategy. Most websites should be able to reach A-level compliance, though, and many will be able to easily reach AA compliance. In order for your website to achieve AA compliance, it must first satisfy all of the requirements for A-compliance. AAA compliance cannot be achieved until all A and AA requirements are met.

Google is taking notice and you should too.

Early last year, Google made an emphasis to promote mobile-friendly websites in their search rankings and this was a big deal considering the importance of your website’s ability to be found by users using their search engine.

Google is always evolving their search algorithms and given their initiative to help provide an accessible web experience for everyone, we anticipate that they will begin rewarding websites that maintain a high level of accessibility conformance. While this has not been an official announcement, many in the search engine optimization space have speculated that a future update to the ranking algorithms will put higher weight on websites that are ADA compliant.

Not sure if your website is compliant? We can help!

For the past two years, our digital team has worked hard to ensure that our public and government websites are adhering to these accessibility standards, and we have even helped many of our other clients begin the process of making their sites accessible to their users. 

We offer an ADA scan that provides insight into how many A, AA, or AAA errors are present on your website. We can assist you in making these updates to your website or work with your existing digital partner. We offer monthly, quarterly or annual scans to our clients which comes in the form of a report. Our clients are then able to assess the scan and determine at what level they would like to make their site compliant. Because of the color changes that may be required, some clients choose various levels of compliance to balance their brand identity requirements with the compliance requirements. Because we understand the importance of brand standards, we work collaboratively with our clients to make the best decision for the organization in both areas.

Some of our ADA compliant clients include Baptist Health, Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, No Barriers USA, and Arkansas State University - Newport.

Interested in understanding ADA compliance more? Contact us below to setup some time to talk with our team.