Website accessibility standards
The vision of Tim Berners-Lee has been developed into a clear set of standards produced by W3C, called the Web Accessibility initiative and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which comes in three standards, A, AA and AAA. Additionally BS 8878:2010 Web Accessibility is a British Standard code of practice designed to address the growing challenge of digital inclusion (other countries have their own standards). Generally these guidelines are to ensure content is accessible to a wider range of people as possible with disabilities including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. The guidelines also make web content more usable to users in general.
All of our clients, both in the public sector and private sector, are aware of the importance of providing accessible websites, and we have developed our Web Content Management system and website templates with accessibility in mind. Our mobile sites are also developed to ensure that these meet the highest standards of accessibility.
This blog post and Mobile website accessibility - ensuring access to services and information for digital inclusion, look at best practices and the key areas to consider to ensure your website presence is accessible.
Making your website accessible for PCs and smartphones
Web Managers can split developing accessible websites into two phases; ensuring you build a website from the start that will meet accessibility standards, and ensuring that ongoing web developments are accessible. All of these elements apply all websites, whether accessed on smartphones or desktop PCs.
During web development
If you are starting a new web project, you have the opportunity to ensure accessibility is built in to your website and to train your content contributors on how to create accessible web content that conforms to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
When designing the look and feel of your website, ensue that suitable colour contrast is used. Links should be in a different colour and underlined according to Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) guidelines. Ensure your web developers can write valid HTML code and CSS as standard. Clear and simple navigation will also aid accessibility, both with the "main" navigation as well as breadcrumbs, page titles and friendly URLs.
Website deployments from GOSS always come with template functionality that can assist with delivering web accessible content which includes:
- Ability for screen readers to function correctly
- Option for access keys to be used
- Option for "skip navigation"
- Consistent heading tags, <h1> etc.
- Support for forms with meaningful labels and error messages
Additionally many clients implement extra accessibility features:
- Option for text only / low graphics
- Option for high or low background colour contrast
- Option for different text sizes
Once you have a website, new content will be added from day one, so it is important that all new content is compliant with WCAG. To assist with this, GOSS iCM (intelligent Content Management) has several inbuilt facilities to help content contributors check their content on websites and mobile websites. In some instances these are forced to ensure compliance, i.e. pages will not be published unless compliant. Administrators can set compliance levels of A, AA or AAA.
A range of content validation plugins come as standard with GOSS iCM. Clients can easily add their own too. Standard validators include:
- Readability (to ensure reading age compliance
- TextAliser (to help understand text content)
- W3C (to ensure HTML1.0 or 5.0 compliance)
- Wave (to show accessibility insight)
GOSS iCM will not let pages be published where tables, images and other media do not have text descriptions (ALT text).
Where PDFs are used, ensure they are created for accessibility, and are not used as an alternative to online forms.
Many organisations use social media as a channel to engage with their audience, and often have strategies to utilise this. Accessibility also needs to be considered here too. Facebook fails a Wave accessibility tests, as do others like Digg.
Many clients seek 3rd party accessibility accreditation from suppliers like Shaw Trust, who have a team of testers with various disabilities perform real tests on websites and make recommendations on areas for improvements before awarding their accreditation. This can be used to give websites a third party endorsement and to build trust with all users.
It is vital that websites are created and maintained to meet the highest levels of accessibility. Using the right web content management tools can greatly assist in this.
Posted by Pete Stevens, 5th September 2011