What is Web Accessibility and why is it important?

Kelly Moynihan, Senior Copywriter
Posted on May 13, 2020

Here’s why you should design your website to be used by anyone and everyone.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that it is universal. If you want to start a blog, showcase your art, or sell a product, you can build a website for it. When a website is designed properly, it removes barriers that people might face in the physical world. It’s crucial that anyone, regardless of their language, location, hardware, or physical and cognitive abilities, can access websites. In fact, this is legally required. It can be tough to know what types of barriers there are on your website. Thankfully, there are a set of guidelines to follow to ensure your website is accessible and usable by all.

Where do the compliance guidelines come from?

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) leads the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) that is committed to the accessibility of the web. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are developed with different stakeholders from various industries, disability organizations, government, accessibility research organizations, and others. The guidelines are based on the four principles of accessibility:

Perceivable: Information must be presented in a way that is detectable by anyone. For example, if your company’s contact information is listed in the footer, a person should be able to distinguish the text from the background color, even if they have low vision or are colorblind.

Operable: Users must be able to interact with the page components and navigation. For example, many people use only a keyboard or voice control. They must be able to use keys or commands to select multiple options on a form, rather than using a mouse.

Understandable: People must be able to comprehend the content and operations of the page so that they can learn and use it again. For example, if a form has required fields, it must clearly note them. This way, if there is an input error, it is clear to the user what needs to be updated.

Robust: The web page should be able to be used and understood on all appropriate devices and assistive technologies like screen readers, etc. For example, features of a page should not be limited to a specific version of a browser as it would limit many users.

The most recent guidelines, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, were published in June 2018. These guidelines do not change, but are built upon periodically to reflect updates in technologies and best practices.

What are the compliance requirements?

There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA.

Level A

Level A is the easiest to meet and the most basic level of conformance. There are 30 criteria that a website must meet to reach Level A under WCAG 2.1. Unless your website has complex parts like color-specific directions (ex: “Press the green button”), it likely meets Level A compliance requirements. This level does not meet the needs of all people though, and a Level A website can still have barriers preventing some people from accessing it.

Level AA

Level AA provides accessibility for most people with disabilities. In addition to the 30 criteria you must meet for Level A, there are 20 additional criteria for Level AA under WCAG 2.1. This level has strict requirements for color contrast and the size of text on websites. Even brand colors must meet these criteria. Companies are encouraged to use Level AA as a guide for aligning with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Level AAA

Level AAA is the highest standard to meet, and it isn’t always achievable. There are an additional 28 criteria for Level AAA under WCAG 2.1 for a total of 78 criteria that must be met. For example, there are even stricter color contrast requirements, user location requirements, and high text validation standards set in the AAA criteria. While it may not be possible to meet all the AAA criteria, you should still try to incorporate as many as you can into your website.

Why is it important?

Having an accessible website benefits everyone! It makes sense to want as many people as possible to be able to access your website. Companies certainly don’t want to exclude people from using their products or services. Let’s remember too that everyone experiences types of disabilities. While some may be permanent like blindness or missing limbs, others are temporary, like losing glasses or breaking an arm.

So, what happens if you don’t comply? Companies get sued all the time for not being accessible. Even Beyoncé was sued last year.

What Imarc is doing

The standards that are presented in WCAG 2.1 are best practices that make sense for a great user experience. At Imarc, we strive for the best possible user experience for all people, and usability is one of our core values when developing any website or tool.

If you are interested in redesigning your website to meet these guidelines, Imarc is ready to help. Let’s Talk!

Interested in an infographic?

Check out our blog post: The 411 on designing for accessibility (from a designer), where we share more about how to ensure your website design aligns with accessibility standards - Get your copy of the Web Accessibility Infographic!