Designing Accessibility for Websites | WCAG | ADA | 508
An estimated one billion people in the world live with some type of disability, and ensuring equal access and quality of life for all is the primary goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Websites are required to accommodate people with vision, hearing, physical impairments, and some cognitive disabilities. There are ways for government entities (Title II) or businesses (Title III) to incorporate accessibility features in their website design to ensure equal access to people with various disabilities.
Why is Accessibility for Websites Important?
The ADA’s accessibility guidelines for Title II and III entities aren’t the only legal compliance requirements. The Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires all “electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities,” and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act requires advanced communications services and products to be accessible to those with disabilities.
The internet is a worldwide commodity, and as such, each country’s government must regulate its content. Most European states have their own national laws protecting web accessibility, and the European Union protects digital accessibility under the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Beyond the legal ramifications of non-compliance, accessibility is also essential for websites from a financial standpoint. People living with disabilities hold $8 trillion in global purchasing power. Ignoring a demographic of this size overlooks a massive pool of potential customers.
What are the 4 Principles of Accessibility Design?
As mentioned above, the internet is a global commodity, so an internationally recognized standard for accessibility design is crucial for the success and enforcement of the ADA. Officials added web content to the ADA’s requirements for disability access in 1996, and a group of individuals started a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) community to develop the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The guidelines cover a range of disabilities and address their accessibility challenges on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.
The accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities fall under the four principles of web accessibility known as POUR, which also helped shape the WCAG.
Perceivable - Design web content so people with different disabilities can perceive it.
- Text Alternatives
- Time-Based Media Alternatives
- Adaptable Format
Operable - User interface and navigation should include and support multiple functionalities and be readily operable.
- Keyboard Accessible
- Enough Time
- Formatting for Seizures and Physical Reactions
- Input Modalities
Understandable - Design web content to be understandable by a broad audience.
- Input Assistance
Robust - Content should be designed to ensure maximum compatibility with current and future assistive technologies.
Additionally, the ADA has three levels of compliance within the WCAG:
- Level A is the most basic level of accessibility but doesn’t ensure access for all users.
- Level AA covers the most common web accessibility challenges.
- Level AAA is the highest level of web accessibility, covering all accessibility challenges for people with disabilities. This level isn’t always realistic for most websites.
What are Accessibility Design Features?
Designing a website with accessibility in mind will guarantee a better user experience for everyone, including those in customer service! The first thing to consider is the types of disabilities people have and the accessibility issues they face before implementing key design features to accommodate those challenges.
Visual Impairments (blindness, low vision, color blindness)
- Alt Text
- High Contrast Themes and Colors
- Enlarged Cursors
- Screen Readers
Auditory Impairments (deaf, hard of hearing)
- Closed Captions for Videos
- Transcripts for Videos
Physical Impairments (mobility concerns, unable to use a mouse)
- Keyboard Navigation
- Alternative Keyboards
- Switch-Adapted Devices
- Sticky Keys
Seizure or Physical Reaction Risks
- Remove Flashing Animations or Videos
Learning/Cognitive Impairments (Dyslexia, ADHD)
- Straightforward Language
- Reduced Distractions
Implementing basic web design principles can also help ease the way to accessibility:
- Font Size - The recommended minimum font size for digital platforms is at least 16px. Anything smaller can increase readability issues.
- Repetition - Repeating elements in web design can help guide users through using and memorizing a website.
- Scale - Take note of the scale of elements within the interface to emphasize user-specific parts of the design.
- Hierarchy - Arrange web content in a way that implies importance, such as making a headline more prominent than the body of text below it.
Designing for website accessibility is important because it connects everyone to information all over the world. We all use that information to enhance our daily lives, and any obstacles can make people feel excluded. Use our ADA Compliance Checklist to ensure your website design provides efficient accessibility for all.