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Web Accessibility in 2021

08 January 2021

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What is Web accessibility?

The Web Accessibility Initiative defines it as “[…] websites, tools, and technologies [being] designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, people can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web as well as contribute to the Web”. This means in order to be accessible a website has to be accessible both from a technological and content standpoint.

Perception is referring to all visual features of a site – the contrast, font and element sizes, colours (e.g., colour blindness) and many more. A clear layout and flow of a site and its content, as well as easy to understand language contribute to a better understanding of web content. Not everyone navigates a website with a mouse or a trackpad. Can users navigate the site with a keyboard or through voice? And lastly, can everyone interact with the site, e.g., fill out forms or do the form labels or placeholders not make sense to them without context?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, short WCAG, are the most referred to guidelines with a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. We are now on version 2.2 but 2.1 is still widely used and referenced for example by the UK government.

There are 3 levels of conformity:

However, Level AAA conformance still doesn’t mean the content will be accessible to EVERYONE. There will always be combinations or characteristics of disabilities that might not be catered for. But the goal is to keep improving and let users report any accessibility issues they come across.

Who has to conform and to what level?

Despite the WCAG guidelines being globally adopted and accepted the accessibility laws still vary significantly by state. Below you find a very brief summary of the UK and EU law at this point (January 2020).

UK

Website Accessibility is covered by the Equality Act 2010. According to the act, site owners are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their site to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities. However, so far there is no known case that tested the act in law. Without a legal precedent, it is unclear what would constitute a ‘reasonable adjustment’. The UK Government have set the WCAG 2.1 level AA as a requirement for public sector sites. Therefore, if you make sure to meet the guidelines at an AA level you should be on solid ground should anyone question your site.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps

EU

The EU equivalent to this is the Web Accessibility Directive which was adopted in 2016 and set 23rd September 2020 as the deadline by when public sector websites across the EU had to be made accessible. To what extent this has actually happened is still unclear. These requirements will be introduced to some parts of the private sector by June 28, 2022.

Accessibility as a process

Even if at launch a site is “fully accessible”, new content and functionality that are added afterwards will require further checks and work. Therefore, accessibility is seen as a process and not a project.

Here are some examples of what needs to be made accessible on an ongoing basis:

The Twenty One WordPress theme’s goal (they release a default theme each year) is to become AAA compliant with the help of contributors and users out there highlighting once more that the topic is both growing in popularity and a process.

Why is it important?

About 14.1 M people in the UK alone are reliant on web content being accessible which means that you miss out on revenue if your site isn’t accessible.

Also, as we’ve just learned… it’s the law.

Most importantly, in my opinion, is that equal access and opportunity is a basic human right. So with all business arguments put aside, just put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it would be like not to be able to use the internet (especially in times of corona). A huge loss of entertainment, connectivity and job opportunities to name only a few. 

Hopefully, this is enough to convince you to get on board with Website Accessibility.

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