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5 Things to Consider Regarding Web Accessibility

5 Things to Consider Regarding Web Accessibility

View of older woman reading printed article with magnifying lens. Accessibility matters! in bold print to the left of the woman.

Is Your Website Section 508 Compliant?

Imagine this… You manage a website for a company. Someone from Legal approaches you with a question, “Is the company’s website Section 508 compliant”? How would you respond?

Your first reaction might be to cringe. Or, maybe you get that “deer in the headlight” look because honestly, you haven’t dealt a lot with web accessibility. You wonder, “What is that anyway?”   

Web accessibility can be a scary thing, especially if you don’t have much experience with it.  But fear not! There is good news!

Here are five things to consider when establishing an accessible, and ultimately optimized, web experience for all.

1. There is no such thing as a completely 100% accessible website.

It might be of some comfort to know that it is pretty much impossible to create a web experience that is completely 100% accessible by all. Most websites are not built with web accessibility in mind, so know that you will be retroactively fixing problems.

Also know you will run across a variety of issues. Some issues you will be able to fix easily, while others will be much more challenging. You may even come across issues that you won’t be able to fix at all. Understand that applying accessibility to an established website can be like uprooting a well-established tree. It can be done, but it’s going to take a lot of effort.  

2. Web accessibility is not a binary thing.

You can’t just answer the question with a “yes” or “no” response. It is not just one or the other. Web accessibility will always have some shades of grey. The site you manage will probably have some accessible features already, like alt descriptions for images, and heading tag <h1 – h6> tags.

The website you manage is probably already somewhat accessible. The question is, “what shade of grey is it?” Remember there is no such thing as a 100% accessible website.

3. WCAG and Section 508 standards are similar but different.

If you do your research, you’re going to run across something called WCAG and Section 508. It’s important to know that these things are similar, but different.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is advice developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), with the goal of establishing standard practices regarding web content. These standards are aimed at teaching individuals and organizations how to develop web content for all people, including those with physical and mental disabilities.

Section 508 also deals with creating accessible web content, but it is different than WCAG. WCAG is a cooperative web standard. Section is a law that requires government agencies to make their websites, and other technology, accessible to people with disabilities. If you manage a website that uses government money like a university or health insurance website, you might have to abide by Section 508.

4. What is the ultimate goal of web accessibility?

Is the ultimate goal of web accessibility just to be compliant? I would say no. Approaching web accessibility with the ultimate goal of compliance in mind is short sighted.

The ultimate goal of web accessibility is to create a web “experience” that is accessible by as many people as possible, regardless of ability. This issue is really about humans and their ability to access the information that they need. Yes, the law is involved in some instances, but ultimately we are talking about being compassionate towards others, and good stewards of the information that we manage.

5. If you must have benchmarks and metrics, create a checklist.

Now the person from Legal is probably looking for some sort of concrete evidence that they can use to defend the company. Here is one way to approach this:

  • What is the law, and what does it state that the website must have?
  • Think about the senses you have as a human being (sight, touch, and sound etc.), which ones do you use to take in information?
  • How will you modify the website based on someone who is visually impaired, doesn’t hear well, or doesn’t have use of their hands?
  • Don’t “forget” about memory retention! What types of modifications will you make for people who have a cognitive impairment?
  • Write these things down and create a list. Do an audit of the site. What do can you do differently?
  • Think about your website and the content in terms of numbers. Maybe you have 20 PDFs and none of them are accessible. Can you create a metric around this? Can you strive for all 20 PDFs to be accessible by the end of the year?
  • Take this information to Legal and work with them.

So, going back to the original question?  Is your website Section 508 compliant? How would you respond?

Understand that Legal is probably going to want to resolve this issue in a concrete way. Their job is to protect the company from legal trouble; however they don’t necessarily understand websites and web content. Your job is not to understand the law entirely, but to understand how the web works.

Remember you are the web expert. Respond appropriately and move forward in a collaborative and productive manner. Together you can create a wonderfully optimized web experience for as many people as possible, while keeping the company out of legal trouble.

Accessibility and WordPress Gutenberg

Accessibility and WordPress Gutenberg

What is WordPress Project Gutenberg?

Gutenberg is more than an editor. While the editor is the focus right now, the project will ultimately impact the entire publishing experience including customization (the next focus area). Gutenberg looks at the editor as more than a content field, revisiting a layout that has been largely unchanged for almost a decade. This allows us to holistically design a modern editing experience and build a foundation for things to come.

Here is the link to get more information on the Gutenberg plugin.

WordPress logos on blue background.

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January accessibility update

January accessibility update

As we begin a new year, we thought it summarize some recent information regarding web accessibility. As a web professional, one should already know that making your pages accessible helps your search engine ranking and much more. As an organization, we have been promoting (and encouraging members) to participate in Project Silver (this initiative is focused on a new version of accessibility guidelines) for some time. We encourage you to consider helping with this initiative.

Of course, it is important to understand what we should be doing now to make certain our projects are accessible. We found the following articles to be a helpful review of what is presently happening with respect to accessibility.

