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Digital Accessibility Frequently Asked Questions

The digital accessibility realm is full of acronyms, historical context, and tons of
questions. Here’s your primer to get you up to speed on all things digital
inclusion-related.

Glossary


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What is accessibility?

Accessibility is the measure of something’s usability by persons with one or more disabilities. Specifically, Digital Accessibility means that the content of websites, mobile apps and other digital tools and technologies is designed and developed to be accessible for people with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. However, currently many sites and tools are developed with accessibility barriers that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use. Making the web accessible benefits individuals, businesses, and society.

What is disability?

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.

It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for, in the United States, things like Social Security Disability related benefits.

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law and became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The changes in the definition of disability in the ADAAA apply to all titles of the ADA, including Title I (employment practices of private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees); Title II (programs and activities of state and local government entities); and Title III (private entities that are considered places of public accommodation).

What is WCAG? What are WCAG Standards?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides technical specifications to improve the accessibility of web content, websites, and web applications on
desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices for people with a wide range of disabilities—including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical,
speech and visual disabilities. WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are stable, referenceable technical standards. They have guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA.

WCAG provides technical specifications to improve the accessibility of web content, websites and web applications on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices for people with a wide range of disabilities, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual disabilities. The guidelines are mainly for the use of web content developers, web authoring tool developers and related professions; they aren’t intended to be an introduction to accessibility. However, it is helpful for companies and organizations, especially employees who contribute to their digital properties, to have a general understanding of WCAG, its purpose and how it benefits not only people with disabilities, but all users.

What is WCAG 2.1?

WCAG 2.1 expands the guidance provided in the previous iteration to include more coverage of mobile accessibility and provisions for people with low vision and cognitive and learning disabilities. With these updates, WCAG 2.1 helps organizations to improve inclusion and better serve a wider audience with 17 new requirements. We have a free WCAG2.1 checklist that you can download in case you are interested.

What’s Different about WCAG 2.1?

What’s new about WCAG 2.1 is that it includes 17 new success criteria related to mobile accessibility, as well as provisions that will benefit more people.

The success criteria found in WCAG 2.0 are included in WCAG 2.1 – the wording of those criteria has not changed. That means that WCAG 2.1 is “backwards compatible” or, as W3C puts it, “content that conforms to WCAG 2.1 also conforms to WCAG 2.0.”

WCAG 2.0, released nearly 10 years ago, contains 12 guidelines for digital accessibility, divided among four principles with the acronym P.O.U.R: Perceivable, Operable,
Understandable and Robust. Each guideline has a list of “success criteria,” or requirements (61 in total), for making content – including text, images, sounds, code and markup – more accessible. In addition, WCAG 2.0 has three levels of conformance: A (minimum accessibility), AA (addresses the major, most common accessibility issues) and AAA (the highest standard).

What is EN 301 549?

EN 301 549 “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe” specifies the Functional Accessibility Requirements applicable to ICT (Information and Communication Technology) products and services. It contains a description of the test procedures and evaluation methodology for each accessibility requirement. The requirements are suitable for use in public procurement within Europe.

What it W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium?

W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium, has a global community of accessibility experts who are striving to make the internet as inclusive as possible. It’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and related resources with input from individuals and organizations around the world. Through W3C’s consensus-based process, involving different stakeholders in web accessibility, including industry, disability organizations, government, accessibility research organizations, and more, they reach to realize and ratify the guidelines.

What is a web accessibility audit?

An accessibility audit is a thorough, professional evaluation of how well your digital properties meet the needs of people with disabilities. This isn’t something anyone can know just by glancing at your website, or spending a few minutes using your app. When an audit is carried out properly, every component is examined and tested by experts, so that when it’s complete, you can be confident that the report has identified any and all barriers.

A website, app or document is considered accessible if it can be perceived, understood, navigated and interacted with by everyone, whether or not they happen to have disabilities. It doesn’t discriminate, with sections of information that can only be understood by someone who can hear, or certain app features that can only be used by someone who can click a mouse. Rather, it is barrier free for everyone. That includes people who are using assistive technologies (AT) such as a screen reader. For more information, visit our blog about this subject.

What is assistive technology?

People with disabilities often use a range of products and equipment to interact with their environments, from wheelchairs to prosthetic limbs to hearing aids. On the computer, they might use devices like pointing tools, or specialized software such as voice controls or screen readers. These are known as assistive technology (AT), and they’re often essential if someone with a disability is to participate fully online.

An Assistive Technology app or suite of tools can help people who have difficulty moving a mouse, typing on a keyboard, reading the words on a screen, or using a touch screen. It can enable them to navigate a website and conduct transactions effortlessly.

Did Beyoncé really get sued for accessibility?

Beyoncé’s entertainment company, Parkwood Entertainment, was sued for their failure to design, construct, maintain, and operate beyonce.com to be fully accessible to and independently usable by people who have vision disabilities. Mary Connor, the plaintiff, was not able to use the website, which allows fans to buy tickets and merchandise, get updates on tours and learn more about Beyoncé. Read more on our LinkedIn blog post titled, If it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to you. Fortune.com also wrote about this: Beyoncé Was Sued Over Her Website Violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. And You Could Be Too.

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