Web accessibility guidelines & legislation
It is often said that the world around us is what disables people that are differently abled. The sad fact is that this is often true, especially when it comes to the digital world. That’s why web accessibility standards exist.
On this page we’ll answer ‘What is web accessibility?’. We’ll talk about the web accessibility guidelines along with the 4 principles of web accessibility. We’ll also explain the legal guidelines relating to web accessibility.
Web accessibility challenges can be experienced for a number of reasons. Poor design choices, technical coding, and even choice of language can all contribute.
Web accessibility standards help us to reduce barriers to our digital content. They help to create good online experiences for all, regardless of difference, disability or language. Legislation exists to make it a legal responsibility. Or at least that’s true for some sectors. For others, now’s the time to prepare for the future. After all, web accessibility regulations are changing fast.
In fact, 97.4% of home pages have detectable accessibility failures (to the web accessibility standards of WCAG). A pretty shocking statistic, especially in a world that expects people to do more online now than ever before.
To put this into context, based on the top accessibility failures found:
- People who are colour blind are greeted by homepages difficult to interpret because of poor colour contrast (86.4% of homepages)
- Blind users aren’t being given the same visual experiences because of missing alt text on images (60.6% of homepages)
- Those using a screen reader are being left unable to fill in forms because of missing form input labels. This means, when they navigate to the form field, they’re not given any information as to what it’s for (54.4% of homepages)
- Screen reader users are also left in the dark as to where they can go next because of empty links. This means there’s no text to explain where the link will go if clicked (51.3% of homepages)
Web accessibility for people with disabilities matters. In fact, web accessibility benefits everyone.
Take web accessibility for older users for example. In recent research, we found that 1 in 4 people aged over 50 face problems accessing products and services online. This is because accessibility barriers exist for many groups of people. Improving web accessibility helps us to be more welcoming to a wider audience online.
Following web accessibility guidelines, such as WCAG, can help you to make your content more accessible.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were designed to help organisations make websites accessible. However, we know they can be difficult to understand, because there’s a lot to consider. That’s why we’ve created a website accessibility checklist. Download it for free, and share with your colleagues.
How much do you know about web accessibility?
As you're increasing your knowledge around web accessibility, why not test the knowledge you've gained so far?
Take our free quiz to see how much you know about making web content more accessible. You'll also have the opportunity to access free resources, to take your expertise to the next level!
So, we thought we’d help to explain them:
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989.
In 1994 he founded W3C to oversee continued development of the web. W3C is an international community that works together to develop web standards to benefit all internet users. They develop specifications, guidelines, software, and tools to help ‘lead the web to its full potential’.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is part of W3C. They develop standards and support materials to help organisations understand and implement accessibility.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were created by W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in 1999. They’re a set of guidelines that help organisations to make web content more accessible. Today, they’re used all over the world and are the web accessibility standards mentioned in a lot of legislation.
We'll explore more on this later.
Since the Web content Accessibility Guidelines were created, they’ve made a huge impact on web accessibility. But as with everything, the guidelines can always be made better. The first version of WCAG was 1.0. Today, the current version is 2.1, but there's a working draft known as WCAG 2.2 in the works. It’s the fill-in until the working draft of WCAG 3.0 is finalised. WCAG 3.0 will see a completely new model of WCAG. It will go beyond a focus on making web content more accessible. It will also advise accessibility of authoring tools, user agents (such as web browser and media players), and assistive technologies.
With WCAG, there’s 3 levels of conformance. These are Level A, AA and AAA. Each one outlines elements that websites must meet to be accessible. With each level, the criteria gets harder. Meeting each extra level makes your site accessible to more and more people. As recommended, organisations should meet WCAG Level AA at minimum.
For a website to be considered accessible, it must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. These 4 principles of web accessibility are otherwise known as POUR.
We'll explore this later on.
Assistive technology is a product or software that supports people with disabilities. It helps them to carry out activities that might otherwise be difficult, and do so independently. A screen reader is a type of assistive technology. It’s software that helps a blind or visually impaired person to access digital content by reading it aloud.
HTML is the code used to make up a webpage and its content. It’s used to structure a page. For example, HTML is used to define a heading from a paragraph. A bullet point list from a table. An image from a video.
As we’ve said HTML is the code used to make up and structure a web page. But there’s a meaningful way to do this. It’s known as Semantic Markup or Semantic HTML. It means to use the correct structural HTML tags to define elements. For example, to structure headings in a way that defines their order of importance. To do this, you would use a <H1> tag for a main heading, followed by a <H2> for a subheading, and so on.
CSS is the code used to style a web page. It defines how certain HTML elements should be displayed. For example, with CSS you can streamline how all paragraphs, as identified by HTML, appear visually.
ARIA is a type of markup that can be added to HTML to improve accessibility. It helps assistive technologies to relay the content correctly. For example, to communicate the role of a widget, or state of dynamic content (such as a progress bar).
Each individual accesses the web using technology which suits their needs and preferences.
That means your website should be compatible for use across different devices and browsers, including assistive technologies.
Free website accessibility checklist for Marketers and Designers
These accessibility checklists will help you keep accessibility in mind throughout your digital campaigns.
Pass to your colleagues, and share with your Design team. Work together to create a more inclusive brand that's welcoming to everyone.
Scope is a disability equality charity in the UK. Their website has been created in line with inclusive design. That means, it's been designed with diversity in mind. To achieve a website that’s accessible and usable to all groups of people, they actively sought feedback from users. They also tested their design at every step along the way.
Discover Scope’s 7 principles for creating inclusive digital experiences.
The UK government website has been designed with simplicity and consistency in mind. Their website is easy to navigate, and as users browse, they know what to expect from page to page. From their website design, it’s clear they’ve really thought about and considered how visitors use their website. Most notably, the accessibility of their forms shows how they’ve made their service easy to use.
Monzo is a digital-only bank with a mission to ‘make money work for everyone’. They actively support the needs of all users, and their website and apps have been created with disabled users in mind. From their choice of design, right through to the simplicity of the language they use.
Recently, Sophie Koonin, Web Engineering Lead at Monzo joined us on a podcast. Listen as she debunks 6 myths marketers believe about web accessibility.
- Nsw.gov.au, New South Wales (NSW) Government
This Australian government is committed to an ‘open, accountable, fair and effective government’. Their website has been designed to comply with WCAG Level AA standard, ‘so that information is available to everyone’. What’s more, they realise that websites are forever changing, and web accessibility guidelines are often updated. As such, they continue to improve their website to meet current web accessibility standards.
WCAG Level AA and the Texthelp website
As an assistive technology leader, web accessibility is important to us.
Our website has recently been revamped. Not only has it been given a whole new look and feel, it's more accessible than ever before. Above all, we wanted to make it easier to understand and navigate, so make it more user-friendly.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA)
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their disability, in many areas of public life. This includes employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places.
Read more about web accessibility and DDA in this advisory document: World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes (current version, 4.1)
Webinar: Accessibility law & how to check your website for the top 5 WCAG errors
In this session, gain an overview of legislation. Discover the five most common WCAG errors, and learn how to find and fix them.
You’ll hear from Zenab Khan, Accessibility and Usability Consultant at AbilityNet, and Stuart Blair, Product Manager at Texthelp.
Today it’s estimated that almost 10 lawsuits are filed against inaccessible websites every business day.
As I’m sure you’ll agree, facing legal action isn’t great for a brand’s image or reputation. Whether or not you’re in an area that has web accessibility laws in place, it’s a good idea to get ahead of what’s required. Not only for your brand, but because it’s the right thing to do.