What are you doing to make your projects accessible?

In December, Scott O’Hara discussed the trials and tribulations of the title attribute. This is a great review of the current state of use/ disuse of this attribute. In a nutshell, Scott review this venerable attribute since it’s inception in the HTML 1.2 draft (yes, that was in 1993). One of the main issues with this attribute is that most browsers assume a visitor is using a mouse [for example, to see a title tooltip, you must hover your cursor].  Surprisingly, Internet Explorer 10, 11 (and MS Edge) display tooltips (after a short delay) as if the visitor hovered over them. Additionally, when you long press an image in iOS 11, the title attribute also displays in the popover menu. Of course, these sorts of examples do not help much with overall user experience (and are not consistently implemented). Scott also reviews how this attribute is somewhat useful on select elements for screen readers. NVDA and other readers will announce title on landmark elements (header, footer and so forth), but will not on div or other elements (unless role updates are provided as well). Scott provides a number of use cases where the title attribute can be helpful. The bottom line is that the title attribute can be potentially quite useful, but a number of previous bad practices and lack of consistent support among browsers and screen readers is hampering more consistent use. We encourage readers to review Scott’s entire article. It takes about 20 minutes to review and is well worth the read.

In July, IBM updated their accessibility checklist (now at version 7.0). We encourage readers to review it (if you haven’t already). In addition to providing a thorough checklist, we like the approach of combining the revised US Section 508 standards (which also incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) along with the additional requirements needed to meet European standard EN 301 549. One central checklist for multiple countries. That alone should be useful for those who conduct business in the U.S. and E.U. We encourage web professionals everywhere to make certain they review (and use) such a checklist.

Dennis Lembree provided a very useful article on the topic of building a culture of accessibility (with a focus on leadership roles). Many of us have encountered situations where initiatives fail because there is no clear leadership. What we like most about this article is the specific breakdown (by corporate division) how individual leaders can contribute to a culture of accessibility. We already look forward to follow ups to Dennis’ post and additional insights. We encourage web professionals to take 5 to 7 minutes and read his entire article.

For those using the React framework, Scott Vinkle provides a very useful overview of React’s accessibility code linter. What we found most helpful is that Scott walks you through creating a new React app and describes in detail how to employ the code linter for maximum accessibility. As a web professional, you are employing linting as part of your continuous improvement strategy (aren’t you?). We encourage you to review Scott’s article (particularly if you are considering employing React in applications you develop in 2018). It will take you a couple of hours to review this article (if you work along with his examples).

For those web professionals who are new to web accessibility, we offer a foundational course on this topic via our School of Web initiative. As a current member of Web Professionals, you first course is free.

As you surmise from the above overview, a lot has been happening in the past months regarding accessibility. We encourage you to provide comments regarding your efforts to incorporate accessibility in your projects and tell us what you have been doing to develop a culture of accessibility in your organization. We may be in contact with you to do a follow up post on the specifics you provide.

All the best for a great 2018,

Mark DuBois
Community Evangelist and Executive Director.

 

 

What’s happening with WCAG

I had the opportunity to speak with Glenda Sims (Deque) about all the activities happening with WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) these days. In this 5 minute overview, she discusses those aspects important to web professionals everywhere. The full 22 minute discussion is available to our members (once you login, scroll down to find the link).

In a nutshell, there is a great need for those who have a solid background in making sites accessible. The demand far exceeds the available work force.

During our discussion, Glenda mentioned these resources. Interested parties may wish to check them further.

Best always,

Mark DuBois

Community Evangelist and Executive Director

Are we relying too much on JavaScript?

As you know, we are big proponents of accessibility. We believe that content should be available to anyone at any time on any device. As 2016 draws to a close, it has become apparent that many web pages rely heavily on JavaScript (and associated frameworks). It would appear the pendulum has swung away from semantic markup towards dynamic/ generated content.

Concerns

One nagging question keeps coming to my mind – are we preventing access for some (because of reliance on these frameworks)? Although anecdotal, I ran various websites I use on a daily basis through the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (and similar tools). Some received scores as low as 29 (out of 100) resulting in automated comments such as “accessibility was not considered in the design of the website.”

Taking this one step further, I turned off JavaScript in my browser (Chrome in this case). Some of the sites I use on a daily basis (for example my school email) were rendered useless (I did receive a message that JavaScript needed to be activated and if I had problems, I could always use Internet Explorer). Similarly, the learning management system used predominantly at my school was not functional without JavaScript. As I understand, not all assistive technologies fully embrace JavaScript. This would seem to be a problem.

Let’s discuss further

I am not trying to point a finger at specific sites, I seek a broader understanding of the current state of web development. This begs the question – what has happened to graceful degradation? Are we relying too much on JavaScript? As we support web professionals (and aspiring web professionals), we seek to begin a discussion on this topic. Are we making the WWW less inclusive as we rely more on frameworks and content management systems? Have we overlooked something important? We look forward to your comments and insights.

Best always,

Mark DuBois

Community Evangelist and Executive Director