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The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility

Nearly fifteen percent of the world’s population or an estimated 1 billion people live with disabilities. That’s a huge group of people to whom you want to reach!

The fundamental purpose of the world wide web is to provide all users with access to a powerful global information system that is easy to use. If this is the case, why are there so many people who are unable to easily use the web to its fullest capacity?
 

Table of Contents

 

What Does Web Accessibility Mean?

Web accessibility ensures that all forms of digital media, including websites, apps, software programs and content can be accessed by everyone, including those who are limited by physical or cognitive disabilities.

We suggest you try going to your favourite website and attempt to navigate using only the tab and arrow keys. This will put into perspective the challenges faced by millions of people daily as they navigate the world wide web. Importantly, accessible design also makes digital properties easier to use for everybody. 

How Many People have Accessibility Issues?

Millions of internet users have disabilities or impairments that make it difficult or nearly impossible for them to navigate certain websites.

According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians aged fifteen and older have at least one disability that limits them in their daily activities, including their use of the web.

And in the United States, one in four adults are currently living with a disability that limits them.

To put things in perspective :

  • 6.2 million out of 45 million people in Canada have at least one disability that limits them. 

  • The above demographic represents $55 billion in spending annually. 

  • 40 percent of Ontario’s consumers will be living with a disability by 2035.

  • 61 million or 26% of American adults live with a disability. 

Looking at the sheer size of the population that are living with at least one disability which limits them in their daily life, and factoring in the projected growth of that figure, the numbers are staggering. 

By building a website for your business or organization that is not entirely accessible to all of your users, you are losing out on valuable business.

The case can be easily made that web accessibility should be a top priority for decision-makers as this population has the ability to increase revenue for your business, and improve customer engagement by making services more usable and readily accessible. Web accessibility also boosts your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and improves your website’s organic search rankings.

What are the Business Implications of Web Accessibility?

In many organizations increasing revenue and improving customer engagement takes precedence, however, web accessibility can no longer be ignored or relegated to the lower portion of your priority list.

By not conforming to accessibility guidelines, your organization will not be able to compete with others that are actively implementing diverse strategies. 71% of customers with disabilities will leave a website if it is too difficult for them to navigate and the majority of these consumers are willing to pay more money for the same product from an organization that offers them a pleasing and easily accessible web experience.

How Can Organizations Build a Case for Web Accessibility and WCAG 2.0 Compliance?

Some may argue that implementing an accessible web design does not have a substantial return on investment. However, that is not at all the case. Organizations that are committed to web accessibility have great success and stand head and shoulders above the crowd, proving themselves as progressive leaders of innovation and position their company as one that cares about people. Inclusive businesses can extend their market reach and positively engage with all customers and prospects, regardless of their physical, mental or other abilities. 

What are the Internal Benefits of Web Accessibility?

Universal design makes accessibility foolproof and protects the integrity of your site when you have multiple contributors making changes to your site content. Rather than creating alternatives to enhance your site’s accessibility, and constantly working at maintaining accessibility standards, do it right and invest in an accessible framework;  allow your team to focus on your site’s content and overall business goals while catering to all of the needs and abilities of your clients and prospects.

Compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

With the looming 2020 deadline for compliance with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) it is time to begin to consider what actions need to be taken to ensure your organization complies with the new regulations. 

AODA website guidelines have been in effect since the beginning of January 2012 and by June 30, 2021, all public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012,  on new websites or significantly refreshed websites, must meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA. 

Who Must Comply?

By now you have to be wondering who has to comply with these guidelines? The list below will tell you:

  • Municipalities, government organizations
  • Public, private or nonprofit organizations with 50+ employees
  • Hospitals
  • Schools, colleges & universities 
  • Stores, restaurants, supermarkets, dental offices
  • Manufacturers & energy
  • Pretty much everyone!

Is your company over 50 employees?

These new regulations are applicable to private and non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees, as well as organizations in the public sector. Sites that are compliant with WCAG 2.0 guidelines will become accessible by providing users with text alternatives for non-text content, formats that include large print, high contrast visuals, and braille to eliminate visual barriers.

What are the Penalties for Non-Compliance?

In Ontario, these are some of the penalties that organizations could face for not making the necessary changes for web accessibility compliance. 

  • A fine of $50,000 for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur.
  • A corporation will see a fine of $100,000 for each day or part of a day on which the offence occurs or continues to occur.

Is ADA Compliance Mandatory for my Website?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 with the intention of ending discrimination based on differing abilities. Nowhere does the ADA explicitly address online compliance, so the answer is no, compliance is not mandatory. The ADA does not make it clear as to how or if rules will be applied to any website. 

