Beginner's guide to website compliance

Beginner's Guide to Website Compliance

By Marc Reifenrath on June 2, 2016 in Development

ADA compliance is most often thought of when we think about building codes for bathrooms, wheelchair ramps and so on, but website compliance is becoming more of a concern and is also a very confusing topic for someone to fully grasp.

What is website compliance?

Website compliance involves creating a website that follows standards for accessible website design, so basically, it’s creating a website that is accessible to people with disabilities. There are three main terms typically referenced when it comes to compliance:

  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) - standards published by the Department of Justice stating that businesses make accessibility accommodations for people with disabilities.
  • Section 508 Compliance -  outlines requirements that would make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 is extremely restrictive and is only required for private entities who work directly with or take money from the federal government.
  • WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) - a series of guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main organization standard for the web. These guidelines will be the most helpful in regards to how to handle accessibility for the majority of sites.

Something that is important to understand about this topic as a whole is that it isn’t a one-time task. While your site may be compliant at launch you will need to keep compliance in mind with each update. Being in compliance with accessibility guidelines not only helps you appeal to a wider audience, but some of the best practices for accessibility also have positive implications for SEO. Bonus. However, some standards can have an impact on visual aesthetic, so be aware of those restrictions going into your project.

The Guidelines

For websites WCAG 2.0 does the best job of clearly outlining the requirements to meet their  levels of compliance: A, AA & AAA.

A is the lowest level of compliance. By meeting this level you are doing the bare minimum. This would include things like allowing browser readers to easily navigate the site.

AA is a happy medium for compliance. It is certainly achievable, however it will have some impact on overall functionality and design that most marketing leaders won’t like.

AAA is meeting all requirements as they are currently outlined. This will, without a doubt, be extremely restrictive to the aesthetics of your site.

There are four main points of emphasis and there is a great acronym to help remember each area.

POUR -

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

Let’s break each one of these down including some of the primary items needed to achieve compliance.

Perceivable

Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.

  • Text alternatives
  • Alt text
  • Captioning and descriptions
  • Audio controls
  • Ability to resize text
  • Don’t use images of text

Operable

User interface components and navigation must be operable.

  • The ability to navigate using your keyboard with no keyboard traps.
  • No “flashing” content to help avoid seizures
  • Page titles (good for screen readers)
  • Headings and labels

Understandable

Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

  • Consistent navigation
  • Error identification (handling)
  • Labels or Instructions

Robust

Content must be enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the good news. By using our content management system, Spinternet, many of these items can be managed all on your own. If not, they can be addressed when you design and build out your site. Again, remember that just because your site is in compliance today, doesn’t mean that it will be as you make new updates.

Ultimately, anything you can do to make your site more usable for assistive technologies is a good thing. Even if you are not able to do everything to gain a rating, it is still worthwhile to ensure your image Alt tags and captioning is done and you are also maintaining an easily navigable site. Many of the items listed are simply best practices for good sites and also have some great SEO value as well.

Check out this great reference guide that details each level and requirement.

There are also many evaluation tools available that you can run your site through. Just Google “wcag site checker” or “ada compliance checker.”

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