Accessibility in Today’s World and WordPress

Background

Most of us can hardly conceive of life without the internet. Some have argued that no other single invention has been more revolutionary since Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s has changed the World as much as the web. The world can be “at your fingertips” at the click of a mouse — if you can use a mouse… and see the screen… and hear the audio you have a wealth of information at your fingertips.

According to Google, there are around 7.53 billion people in the world, and 4.48 billion use the internet. That means, 58% of the world’s population can use the internet to shop and consume your content. There are also over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world so if your content is not properly accessible you are missing out on over 550 million customers.

Web Accessibility

Web accessibility focuses on designing and developing websites that are more accessible to people with disabilities. It means that websites that have applied the accessibility principle and can provide content that allows people with disabilities to:

  • perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web
  • contribute to the Web

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, and visual disabilities.

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, for example:

  • People using mobile phones, smartwatches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • older people with changing abilities due to aging
  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio
  • people using a slow Internet connection, or who have limited or expensive bandwidth (Sloan, 2006)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are universally accepted and adopted sets of guidelines for ensuring web accessibility. While not required as of January 2020, organizations looking to get ahead on legal compliance or make their web content more accessible can look to WCAG 2.1.

The WCAG features three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your website to achieve WCAG 2.0 Level AA (mid-range) compliance. WCAG guidelines are based on four basic principles:

Perceivable — Available to the senses (vision and hearing primarily) either through the browser or through assistive technologies (e.g. screen readers, screen enlargers, etc.)

Operable — Users can interact with all controls and interactive elements using either the mouse, keyboard, or an assistive device.

Understandable — Content is clear and limits confusion and ambiguity.

Robust — A wide range of technologies (including old and new user agents and assistive technologies) can access the content. (Ben Caldwell, 2008)

Web Accessibility Levels

As discussed previously, WCAG 2.0 has three compliance levels which are denoted by A, AA, and AAA. In this section, we are going to take a look at what each of them means.

Level A: Minimal Compliance

Level A as evident from the name is the minimal compliance level in WCAG compliance and is given to those websites with the least amount of work done to counter accessibility issues. The conformance requirements of level A prohibit elements that would make a website inaccessible. Some of these requirements include;

  • Ability to navigate with a keyboard,
  • No keyboard traps,
  • Non-text content alternatives,
  • Meaning not being conveyed through size, shape or color alone, and
  • Video captions.

Level AA: Acceptable Compliance

This particular compliance level is the most commonly used one by regulatory authorities around the world when it comes to web accessibility. In order to be compliant with level AA, a website needs to be both usable and understandable by the large majority of people, which includes both people with or without disabilities i.e. the meaning being conveyed and the functionality must be equally available to everyone. Most websites these days are almost AA compliant and a few steps in the right direction can earn you that compliance. Following are some of the requirements of level AA;

  • The color contrast in the majority of instances needs to be 4:5:1 or more,
  • Navigation elements should be consistent throughout the website,
  • Images that convey meaning should have alternative text or other similar solutions,
  • Form fields should have accurate labels,
  • Headings should be used in a logical order, and
  • Status updates can be conveyed with the help of a screen reader.

Level AAA: Optimal Compliance

Level AAA is the ultimate compliance level for web accessibility and having this compliance level ensures that your website is accessible to the most number of users including both people with or without disabilities. While it is the ideal level of compliance that should be uniform across the web, it is actually quite difficult to implement with some very difficult requirements to fulfill. Therefore, W3 does not recommend this for websites at all levels.

AAA compliance is especially recommended for those websites, which are catering to the elderly or people with disabilities. This compliance actually shows how much you as business care for your consumers. Some of the requirements of AAA compliance include;

  • Context-sensitive help must be available,
  • Timing is not an essential part of most activities on the site,
  • Color contrast should be less than 7:1, and
  • Sign language interpretation is made available for audio or video content.

