Web accessibility can be a complex topic for new and experienced web developers. Here are six questions (and answers) to some of the most important web accessibility questions.
Accessibility has rapidly grown from an afterthought at best to a major concern for developers. It’s being driven by a combination of the creation and enforcement of accessibility laws, a growing awareness of the accessibility needs of the web user community, and the fact that providing accessibility to those with disabilities is good for business. In this post we’ll answer six questions about accessibility to help define what it really means and if you should be concerned about it.
1. What is Accessibility and Why Should You Care?
The convenience of conducting life over the web from shopping and sharing to banking and business is a timesaver for most, but what if you are not able to use the web? And just like ramps on the sidewalk and braille on elevator buttons have made physical movement easier for those with disabilities, so too have accessibility efforts made the web usable for those who are not able to surf the web in the same way the rest of us do.
Do we really need to worry about a handful of people with disabilities that may be unable to use our app when we are under so much pressure to get it done? There are three reasons the answer to that question is YES. First is basic human consideration for those who have more difficulty navigating life. Second, there are more than 56 million people alone in the US that have some form of disability—so it’s good for business. And third, it’s the law. Did you know that in 2018 more than 2,200 federal lawsuits were filed in the US for web accessibility violations that fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
2. What Exactly Defines a Disability?
There are five primary types of disabilities to consider:
- Physical – poor or no motor function
- Hearing – deaf or hard of hearing
- Visual – low-vision, blind, color blind
- Cognitive – dyslexia, autism, ADHD, etc.
- Speech – unable to speak or have a speech impediment
Additionally, we need to consider combinations of disabilities, which can create even greater accessibility challenges.
3. What Specific Laws have been Enacted Regarding Accessibility?
As the web has evolved from a useful, mostly static nice-to-have tool to one that is essential to life in the form of online banking, education and government services just to name a few, regulations have evolved along with it. Going back to the 1980s, laws and guidelines have been put in place by worldwide organizations like the United Nations as well as individual governments and even industries.
On a global level, back in 1982 the United Nations created the World Program for Action, a global strategy to enhance disability prevention, rehabilitation and the equalization of opportunities. That was followed by The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the UN in 1993, which specifically added that the member states’ action programs should include, “Support for the use of new technologies and the development and production of assistive devices, tools and equipment and measures to facilitate access to such devices and equipment for persons with disabilities to enable them to gain and maintain employment.”
In addition, standards organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium list 40 countries that have adopted governmental policies related to web accessibility. Those include the UK with its Equality Act of 2010, and the US with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, and the all-important Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities.
Although standards can vary from country to country, many have standardized around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG has been approved as an international standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). In the long run, if you are WCAG compliant you should be in good shape.
And with laws, come enforcement. According to a search of court cases conducted by Minh N. Vu, Kristina M. Launey & Susan Ryan of law firm Seyfarth & Shaw, the number of lawsuits concerning website accessibility nearly tripled from 2017 to 2018 and hit a total of 2,258 cases. Some of these cases have received public attention as well and highlight the growing need to adhere to accessibility standards.
4. What is the Role of Assistive Technologies?
Assistive technologies are defined as equipment or a type of product designed to improve or maintain the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. There are various assistive technologies available, including tools like adapted pencil grips and automatic page turners; and cognitive aids, such as electrical assistive devices, created to help memory skills.
In terms of web accessibility, assistive technologies can be used to help ensure the individual is able to leverage the internet and any web-related content. Some examples include:
- A mouth stick: A simple device that users can manipulate with their mouths to type or control a mouse
- A head wand: A simple device strapped to the user’s head that enables them to type, navigate and otherwise maintain control over web services
- Oversized trackball mouse: A device that lets users move their cursor easily, despite any fine motor movement limitations
- Adaptive keyboard: A popular technology featuring raised areas in between keys to help slide the finger into the correct key
- Voice recognition software: Software that enables users to control web services with simple voice commands
There are also a number of application-specific tools that function as assistive technology. A good example is the Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft for gamers.
5. What are Digital Accessibility Requirements?
Digital Accessibility Requirements (or Guidelines) are part of a series of guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. They fall into four major principles that define what the content on your site or app must be in order to be usable for those with disabilities:
The guidelines can be challenging, vague at times and require expertise to implement. Requirements and guidelines range from color contrast, alt text, page structure, focus states, forms, PDFs and more.
- Perceivable: Is the information presented in a way that people can access and perceive it with at least one of their senses?
- Operable: Can users navigate and find content, and can people use your interface without a mouse? Are they given plenty of time to complete tasks and read content? Is the content safe from causing a seizure or physical reaction?
- Understandable: Can people understand both your information and how to operate your interface, no matter how they’re accessing your content?
- Robust: Can all kinds of user agents and assistive technologies interpret your interface for those using it? Will you evolve your content as assistive technology evolves to ensure new technologies can interpret it for those trying to access it?
6. What is the Best Way to Test for Compliance?
Web accessibility testing is fundamental to ensuring people with disabilities are able to use your website without barriers. There are both manual methods and automated testing tools available to help bring your site into accessibility compliance.
Manual testing involves having human testers perform a range of tests to ensure the website is actually usable for individuals with disabilities. Similar to any type of editing or quality assurance, you’re able to get an entirely new viewpoint with each person who performs manual testing.
Automated testing is the process of using software tools designed to find accessibility issues. These tools have evolved quite a bit over the past few years, so it’s no longer difficult to find a range of tools available to help you adhere to accessibility guidelines. In fact, there are browser extensions, command-line tools and much more. These tools should be used at the beginning of the design process and periodically throughout to catch issues before they go into production.
Best practices dictate using both.
In this post we have only scratched the surface of accessibility. It should be considered an ongoing effort of continuous improvement. It is one of those areas where we get an intersection of “things you have to do” and “things you can feel good about doing.” By helping to gain a better understanding of how accessibility works, you will hopefully keep these techniques in mind when working on your next app. You’ll wind up with a better app, generally increased usability overall and a satisfied user community, now that a larger portion can use your app.
For an in depth look at the topics we covered and much more, download a copy of our whitepaper, Accessibility for Web Developers. It also includes numerous links to helpful resources to get you on your way.
Learn More about Accessibility
We have created a comprehensive whitepaper on accessibility for developers that covers everything from laws to coding to testing.
Download the whitepaper: Accessibility for Developers
Adding Accessibility to Your Apps
One easy way to make sure that you are creating accessible web apps is to start with components from the Kendo UI libraries. Our components are all WCAG complaint and give you great functionality from grids and charts to schedulers and pickers. Get a head start on your app's UI and a head start on accessibility compliance at the same time.
Learn more about: Kendo UI