Regardless, generally speaking, it is always a good idea to make sure your digital properties are inclusive to all. Many states have gone as far as creating their own accessibility laws, and as a result, in recent years there has been a large increase in accessibility-related lawsuits filed against companies for their websites and their lack of accessibility.

So, without a clear set of accessibility regulations to comply with, how can you tell if your website is compliant? The best measure available is the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines. If your website is compliant with these standards you mitigate the risk of litigation. 

What are the Levels of Web Accessibility?

WCAG 2.0 is the internationally accepted standard for web accessibility, developed by an international team of experts.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have three levels of conformance that organizations can meet; A, AA and AAA, and each level has different criteria. Depending on the region that your organization is in, the criteria you must meet might be mandated by legislation.

WCAG Level A

This is the minimum level of web accessibility, without addressing these items, barriers exist that do not make using assistive technology possible.  This level is essential and affects the broadest group.

WCAG Level AA

 This level of web accessibility is becoming an industry standard. The criteria at Level AA establishes that a website should work with most assistive technology on desktop and mobile devices however barriers to use will still exist. 

WCAG Level AAA

This is the most accessible that your website can be.  Level AAA is generally not required across the board. Even a website meeting level AAA won’t be perfect and users could still find navigating certain areas challenging.

What are the Four Major Categories of Web Accessibility 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are organized by four main principles, which state that content must be POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. 

Perceivable 

Information and interface components must be presented to users in ways that they can perceive. This means that users must be able to comprehend the information with their senses primarily with their vision or touch and sound. 

Example:

An online application form contains numerous input fields. If the field labels are not readable, it becomes a challenge for users to understand the intent of each form field. 

accessible online form

Operable

Users can effectively use various controls, buttons, navigation and other interactive elements. For some internet users this is the ability to navigate a site with a keyboard or use voice controls to access web content.  

Example:

An online form requires a user to make multiple selections from a drop-down menu. If the user cannot simultaneously press a Control key and click on the menu, the user will not be able to make multiple selections and complete the form.

web form with multiple selections

Understandable 

The information provided and the operation of a user interface must be understandable. Users should be able to comprehend the webpage content and be able to learn how to navigate the interface. 

Example:

A registration form contains the required email along with other fields. If the form doesn't inform the user when there is an input error the user will be unable to understand why the form cannot be submitted.

input errors on an accessible web form

Robust 

Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by the assistive technology that users choose to interact with on websites. 

Example:

A website does not use proper heading structure making the content inaccessible to a screen reader on a user's chosen operating system. 

robust web content accessible with a screen reader

Web Accessibility Examples

Alt Text

Alt text (alternative text), is used within an HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image on a page. Adding alternative text to photos is a common web accessibility principle. Users who are visually impaired will use a screen reader to read an alt attribute to understand an on-page image. Alt tags will also display in place of an image if an image file doesn’t load. Alt tags provide better image context/descriptions to search engine crawlers, allowing them to index an image properly, proving that accessible web practices also benefit your SEO performance.

Image of two different dogs running through grass

Okay:<img src="dogs.png" alt="dogs">

Better:<img src="dogs.png" alt="Two different dogs running through grass">

Color contrast 

Users with visual impairments may find it difficult to read text without high contrast against the background, whether a plain background or text embedded within an image.

example of good vs bad colour contrast

Consistent navigation 

Users with cognitive or neurological challenges depend on these consistent design elements to avoid getting lost while navigating through a site. That’s why you should provide web users with consistent navigation, such as site search and site maps, making sure that your labels, styles, and positions are consistent.

example of accessible website navigation

How do I Start Making my Website Accessible?

If you are wondering where to even begin when taking the steps towards an accessible website or WCAG 2.0 compliance, here is a list of ideas:

  • Assess the current state of the website, including all existing pages and documents. 
  • Evaluate current methods of posting content, and determine which accessibility practices you are already engaging in. 
  • Determine areas that need improvements and work towards discontinuing practices that detract from your site’s accessibility. 
  • Update practices, procedures, and organizational policies, to redefine your organization’s standards. 
  • Create a plan to ensure that best practices are followed for all ongoing and upcoming digital projects. 
  • Create and implement an accessibility plan, including a budget and provide employee training and workshops.

 

It is important for businesses to commit to web accessibility. Becoming an organization with an accessible digital environment means that your accessibility issues can be resolved with innovation instead of litigation while setting new design and development standards. Making accessibility a priority for your organization now will put you ahead of the 2021 deadline.

 

If you are interested in learning more about web accessibility, please contact us. We are happy to review your current digital properties.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Julia Adler

Marketing Coordinator

Julia is a creative and passionate content creator who thrives in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. She uses her background in communications to drive results. Her readiness to take on a challenge and eagerness to contribute allows her to think differently with a consumer-centric approach.

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Ottawa, ON K1R 5T5
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