WCAG guidelines, the basic requirements of Web Accessibility

Written by Jonathon Hawkins on

Digital marketing intern, Jonathon, discusses what the website content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) ask of web developers and content writers.

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The web content accessibility guidelines, or WCAG for short, are a set of requirements that are used internationally to measure how accessible your website is.

By “Accessible” we are referring to how inclusive your content is: how well it caters for impaired users with a variety of disabilities, and how easy it is for people to use. For example, blind users and keyboard-only users.

Developed by the World Web Consortium (W3,) the WCAG guidelines measure how accessible your website is through three-tiered conformance levels:

Level A – A basic standard of web accessibility has been met.

Level AA – An adequate standard of web accessibility has been met.

Level AAA- This website is fully accessible.

For reference, the guidelines state that for some websites, it is extremely difficult to achieve a AAA rating – but this is definitely something you should aim for. For example, complex content may hinder it’s reading a score, which prevents it from achieving AAA.

These standards are reviewed from a variety of perspectives, and thus should be considered by:

  • Web developers.
  • Digital marketers.
  • Web content authors.

Along with a variety of other fields when designing content.

WCAG Guidelines, the basics.

Under WCAG 2.1, there are four key principles that ought to be followed when creating accessible web content. These guidelines seek to make your content accessible not only disabled users, but also more readily available and easily accessible for your whole target audience.

The principles state that all website should aim to be:

Perceivable.

Information must be presented in a way that users can easily perceive. This means that your content should not be invisible to any senses.

Obviously, this means all of your content must be presented in a variety of different formats so that it is available to the senses of disabled users.

Blind users, for example, cannot perceive of audio-only information without captions or a BSL interpretation available. Likewise, blind users cannot perceive images that fail to give appropriate alt text. So when producing your content, you need to cater for these needs.

Operable.

WCAG states that your website and user interface ought to be operable for everyone, regardless of circumstance or disability. Within this, there should not be features of your website that certain users cannot access or perform.

An example is presented through keyboard-only users, who make use of the “tab” button to navigate through your web page. If interfaces in your website, such as captcha’s, forms and option boxes, cannot be accessed by keyboard-only users – then your website is inaccessible.

On top of keyboard accessibility, the principle encompasses a variety of other requirements, including:

  • Navigation: You need to ensure your website is easy to navigate through. If a page requires a long journey to navigate to, we recommend including a breadcrumb trail: so that users can easily go back to pages they have visited to.
  • Timings: You need to ensure that users have enough time to use your website (for its intended purpose,) before it times out. This includes time to read information, fill out forms or place orders. If your website has a time out function, you need to offer an alternative for users who might struggle to navigate in time.

Understandable.

On top of your site being operable, users should be able to easily understand any information that is on your site.

This principle encompasses a variety of different content:

  • Text and written content should be suitable for your suitable target age. WCAG AAA guidelines state your content should be easy to understand for users with a reading age of 8 – 12, and this is definitely something to aim for.
    • This encompasses sentence length, paragraph length and any jargon that you have used.
  • You also need to ensure your navigation is predictable – and will make sense to first time users. For example, if a link is selected, is there a prompt or highlight which makes this obvious?

Robust.

Under WCAG guidelines, your content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a variety of agents, software’s and platforms: including assistive technology.

This means your website should be compatible with a variety of platforms, and with a variety of technology. For example, is your content still accessible across multiple browsers and multiple devices?

We can help.

Here at HeX Productions, we work closely with Shaw Trust Accessibility services and real-life disabled users as a means to work towards fulfilling the WCAG requirements.

If you would like to get the ball rolling in making your website accessible, then get a free website accessibility health check today.

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