WCAG – access to online content for everyone

What is WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and how does its implementation work in practice? Jakub Malik explains in sign language.

Do you have a website, an online store, or are you creating a mobile app? Find out why, what standards you should meet, and what real benefits you can gain from it.

Certainly, you have searched the internet for important information at least once – first using a search engine, then on a specific website. In the early years of the internet, websites only had text. Today, websites are filled with graphics, images, gifs. We can watch specialized videos that explain step by step how something works, submit a form with our questions, or engage in online conversations. Digitization has enabled access to information, reduced the time it takes to gain knowledge, and simplified handling official and private matters. But does everyone have access?

Access to content for everyone?

Unfortunately, no. Millions of people cannot enjoy the benefits of the internet. They cannot use it independently because they have significant difficulties navigating websites.

Who are we talking about? More than 250 million (in 2002) deaf or hard of hearing individuals (in 2020, it’s 466 million), 200 million blind or visually impaired individuals, elderly individuals, or people with conditions that make accessing and using websites, online stores, postal services, or mobile apps challenging. What’s the reason for this? One of the reasons might be the poor technology in previous years.

What is WCAG?

Fortunately, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) – an initiative by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created to improve the accessibility of websites – has focused on the problems of people with disabilities and those who are excluded. From this focus, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were created. The first version of this document was created in 1999 and was updated in 2008.

At the core of the entire WCAG standard are four overarching principles that form the pillars of accessibility:

  1. Perceivability: This means that all elements of the user interface should be presented in a way that anyone, regardless of their limitations, can use them with their senses. This includes using alternative text for non-textual elements. The same applies to presenting video or audio content, where captions are recommended.
  2. Operability: Operability means that all elements of the user interface and navigation should be usable. Elements of the interface should be operable using a keyboard. Every user should be able to read and process the content (it is recommended to include appropriate guidance in the functionality option). A crucial note here is that when designing interfaces, it’s important not to include elements that could trigger seizures.
  3. Understandability: As the name suggests, understandability means that the entire interface and all the information on the page should be presented in a way that is understandable to the user. Navigation on the page should be intuitive, and content should be legible and easy to understand. Highlighting elements on the page should not result in actions that could confuse or disorient the user. Furthermore, changing the state of any interface element should not affect the overall appearance of the page, which could confuse the user. There is also guidance that states that within a given service, there should not be elements that look different but serve the same function. Additionally, there should be no elements that appear automatically, such as pop-up windows – they should only appear upon user request.
  4. Robustness: This mainly refers to the compatibility of the website. Primarily, it means that the website’s code should always be correct and should not create complications when interpreted by additional external user software.

Success Criteria and Levels of Conformance

These twelve guidelines include definitions of the main objectives that serve as guidelines for website designers and managers. After becoming familiar with them, you can move on to the next step, which involves determining measurable success criteria. These criteria allow you to assess the compliance of a project or online services with the guidelines, especially in the case of project specifications, ordering online services, or compliance with legal requirements. To meet the needs of different groups, three levels of conformance to the guidelines were created: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). More information on this can be found by clicking the link ‘Understanding Levels of Conformance.

Although it may sound complex at first, upon closer examination, these recommendations and guidelines truly help approximately 1/10 of the world’s population with internet access to use it for gaining information and making online purchases. The amount of information to read may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s worth getting to know these guidelines.

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