Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
If you want to know how to make your website and other digital content accessible it’s essential to understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
The guidelines are produced by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organisation for the World Wide Web, and define how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. They are now the premium standard for web and digital across the world, including in the UK.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web and founded W3C, believed that the web can help to empower all members of society by making information accessible to everyone.
“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect…The Web is fundamentally designed to work for all people, whatever their hardware, software, language, location, or ability.
“When the Web meets this goal, it is accessible to people with a diverse range of hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.
“Thus the impact of disability is radically changed on the Web because the Web removes barriers to communication and interaction that many people face in the physical world.
“However, when web sites, applications, technologies, or tools are badly designed, they can create barriers that exclude people from using the Web.”
Hence the need to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Understanding the guidelines
As the name suggests, these are guidelines, not standards, which means they offer a set of recommendations to follow, as opposed to a strict set of standards to conform to. The guidelines offer layers of guidance (principles, guidelines, success criteria, and sufficient and advisory techniques) that combine to provide guidance on how to make content more accessible.
The guidelines and success criteria are organised around four principles, which set the foundation for anyone to access and use web content. They are: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
The 13 guidelines provide the basic goals that designers and content creators should work toward to make content more accessible to users with different disabilities. For each guideline, testable success criteria are provided to allow WCAG 2.1 to be used where requirements and conformance testing are necessary such as in design specification and regulations.
In order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations, there are three levels of conformance: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest).
For each of the guidelines and success criteria in WCAG 2.1, there are a variety of informative techniques that fall in two categories: those that are sufficient techniques for meeting the success criteria and those that are advisory techniques.
Using assistive technology
Recite Me is an assistive toolbar that adds an extra layer of accessibility to your websites. Using assistive technology enhances a user's website journey at the same time as following the core principles of WCAG 2.1.
It allows web visitors to customise your digital content so that they can consume it in ways that work for them. And it helps websites follow the principles of the WCAG in a number of different ways, such as those listed below.
The Recite Me assistive toolbar provides features that allow content to be perceived through sound or enhanced visually means. For example, Recite Me can change website text or documents like PDFs into an alternative format by allowing the user to convert them into an audio file, which the user can opt to have read aloud.
The Recite Me styling features allow people to change the way the content is displayed. Users are able to customise the websites colour scheme as well as the texts font style, size, colour and spacing.
Recite Me assistive technology supports users with their location on page via screen reader navigation. The screen reader also supports content reading time by being able to control text speech speeds.
The Recite Me assistive toolbar is delivered as SaaS (Software as a Service). Once installed onto your website you will receive regular updates and always have the latest version.
Ultimately, to ensure your website and all its content is accessible you should understand and follow the principles of the WCAG, combined with the right assistive technology.