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Developer’s Guide to WCAG 2.1: Creating Accessible Web Experiences

by Deborah Iroegbu

September 20, 2023

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Introduction

The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, connecting people from diverse backgrounds and abilities. As web developers, it is our responsibility to ensure that the digital space is accessible to everyone, regardless of disabilities or impairments. 

Creating accessible websites and online apps for all users, including those with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive difficulties, is referred to as building an inclusive web experiences.

What is Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 is a set of internationally recognized guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It provides a comprehensive framework for making web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

In this guide, we will explore the key principles of WCAG 2.1, its benefits and best practices for creating accessible designs.

Understanding Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1

1. Perceivable

The perceivable principle of WCAG 2.1 focuses on making information and user interface components presentable to all users. This involves providing alternatives for non-text content, such as images, audio, and video, ensuring that users can perceive and understand the information being presented.

Best Practices:

  • Use descriptive alt text for images, providing a text alternative that conveys the image’s purpose and meaning.
  • Offer captions and transcripts for audio and video content, making multimedia accessible to users with hearing impairments.
  • Provide resizable text and avoid using images of text to ensure that users can adjust the font size according to their needs.

2. Operable

The operable principle aims to ensure that all users can interact with and navigate through the website or web application effectively. It focuses on making user interface components and navigation accessible through various input methods, such as keyboard, mouse, and touch.

Best Practices:

  • Ensure keyboard accessibility by making all functionalities accessible without requiring a mouse.
  • Add skip navigation links to help users bypass repetitive content and navigate to the main content quickly.
  • Provide enough time for users to read and interact with content before it changes or disappears (e.g., avoid auto-forwarding carousels).

3. Understandable

The understandable principle aims to create content that is clear, straightforward, and easy to comprehend for all users. This involves using simple and consistent language, providing helpful error messages, and avoiding content that may cause confusion.

Best Practices:

  • Use clear and descriptive headings to structure the content logically.
  • Write in plain language and avoid jargon or complex sentence structures.
  • Provide meaningful error messages that explain how to fix errors in forms and input fields.

4. Robust

The robust principle focuses on ensuring that web content is compatible with current and future technologies, including assistive technologies that people with disabilities may use to access the web.

Best Practices:

  • Use semantic HTML to provide structure and meaning to content, making it easier for assistive technologies to interpret.
  • Test web pages in various browsers and assistive technologies to ensure compatibility and consistency.

Benefits of The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) offer numerous benefits to various stakeholders, including users, developers, businesses, and society as a whole. These benefits will help us also understand: The Importance of User Experience Design in Web Development.

  1. Inclusive User Experience: The primary benefit of WCAG is that it promotes an inclusive web experience for all users, including those with disabilities. The principles ensure that everyone can access and engage with web material regardless of their abilities and that websites become more accessible to those with visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive limitations.
  2. Wider Audience Reach: When websites are accessible, they cater to a wider audience. This covers not just those with disabilities, but also older people, those with temporary impairments, and users in challenging circumstances, such as those with limited internet connection or in possession of old devices.
  3. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: In many countries, accessibility is a legal requirement. WCAG compliance helps businesses and organizations meet legal obligations and avoid potential lawsuits related to web accessibility issues. Following these guidelines reduces the risk of facing legal challenges.
  4. Improved SEO and Search Ranking: Good search engine optimization (SEO) techniques overlap with many accessibility principles. For example, adding informative alt text to photos helps raise their ranking in image searches, and developing well-structured material is valuable to SEO efforts as a whole.
  5. Enhanced User Engagement and Loyalty: When users have a positive and inclusive experience on a website, they are more likely to engage with the content and return in the future. Accessibility encourages customer satisfaction and loyalty, which boosts user retention and favorable word-of-mouth referrals.
  6. Future-Proofing Web Content: Web technologies and devices evolve rapidly. WCAG encourages the use of adaptable and robust design practices, ensuring that websites remain usable across different devices, browsers, and assistive technologies both now and in the future.
  7. Innovation and Creativity: Accessibility encourages developers to think outside the box in order to make content usable by all users. Adopting an accessible design approach may result in creative design ideas and technology that benefit all users, not just those with disabilities.
  8. Positive Brand Reputation: A commitment to web accessibility reflects positively on an organization’s brand and values. Demonstrating a dedication to inclusivity and equal access fosters a positive reputation and may attract more customers who value accessibility and inclusion.
  9. Social Responsibility: Creating accessible web content is a social responsibility. By designing with accessibility in mind, developers contribute to a more equitable and inclusive digital society, promoting equal opportunities for all.
  10. Cost Effective: Incorporating accessibility during development is more cost-effective than retrospectively fixing accessibility issues. Addressing accessibility from the start reduces the need for extensive rework and maintenance down the road.

Best Practices for Accessible Design

1. Color Contrast

Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background elements to make content readable for users with low vision or color blindness and color sensitivity issues. Use tools like color contrast checkers to verify that your color choices meet accessibility standards.

2. Focus Indicators

Make sure interactive elements (links, buttons, form fields, etc.) have clear and visible focus indicators. This helps users who navigate through the website using the keyboard or other input devices e.g. mouse.

3. Semantic HTML

Use semantic HTML elements (e.g., <header>, <nav>, <main>, <footer>) to structure your content, as this aids screen readers and other assistive technology in understanding the structure of the page.

4. ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications)

When developing dynamic web applications, use ARIA attributes to enhance the accessibility of complex user interface elements. ARIA can improve the experience for users of assistive technologies, particularly when dealing with custom controls and widgets.

5. Responsive Design

Create websites that are responsive and adaptive to different screen sizes and devices. This ensures that users with varying abilities can access your content on a wide range of devices.

6. Audio and Video Controls

For multimedia content, ensure that users can easily control audio and video elements, including play, pause, stop, and volume adjustment. Also, provide captions and transcripts for multimedia content.

7. Testing and User Feedback

Regularly test your website for accessibility using automated tools and manual testing with assistive technologies. Additionally, seek feedback from users with disabilities to understand their experience and make improvements accordingly.

8. Document Accessibility Policy

Establish an accessibility policy for your development team and organization. This policy should outline the commitment to accessibility, roles and responsibilities, and a plan for continuous improvement.

Conclusion

Building inclusive web experiences is not only a legal and ethical responsibility but also an opportunity to reach a wider audience and improve the overall user experience. 

By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 and implementing best practices for accessible design, you as a web developer can create websites and web applications that are usable and enjoyable for all users. 

Here in Charisol, we prioritize a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone by utilizing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Author

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Deborah Iroegbu

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