What is WCAG, and Why is it Important?5 min read
Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are considered the benchmark for website accessibility.
In a nutshell, WCAG is a universally accepted set of technical guidelines that set out how you should go about ensuring that your digital content can be accessed by people with disabilities.
While healthcare and government organizations have to comply with WCAG guidelines, it is not compulsory for businesses. However, following these accessibility standards will help you ensure that your web content reaches the widest audience possible.
Whether you simply want improved wordpress accessibility or fewer barriers in your multimedia properties, complying with WCAG is the best way to make your digital content accessible to all your potential customers. These are also critical determinations when planning a virtual event. While your online summit sessions may be accessible with live speakers and close captioning, none of that matters if registrants cannot register due to event site shortcomings.
Before diving into the specifics of WCAG compliance, let’s look at web accessibility, what it entails, and why it’s important.
What is WCAG and Web Accessibility?
WCAG details all the digital elements that create barriers for people with disabilities. Barriers dissuade or prevent people from accessing digital platforms. A common problem with barriers is that they only affect people with certain disabilities – so you may not know you have barriers on your platform because they do not affect you.
Put simply, accessibility is the capacity for all people to access digital platforms and properties, regardless of their disabilities. Website accessibility means that everyone can comfortably navigate and use a website and its digital properties.
While not every disability means users can’t use the internet, consider that around 11 million Americans have some type of vision impairment. Approximately another 1 million people are completely blind. A further 30 million people have some degree of hearing loss in both ears, and 65.6 million Americans have learning and attention issues.
That’s a lot of people to alienate if your website has poor accessibility.
Why is WCAG Important?
WCAG compliance is vital for any organization. While business owners prioritize knowing what their customers want, they often overlook their customers’ needs.
Business owners need to understand how their customers are accessing information about their organization online, and they should tailor their content to meet accessibility standards.
WCAG is designed to support people with various conditions affecting their use and enjoyment of the web. The guidelines also help people with speech impairments, photosensitivity, and mobility or cognitive limitations.
WCAG also supports people with conditional, situational, or temporary ailments – like accidents such as a broken arm and age-related vision or hearing impairment.
Complying with accessibility best practices will make your virtual events and digital content more versatile and ensure more people can access it.
WCAG Success Criteria
There are 61 requirements detailed in WCAG 2.0 and a further 17 requirements in WCAG 2.1.
The WCAG requirements are presented as a checklist for evaluators, authors, and website owners. They specify the accessibility requirements for PCs, laptops, tablets, television, mobile phones, and other devices that allow internet connection.
The WCAG list of success criteria is divided into three groups: sufficient techniques, advisory techniques, and failures.
Sufficient techniques are actions that reliably make a website more accessible – such as enabling the enlargement of font sizes and having screen reader compatibility.
Advisory techniques are recommendations that may improve accessibility; however, they may not be sufficient.
Failures are barriers that prevent a disadvantaged user from using your website. The presence of barriers immediately means your website is non-WCAG compliant. The list of failures in WCAG details what to avoid if you want your website to be accessible.
Accessibility: The Four Major Principles
In addition to the success criteria, there are four major accessibility principles to adhere to when conforming to WCAG.
In order to be accessible, your website and digital properties must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Your digital content must be observable by a person’s senses. Simply put, this means that the user must be able to see and hear it. This can be achieved by creating basic layouts or using alternatives to conventional text – such as enlarged print, Braille, screen readers, and symbols.
Ensuring your website is operable means users can navigate it comfortably and efficiently. To be operable, a website must not have inaccessible areas or steps that a disadvantaged person may have difficulty completing.
To make your website operable, avoid flashing lights and fast-moving content because these can induce an epileptic reaction in some users. You should also make your website easy to navigate with just a mouse and just a keyboard. Avoid presenting content that has a time limit on how slowly it can be read without offering an alternative.
For your website to be understandable, it must be simple to navigate, and the content must be easy to process. To comply with this principle, make your text clear and easy to read and use predictive text or input assistance to help users navigate your site.
When a website is robust, thought was put into the ways technology could change and impact it. Your website should be able to adapt to changes and retain its accessibility.
A website is also considered robust when it can be comprehended by a large array of users with different disabilities.
Ensuring your website complies with sufficient standards for WCAG compliance can be a long and complicated process. However, there are a few simple things you can implement quickly to get the ball rolling.
Using Alt tags, increasing the size and visibility of images and text, making sure your site is keyboard-friendly, and implementing a user-friendly interface are some of the simple changes you can make to get closer to WCAG compliance. If you have videos and multimedia on your site, you should consider what you can do to help users with disabilities.
There are automated tools and WordPress plugins designed to check your website’s accessibility. These tools will go through the WCAG checklist and alert you of any compliance issues on your website.
When building a website, it pays to keep WCAG compliance in mind to ensure everyone can access your content – regardless of their limitations or disabilities.