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The internet should be available to everybody. Humanity does not need to recreate the unfair and restrictive conditions of the physical world in the digital realm. There are plenty of dedicated groups aiming to make the internet a fairer place for people with all sorts of needs.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are rules that are laid out by the World Wide Web consortium. This is a worldwide community devoted to the development of a fair and future-proof internet. For a long time they have been one of the most influential groups pushing for increased accessibility online. Their guidelines form the basis of most of the web accessibility standards released by governments worldwide – including the government of the United States, where the Americans With Disabilities Act and federal section 508 are both enforced.
The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are categorized under four guiding principles. According to the guidelines, a website must be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust to be considered accessible. This article will be a quick overview of what these guiding principles actually entail, according to the World Wide Web Consortium. If you dion’t know how to design your website in an accessible way, try talking to one of the many disability advocacy groups or accessibility professionals working to make the internet a more fair place. You can also find digital resources that go into great detail about all the steps and guidelines you should follow. Below are some of the essential changes you should make and the minimum standards you should measure your website against.
Perceiving a website’s content can be a struggle for many people – and for all sorts of reasons. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines map out a wide range of ways to make sites more freely perceivable.
Text alternatives like text to voice help people with limited eyesight perceive a website. Audio descriptions and sign language are also useful text alternatives that can make a huge difference. Adaptability is also key to perception. The guidelines outline how a website should provide adaptable content that does not decrease in quality when displayed in different ways – for instance, audio-only.
Web content should be distinguishable. Distinguishability is affected using sensible contrast choices, defined practical zones, and a visitor’s ability to stop any unwanted sounds from playing while they are trying to use a website. Gone are the days of auto-playing jingles emanating annoyingly from websites, cursive text blending horribly into beige backgrounds, and walls of illegible writing.
People of all abilities need to be able to complete operations on a website if it is to be considered accessible. All content on a website should be keyboard operable. This means that all functions of a website are available to people who cannot use a mouse. Users must not be confronted with a time limit for their actions: this would cause difficulties for people with numerous requirements.
Precautions must be taken to avoid including content on a website that could trigger a seizure in people with epilepsy. The W3C guidelines classify any website containing more than three flashes of light per second as inappropriately dangerous. Flashes of light can synchronize cells within the visual cortex, a process that provokes a chain reaction that can lead to a seizure.
Websites need to be made navigable using alternatives to the traditional mouse and keyboard setups. This can include the use of a pointing stick, breath controller, or motion tracker. Modern motion trackers have been developed which interpret the movement of a user’s eyes to control a mouse. This has enabled people with very impaired physical movement to effectively use computers. This technology has the potential to be extremely liberating for people with severe physical disabilities. Several companies specialize in helping web developers and companies to design their websites in accessible ways. Monsido, for instance, offers an all-in-one platform for the development of operable websites regardless of the visitor’s physical or cognitive abilities.
A website’s content must be readable for people who have different reading levels and different native languages. Modern translation software is incredibly good at accurately creating contextualized translations of text automatically. The best translation software uses machine learning to constantly improve its ability to replicate context and meaning in different languages.
Web designers should avoid using complex or esoteric language when designing the core content of a website. They should ensure that navigation buttons and menus follow predictable and consistent logical steps. The functionality of buttons, for instance, must always be indicated by the same visual cues. If these cues are swapped around, a website can become a far less predictable and more confusing place for anybody suffering from Alzheimer’s or similar cognitive impairments.
Changes of context – like the visual cues attached to buttons – should only be initiated at the user’s request. Control should be afforded to the user that makes practical sense. Plenty of early websites offered users all sorts of useless controls over meaningless parameters. This made navigating them to where you wanted to actually go into a rather labyrinthine task.
Error prevention controls should be present on websites. On sites where users are required to make submissions – say, submitting their login details – the user should be able to reverse their submission if they make a mistake. A mechanism should be available for confirming that submission is desirable. Equally, an invalid submission must be clearly flagged as such. Poorly designed online forms do not clearly indicate an error that prevents them from being completed.
Content on a website needs to be robust. It needs to be interpreted by a wide variety of users using past, current, and future assisted technologies. Designers need to maximize the compatibility of their websites with future assistive technologies. The inclusion of clear metadata indicating the function of everything on a site should allow any future assistive technology to work in coordination with any content. All user interface components should contain name, role, and value metadata.
Duplicate attributes should be avoided to make sense to the largest variety of assistive input and output technologies.