By now you probably understand why website accessibility is important. Not only does it allow people with a full range of disabilities to understand and interact with both your brand and your content, it also improves user experience for your entire audience. But not all accessible websites are built the same.
A selection of standards exist to measure website accessibility, and different businesses will aim to meet different guidelines. It’s against these standards, often referred to as the levels of web accessibility, that we measure how well any brand is serving its audience online.
What are the levels of web accessibility?
One organisation, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), provides the standards for accessibility, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These are extensive, and are easy to get lost in, but essentially they outline three levels of compliance serving three different groups. All sites that conform to one are considered accessible, but A is the easiest to achieve while AAA is the most complex. Let’s break them down…
WCAG Level A
WCAG Level A is the first and most basic level of accessibility as outlined by the W3C. To meet this standard, your website should be perceivable, operable, and understandable to users with disabilities. It includes guidelines such as providing alternative text for images, ensuring keyboard accessibility, and allowing users to adjust text size. Pretty basic stuff.
WCAG Level AA
The next level builds on the requirements of the first, adding a few more accessible features. At this level, businesses should include audio descriptions for video content, closed captioning for audio content, and the ability to skip repetitive content.
WCAG Level AAA
This is the highest level of accessibility outlined by the W3C and includes the most comprehensive guidelines for accessibility. This level requires longer alternative text for images, extended audio descriptions for video content, and the ability to adjust the contrast between the background and text.
Each level builds on the last, so any website that satisfies all the requirements of level AA will also meet the requirements of level A, for example. This makes it simpler to progress through the levels, making continuous improvement to reach more and more people. Right now, most websites conform to level A and strive to meet AA requirements. This is where the W3C recommends all should sit as AA provides a good balance between the requirements for accessibility and the resources required to meet them.
At DRPG this is the level we work to as standard, but the level of accessibility you choose to pursue should be based on your specific needs and goals. So, where does your website sit?
Reviewing your website for accessibility
Accessibility testing is the only way to really understand how accessible your website is, and how well it’s serving your audience. This is an important part of the website design process as it’s only when you review your existing design and content that you discover opportunities for improvement. This process is usually carried out by professionals with experience in accessible website design (and we have plenty of those in-house at DRPG) as they’ll know what to look out for and how to identify barriers to access in a flash.
When considering the accessibility of your site, testers will look out for any obvious obstacles to people with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments, as well as barriers related to assistive technologies. They’ll also consider perceivability, operability, and understandability for your entire audience. Remember, the goal of web accessibility, and so accessibility testing, is to ensure all users can effectively navigate and interact with your site.
Markers of an accessible website
Accessibility testing is a key step in taking your website from something that looks great to something that functions well for every single person visiting it and encourages repeat visits, customer loyalty and all that good stuff. Throughout that process, testers will be looking for key markers of an accessible website, including:
Text contrast: High contrast makes content more readable for more people
Keyboard functionality: All websites should be accessible without a mouse
Alternative text: This is key for screen readers, and great for SEO too
Audio descriptions: Video content is great, but it’s not accessible to all on its own
Closed captioning: Not only are captions essential for some, but they’re also incredibly useful for most users
Cross-browser functionality: Users on different browsers, devices and assistive technologies should all have an equitable experience
Website performance: Fast loading, fluid user journeys and simple navigation improve user experience for your whole audience
Measuring web accessibility may take a little more time and attention, but it’s essential for any business creating or hosting a website. It’s only through testing that you can make positive steps to improve accessibility across your site, but working out where your website sits and where to go next needn’t be difficult.
Here at DRPG, we’ve got a whole team of UX and testing experts ready and waiting to help you get the most out of your online offering. So if you want recommendations for quick fixes, a shiny new accessibility strategy or just a few tech-savvy helpers to bring your site up to scratch, we’re your people.