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WCAG 2.1 & ADA compliance testing: Updates to web accessibility standards

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The internet used to be a relatively lawless place. Regulation was virtually non-existent, and there was a lot of experimentation going on. Fast forward to 2020, and the internet isn’t nearly as wild as it once was. But, that’s not to say it hasn’t improved (or gotten bigger). The web has grown from something that only techies knew how to use, to being used by nearly everyone in the civilized world.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re a small business owner, a digital entrepreneur, or maybe you’re just looking to get started with a web-based business. If you think that all you need to do is make a responsive website and do some branding work, you’re missing out on a major aspect of the internet. What is it? Accessibility.

If you conduct any business (in any capacity) with the federal government, your website needs to be fully compliant with the ADA (and WCAG standards). Even if you’re just running a normal website (i.e. you’re a private business), you still need to make sure that your content is accessible for everyone who uses the internet (including handicapped people).

Web accessibility & ADA compliance

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (otherwise referred to as WCAG), are a set of established guidelines created by the Web Accessibility Initiative (a subgroup within W3C – the World Wide Web Consortium). The latest implementation of WCAG (WCAG 2.1) is covered a little further down this post, but the following list details exactly what WCAG (and the ADA in general) covers.

  • Websites and digital content of all types must be fully accessible to people who suffer from various types of handicaps (e.g. vision, hearing, physical impairments, etc.).
  • Not only does content need to be accessible, but it also needs to be tailored for handicapped audiences.
  • Federal agencies and contractors that conduct business with federal organizations are required to be fully compliant with the latest implementation of WCAG (and the ADA).
  • ADA compliance testing should be performed by all businesses (and especially those who work with government organizations).

WCAG 2.1: Updates to accessibility standards

Below we go into more detail regarding WCAG 2.1’s main updates. More information regarding WCAG 2.1 requirements can be viewed on W3C’s website.

  1. Any non-textual content must have textual alternatives

This is especially useful for people who browse the internet using screen reading technology (i.e. blind people). If a non-textual element doesn’t have a textual alternative, people who suffer from vision problems won’t even know it’s there. Examples of this could be captchas, text input fields, graphics, images, etc.

2. Video content and audio content (prerecorded) must have alternative forms of presentation

Examples of implementing this update in WCAG include providing textual subtitle tracks for video/audio content, or audio tracks for video content, etc. Audio content is required to have accompanying textual content.

3. All content types must have multiple formats

All of the digital content of a website (or mobile app, or digital file, etc.) must be offered in different formats. Likewise, content must be easily navigable through assistive readers (i.e. screen reading software). The point of this update is to ensure that everyone can access the same content (regardless of which specific disability they suffer from).

4. Using color to differentiate content and/or display information

Using various types of coloring effects for the purpose of displaying information should not be done. What this means, is that you shouldn’t be using colors for the purpose of exchanging information (i.e. don’t use the color red to mean “cancel” or “stop”). Using colors in this way is very problematic for people who suffer from vision problems.

5. Motion response should be limited and/or be able to be turned off

Have you ever been using an app or website that required you to move your device? This is more common on mobile devices, but the point of this update still remains; don’t force users to move their device. Imagine if you don’t have the ability to move your limbs, or that a user of your website is using a screen reader. If you have any motion-based actions on your site or app, you need to include an option for users to turn them off.

The above list isn’t exhaustive (not even close), but it provides a good primer on the subject of WCAG and ADA compliance. If you want to learn more about being ADA compliant, you can go to the government’s ADA website (www.ada.gov).

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