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Getting to Know the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)

person on computer developing their web accessibility initiative

The internet is quickly becoming an indispensable part of daily life. What happens if you can’t use it? This is the problem facing millions of Americans with disabilities – inaccessible websites are preventing people from participating fully in many aspects of society. These digital barriers are preventable with proper website design and development. That’s why your organization needs a web accessibility strategy – and you can start by getting to know the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

WAI is a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community of organizations and individuals whose mission is to “lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web.1” (W3C’s director is Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.) The group’s work is guided by several design principles, including “Web for All.” It strives to make the social value of the Web “available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.”

W3C launched WAI in the late 1990s. This initiative develops guidelines, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are the international standard for web accessibility. W3C also provides support materials and resources to help people understand and implement web accessibility2. Companies and organizations can take inspiration from WAI and use its guidance and resources for their own web accessibility initiatives and strategies.

Why Improve Your Organization’s Digital Accessibility?

Developing a web accessibility initiative for your company or organization should be a priority because:

  • Accessibility is a human right. The UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes a chapter on Accessibility which calls for appropriate measures to “promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet3.”
  • It impacts your revenue. Sixty million Americans have disabilities. If they can’t use your website because the content isn’t accessible, you’re missing out on a large market with enormous purchasing power.
  • It’s also required by law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act stipulate that people with disabilities must have equal access to services provided to the public. Companies and organizations that don’t comply risk legal actions and lawsuits.

Developing Your Very Own Web Accessibility Initiative

Developing a web accessibility initiative can seem overwhelming at first, especially if you are new to accessibility or you don’t have web development skills. The good news is that, for most companies and organizations, adding accessibility features to digital properties need not be expensive or time-consuming. Here’s what we recommend to get started:

1. Assess your website’s accessibility.

You can do a preliminary check with W3C’s list of “easy checks.” You can also use a number of web accessibility evaluation tools. Some tools are fully automated – you plug in your website address and the tool finds issues. Others guide you through manual and functional testing.

No evaluation tool is foolproof. It is widely accepted within the industry that automated testing only captures 25 – 30% of issues. It is known to report false positives – accessibility problems that aren’t accessibility problems – and you may not be able to tell the difference.

As W3C notes, “We cannot check all accessibility aspects automatically. Human judgment is required. Sometimes evaluation tools can produce false or misleading results. Web accessibility evaluation tools cannot determine accessibility, they can only assist in doing so.”

Manual and functional testing is still an essential part of accessibility testing, as it involves human judgment and we don’t yet have the technology to replace it completely. A reputable accessibility consulting firm will be able to guide you through the process of assessing the accessibility of your digital properties.

2. Create a list of priorities.

To determine what to do first, it’s helpful to follow W3C’s WCAG technical requirements. WCAG 2.0 (the current standard) has three conformance levels: A, AA and AAA.

Level A includes the most basic accessibility features, such as providing text for non-text content (images, for example) and captions for videos. Level AA includes intermediate features, such as audio description for video content, resizable text and consistent navigation. This is the recommended level of compliance for many regulations such as Section 508, AODA and EN 301549. Meeting the requirements for level AA means you have addressed most of the major barriers facing users with disabilities. Level AAA includes the most advanced accessibility features, including recommendations for how to write content.

Download The Must-Have WCAG 2.0 Checklist to learn more.

3. Implement the changes.

If you’re not able to revise the website yourself, hire a developer who is knowledgeable about web accessibility and relevant legislation including the ADA and Section 508.

Retest your website to ensure the new accessibility features work well. Going forward, make your web accessibility initiative into standard practice for your organization. Keep following WCAG 2.0’s technical requirements when you create new content. Work with an accessibility firm who provides ongoing monitoring of your digital properties and accessibility training technical and non-technical audiences. These commitments will help you ensure that your website is always accessible and welcoming to all.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.

References

  1. W3C, Mission, W3C, 2017
  2. Web Accessibility Initiative, W3C, 2018
  3. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), United Nations

Discover how you can give people with disabilities an inclusive digital experience

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