According to the World Wide Web Consortium, web accessibility, or website accessibility, is a practice of removing barriers so people with disabilities can “perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web”. When websites are designed and developed with accessibility in mind, all visitors have equal access to, and can engage with, a site.
In recent years, the web accessibility compliance landscape has become increasingly regulated, resulting in many companies finding themselves in the midst of, or planning, a major digital re-haul.
The changes are due in part to the fact that consumer-buying behavior has shifted from phone or in-person to digital. According to research, 40% of global Internet users, or more than 1 billion people, have bought products or goods online.
But where does that leave people with disabilities?
Much like their peers without disabilities, they want to engage and interact with organizations in the digital world. In fact, in certain industries, like travel, studies have shown that people with disabilities rely on websites even more than travelers without disabilities to get information about trips they’re looking to take.
Websites that aren’t accessible are a huge barrier for people with disabilities, creating an overwhelmingly frustrating experience.
How is the World Making the Web Accessible?
It truly has become a global effort to make the web a fully accessible place to visit, thanks in part to the World Wide Web Consortium.2 The W3C is made up of staff, volunteers and member organizations from all over the world who collaborate to develop standards and protocols for the web.
One of the W3C’s areas of focus is accessibility. This international community recognizes that if the Internet is to continue to grow and flourish, it is critically important that it be accessible to all. Thus, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) specifically works on guidelines and other materials to support web accessibility, linking together anyone with an interest – including disability groups, government and businesses.
The WAI has made great strides over the years. Currently, the WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), first published in 1999 and updated in 2008, is the most widely accepted set of web accessibility guidelines in the world.
The web accessibility compliance landscape is kept in check by guidelines, legislation and regulations. This means there’s a lot of information and expertise available to facilitate web accessibility. But it also means there are laws that organizations may be compelled to follow.
Compliance ensures that both technical and functional specifications, WAI guidelines, web accessibility tools, authoring tools and evaluation tools are used by web developers, authors and coders to build accessible websites.
Web Accessibility Guidelines
WCAG. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), produced by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, are universally accepted and adopted technical guidelines for ensuring web accessibility. The most up-to-date guidelines – the ones to follow if you want to be confident your website is inclusive – are called WCAG 2.0.
ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a far-reaching law that prohibits discrimination against any person with a disability in the United States. It applies to the work force, schools, and public or private organizations serving the public such as hotels, restaurants and theaters. By law, their communications and technologies must be accessible to people with disabilities.
The Rehab Act, Sections 508 and 504. The Rehabilitation Act prevents discrimination against people with disabilities. Section 504 requires the federal government and any departments, programs, organizations or businesses that receive funding or contracts from the federal government, including schools, to be fully accessible. Section 508, “Standards for Electronic and Information Technology,” sets out specific accessibility standards for websites that must be followed in order for covered entities to be in compliance.
AODA. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law that applies to government, businesses and organizations in the province of Ontario. It includes the development of accessibility standards that must be followed, and a time frame for compliance.
ACAA. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) makes it illegal discriminate against airline customers with disabilities. It applies to air transportation into, out of or within the U.S., whether or not the air carriers are American. Phase II of ACAA, which rules that all web pages on an airline’s website must be accessible, went into effect in December, 2016.
CVAA. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) became law in 2010. The purpose of the CVAA is to update older legislation and ensure that digital, mobile and other modern technologies are taken into account when it comes to accessibility requirements.
W3C document: https://www.w3.org/WAI/policies/
Level Access: https://www.levelaccess.com/accessibility-regulations/
2019 Internet Stats: https://hostingfacts.com/internet-facts-stats/