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Cover image for Accessibility for the web - standards to follow
Arika O
Arika O

Posted on • Updated on

Accessibility for the web - standards to follow

Web accessibility has quite a few moving parts and some of them are:

  • user agents (software created by people to access the web content like, desktop, mobile and voice browsers, plug-ins, multimedia players or assistive technologies).
  • web content - parts of a website (images, text, forms, multimedia, HTML code or scripts)
  • authoring tools - services or software that people use to create web content (code editors, blogs or content management systems).

How do these components fit with each other? Let's take a simple example: ideally, images need to have an alternative text description (remember that alt HTML attribute?). This text is then processed by browsers and conveyed to assistive technologies like screen readers. To create such alternative text, authors need an authoring tool (code editor).

For each of these components and the interaction between them, standards are being defined and they need to be met. Some requirements are easy to implement, some are more complicated and need a more advanced knowledge about how people use the web.

A good practice is to make sure you start implementing these requirements early in the projects: this way you don't need to come back and take care of them later, which in most cases is more costly and time consuming. Unfortunately, many product managers, web developers and designers do not follow these rules, resulting in many people experiencing unnecessary difficulties when using their designs and enjoying content.

Some basic web standards resources we can consult when designing our software are:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is the most common and it has 12 guidelines organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. It's best known as WCAG 2.0. European countries are following these standards very closely. They are maintained by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  • Section 508 are rules that apply to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology (this means federal employees with disabilities should be able to do their work on the accessible computers, phones and equipment in their offices, train online or access the agency’s internal website to locate needed information).
  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rules that explain to us how the nondiscrimination requirements of Title II of the ADA apply to state and local government websites.

In the next article we'll look at how we can make sure our web content is accessible or not.

Image source: Kate Oseen/ @kateoseen on Unsplash

Discussion (4)

ashleyjsheridan profile image
Ashley Sheridan

The WCAG has quite a few more than 12 guidelines. For AA conformance (which is the recommended level) there are 78 guidelines. There's more if you're aiming for AAA, but that's a very difficult standard to achieve, and isn't always possible for all types of content.

ashleyjsheridan profile image
Ashley Sheridan

Ah, I see you were referring to the older WCAG 2.0 standards rather than the more recent 2.1 guidelines, of which there were only 12.

shawnmelville profile image
Shawn Melville

Hi Silvia, great article. Love the focus on web accessibility. You made one little typo with the 'Section 508' title.

arikaturika profile image
Arika O Author

Thank you, will fix it :).