In this era ruled by digital information, it’s vital to make sure that the internet’s vast wealth of knowledge is accessible to as many people as possible. This article explains how adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, helps you get closer to that goal.
What is the WCAG?
The WCAG offers a foundation for the legal standards that nations all around the world use to enforce accessibility requirements. It’s the basis for many laws, acts and national standards across the globe. For example, the US policy regarding web accessibility, the Section 508 Standards, relies on the WCAG version 2.0. The EU accessibility directive also references the WCAG and applies to all 28 EU countries. For a full list of policies anchored by the WCAG, visit the W3C website.
The goal of these guidelines is to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments across the globe. The WCAG addresses accessibility for all material that appears on a web page or in an application, including text, images, sounds, code, and markup.
In short, the WCAG exists to ensure that as wide an audience as possible can access and consume your online content, irrespective of ability.
Why Comply with WCAG?
The W3C policies page lists 25 different regulations that rely on WCAG. In addition to the Section 508 standards and the EU accessibility directive, national laws in 19 different countries are based on the WCAG and, therefore, require you to comply with the WCAG to comply with the law.
For example, these are some of the laws, regulations, and policies that rely on the WCAG:
All these regulations apply to both the public and private sectors. Breaking these and other laws can lead to fines, administrative charges, and even criminal charges in some countries. For example, a company in Ontario, Canada, might be fined up to CAD $100,000 per day for not complying with the accessibility standards. In Israel, discriminating against a person with a disability is a ground for criminal proceedings.
With accessibility legislation evolving, not complying with the accessibility laws is not an option anymore. Many businesses and public bodies are already working toward compliance with the accessibility standards, and others are planning the necessary work.
Complying with the WCAG won’t automatically make you compliant with all of the accessibility laws in every country, but it brings you closer to that goal. Let’s dive in and take a look into how to achieve WCAG compliance.
How to Follow the WCAG
The requirements for WCAG compliance are prescriptive and clearly laid out. You can find a list of every WCAG requirement in this W3C quick reference, broken down into easily understandable sections with action items, tests, and more.
At first look, the list may seem a little overwhelming. Where to begin? Does every line item on the page apply? Let’s walk through some of the terminology and the various ways to approach the information on the WCAG website, beginning with WCAG conformance levels.
The WCAG breaks down its requirements into three different levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. The minimum requirements for compliance constitute level A. Level AA includes all of A’s requirements and adds more, and in turn level AAA starts with and elaborates on the requirements for AA. The criteria for each level define how easy it is to comply with each requirement, the extent to which assistive technology can work around the issues caused by non-compliance, and so forth. The W3C goes into more detail here on the levels of conformance.
Level A standards are generally easier to meet than AA or AAA standards, and the level A standards alone provide immediate benefits for a large proportion of users. It’s best to start with meeting all the level A standards, then move up to the higher levels. This link to the aforementioned WCAG tool filters out the AA and AAA regulations from the list, allowing you to focus on just the A regulations when modifying your content. Although actual conformance only comes when you meet all of each level’s requirements, the WCAG encourages you to claim any progress made toward the next level directly on your website.
Once you have the WCAG tool ready, you can begin going down the list of requirements, covering topics that range from video and audio content to color, animations, and even user input. The process may seem time-consuming, but once you get started, you’ll find the tool simple to navigate, and the results well worth the effort.
An Alternative Approach to the WCAG
In a perfect world, every web page and application would be 100% accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get there. If you design or manage a site that can’t meet the requirements for conformance, there’s good news: the WCAG considers pages like yours to be conformant if an alternate version exists that does meet the requirements.
To conform to the requirements, an alternate version must meet several conditions. Specifically, to quote the W3C site, such an alternate version must:
- Conform at the designated level, and
- Provide all of the same information and functionality in the same human language, and
- Be as up to date as the non-conforming content, and
- Meet at least one of the following requirements:
- the conforming version can be reached from the non-conforming page via an accessibility-supported mechanism, or
- the non-conforming version can only be reached from the conforming version, or
- the non-conforming version can only be reached from a conforming page that also provides a mechanism to reach the conforming version
You can find more details about alternate versions at the W3C site.
While creating an alternate version is an excellent solution for pages and apps that are difficult to conform, it’s important to regard it as only a temporary solution for the time it takes to implement a permanent fix. When you have a conforming alternate version, you’re forced to continually update the same information in two different locations so that both versions’ audiences are getting the same content, which creates a lot more work for the content creator.
Congratulations—you’ve taken your first steps toward meeting the WCAG’s accessibility requirements. Where you go from here is up to you: you can dive in deeper and read more about the WCAG on the W3C’s comprehensive website or jump right into the tool and begin improving your web page.
Adherence to the WCAG is crucial, not only because the law requires it, but also because it’s beneficial to everyone when as many people as possible can visit and navigate your site. Accessibility should be seen not as a hurdle to clear when building your website but an integral step in creating successful content. Technical compliance with the WCAG is only part of the goal; the other equally important part is training your staff to think about accessibility in every stage of their work cycle. When you consider accessibility before the project starts, in its early stages, and during production, it becomes easy to build accessible products and services that everyone can use and enjoy.
To 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 apps UI and a head start on accessibility compliance at the same time.
Learn more about: Kendo UI