W3C Guidelines for Web Accessibility

As we discussed above, the W3C guidelines are based on four basic principles of perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. In this section, we are going to see some of the guidelines provided by W3C in order to make sure each of those four principles is fulfilled;

Perceivable Guidelines

In order to make your website perceivable, the following are the guidelines recommended by W3C;

  • Text alternatives should always be provided for non-text content, in a way that it can be changed in a form that suits other people’s needs such as braille, large print, symbols, or simpler language.
  • Alternatives should also be provided for media that is time-based.
  • The content created should be adaptable so as to be presented in different ways without losing structure or information.
  • The content should be distinguishable thus making it easier for users to see and hear.

Operable Guidelines

  • The website should be completely operable by a keyboard i.e. every functionality should be available.
  • Users should be provided enough time to read, understand and use the content.
  • The content should not be designed in a way so to trigger seizures or physical reactions.
  • The structure of the website should be easily navigable allowing users to find content and determine where they are.
  • The website should include input modalities that allow the users to make use of the functionalities through inputs beyond the keyboard.

Understandable Guidelines

  • The content made should be easily readable and understandable by the users.
  • Web pages should be structured in a way that they appear predictable to users.
  • Input assistance should be provided to help users avoid and correct mistakes.

Robust Guidelines

  • The website should be made robust so as to maximize compatibility with current and future user agents such as assistive technologies (What Are the Four Major Categories of Accessibility?, 2019).

How does WordPress deal with Accessibility?

Over 30% of the websites in the World are WordPress. This puts a lot of responsibility on WordPress to make the web more accessible. WordPress makes the use of a number of tools and guidelines to ensure that the websites being built on WordPress are accessible to all kinds of users.

There are two ways in which WordPress ensures its accessibility; first by following the globally set web design standards and the industry best practices. This means that whenever WordPress is building a new theme or adding new functionality to the existing infrastructure, the number one priority is making sure that it will not hinder web accessibility and instead add to it.

The second most important thing that they are doing is addressing specific concerns related to web accessibility issues. Since the internet can never truly be 100% accessible, this means that even if you have an AAA level compliance, there will always be issues that will render some of your website’s functionalities useless for a very specific niche. WordPress is dedicated to solving such specific issues, which it believes might not be covered under the standards and guidelines.

WordPress also focuses on mobile accessibility, i.e. making sure all of its websites are fully accessible to mobile users as well since it is the most common medium of internet consumption these days (Accessibility, 2020).

One thing that has to be kept in mind is that WordPress has introduced many themes and plugins which it refers to as accessibility themes or plugins and claims that these themes and plugins can help your website become accessible or compliant to WCAG, which is not completely true as all these themes and plugins can do is make your website more susceptible to changes which makes your website accessible. Thus, they allow you to make accessibility changes but will not make the changes for you.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that web accessibility needs to start being treated less like a feature that only the best websites out there can afford and more like a fundamental element of website design that needs to be incorporated into every website. Web accessibility is the digital equivalent of making the buildings accessible to disabled people. Imagine if a disabled person was not able to go to a grocery store, a hospital, or a post office, etc. Similarly, disabled people have as much right to be on the internet as us, and especially after this pandemic and everything going online; websites need to be made accessible now more than ever as many essential services are being provided online. In order for disabled people to be able to navigate these websites easily, it is important that they are made accessible.

Bibliography

Accessibility. (2020). Retrieved from WordPress: https://wordpress.com/support/accessibility/

Ben Caldwell, M. C. (2008). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from World Wide Web Consortium: https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

Chisholm, W. A. (2005). Interdependent components of web accessibility. Proceedings of the 2005 International Cross-Disciplinary Workshop on Web Accessibility (W4A).

Sloan, D. e. (2006). Contextual web accessibility-maximizing the benefit of accessibility guidelines. Proceedings of the 2006 international cross-disciplinary workshop on Web accessibility (W4A): Building the mobile web: rediscovering accessibility?

What Are the Four Major Categories of Accessibility? (2019, September 13). Retrieved from Bureau of Internet Accessibility: https://www.boia.org/blog/what-are-the-four-major-categories-of-accessibility

Yesilada, Y. e. (2012). Understanding web accessibility and its drivers. Proceedings of the international cross-disciplinary conference on web accessibility.

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