Web content accessibility guidelines & legislation
Digital accessibility guide for Marketers
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.
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility is about making sure that digital content can be accessed and used by everyone, including people with disabilities. It’s a way of thinking that makes us stop and question whether our web content is accessible to all groups. It’s also a practice that involves opening up digital content, so that it can be accessed, understood, and used without barriers.
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.
Podcast: Discover the past, present and future of web accessibility
In this podcast episode, we take you on a journey through time. Listen as Texthelp’s Chief Technology Officer, Ryan, explores how web accessibility has evolved. Plus gain insights as he shares his thoughts on what’s to come.
Why web accessibility is important for digital marketers
Imagine a world where everything is within grasp, but just out of your reach. You struggle to access any piece of information, and every service you need is closed, every single day. For some people, that’s their experience of the digital world. Because even in our digital-first world, barriers still exist.
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 color blind are greeted by homepages difficult to interpret because of poor color 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)
Podcast: Why web accessibility matters
In this podcast, gain first-hand insight from a blind professional working in the digital inclusion space. Robin, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, shares advice to help organizations improve web accessibility.
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.
As a digital marketer, how can you do your part for web accessibility?
We each have a part to play in improving the digital world. For Marketers, our role can have a huge impact. After all, we write, produce and publish a lot of the content that’s on the web. In fact, 60% of marketers say they create at least one blog or content piece per day. Never mind the many other types of content that make up our Content Marketing strategies.
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 organizations 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!
11 web accessibility definitions and acronyms explained
If you’re on a learning journey, exploring ‘what does web accessibility mean?’, we’re sure you’ll come across lots of new terms. Web accessibility terms can be complicated and full of acronyms.
So, we thought we’d help to explain them:
- W3C, World-Wide-Web Consortium
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’.
- WAI, Web Accessibility Initiative
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is part of W3C. They develop standards and support materials to help organizations understand and implement accessibility.
- WCAG, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were created by W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in 1999. They’re a set of guidelines that help organizations 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.
- WCAG 2.1 / WCAG 2.2. / WCAG 3.0
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 finalized. 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.
- Level A, AA and AAA
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, organizations should meet WCAG Level AA at minimum.
- POUR principles
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 & screen readers
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, HyperText Markup Language
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.
- Semantic Markup, or Semantic HTML
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, Cascading Style Sheets
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, Accessible Rich Internet Applications
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).
Understanding web accessibility guidelines: WCAG & the POUR principles
When it comes to web accessibility, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There’s a whole community of people striving to make web content more accessible. Along with experts and organizations committed to providing education and outreach. As we’ve also noted, there’s also a set of web accessibility guidelines to support your efforts.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (aka WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) help make web content more accessible. That’s because they guide us on how to make digital content accessible to people with disabilities. They take into account the design, structure and presentation of content.
WCAG is used around the world by many people. As such, they’re known as the international web accessibility standards. There are 3 levels of conformance - Level A, Level AA and Level AAA. Businesses should aim to comply with the standards at a Level AA at minimum. So as to achieve accessibility for a wide audience.
The POUR principles
For a website to be truly accessible, it must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. The WCAG guidelines are based on these 4 principles of web accessibility - otherwise known as the POUR principles. Below, we explain what each means.
Every part of a website should be able to be perceived by every visitor.
This means that content should be available in multiple formats. It also considers accessible design choices. For example, good color contrast and typography. This makes it easier for users to see and hear content.
Web content must be able to be accessed by every visitor.
This includes people who use adaptive devices, and those who may suffer seizures or physical reactions. It must also be easy to navigate, helping users find content, and decide where they are.
Content that someone can access is not necessarily accessible. It must be readable and understandable.
Factors to consider are the use of language, abbreviations and pronunciations. This principle also considers how intuitive the website is. Meaning whether it acts in a way which users would expect. Additionally, where visitors are asked to input information, support should be in place. So that users can avoid and correct mistakes.
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 guide & accessibility checklist
Free guide: Understanding POUR & web accessibility laws
Gain simple actions you can take now, to make your website more perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
Explore what this means for web accessibility laws. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
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.
4 examples of great accessible websites
An accessible website is one which considers web accessibility best practices. They’re designed and maintained in a way that's inclusive of everyone. So that every person can discover, access and digest content, including those using special devices and screen readers.
To help you gain tips, here’s some good web accessibility examples.
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 realize 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.
What you need to know about web accessibility laws
Web accessibility laws exist across the globe to protect people with disabilities. They help to make sure that the digital world is a fair and welcoming place for all. Below, we explain the legal guidelines relating to web accessibility.
Understanding ADA / Section 508
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act exists to make sure every US citizen has equal opportunities to all areas of public life.
Under Title III of ADA, businesses are required to make their “place of public accommodation” accessible to people with disabilities. Since a website is a place of public accommodation, to meet ADA compliance your website must be accessible too.
Under ADA, there’s no defined standard of what makes a website accessible. So it’s a good idea to follow existing web accessibility best practices. That means, to comply with the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). More specifically, WCAG Level AA.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a web accessibility law for federal agencies.
It requires federal agencies to ‘make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.’ To meet Section 508, federal agencies must comply with WCAG 2.0 Level A and AA.
Understanding the Accessible Canada Act (ACA)
The Accessible Canada Act (ACA) has been set out by the Government of Canada in the hope to create a barrier-free Canada. As part of this, when it comes to web accessibility, they aim to make sure ‘digital content and technologies that can be used by all’.
The Accessible Canada Act applies to parliament, the Government of Canada, and the federally-regulated private sector.
AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. It’s a law that sets out accessibility standards for organizations in Ontario. When it comes to websites, organizations must meet WCAG 2.0 to Level AA. This is outlined under AODA’s Information and Communications Standards.
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.
Recent web accessibility lawsuits
As we work hard to bring organizations up to speed about web accessibility, there's one question we often get asked. That is, ‘do organizations actually get sued?’
You’ll have noticed that some web accessibility laws place a legal obligation on public sector bodies only. Others don’t mention web accessibility specifically, but do prohibit discrimination. Despite this, web accessibility lawsuits do happen across all sectors.
A few examples include:
- Nike who faced legal action in 2017 for their websites nike.com and converse.com. This was because their websites were deemed inaccessible to visually impaired users
- Beyonce Knowles (Park Entertainment) faced a class-action lawsuit in 2019. A few reasons included that beyonce.com failed to provide alt text for images and had inaccessible drop-down menus.
- Domino’s Pizza was sued by a blind user in 2019. That’s because they were unable to order from the Domino’s website and app despite using a screen reader.
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.
Create equal experiences for all. Make your web content more accessible
In life we should all be rooting for equal experiences for everyone. As a Marketer, you can have a huge impact in the digital space.
So web accessibility is something we encourage you to strive for. Make it a priority to help every person feel included, important and valued online.
To help, here's some more resources around digital accessibility.