Accessibility is more important than ever in 2020

Accessibility can be an easily overlooked part of product design. With the global pandemic that has taken shape due to the Coronavirus, more people are using digital devices to get through their day than probably ever in history. This is why it’s now more important than ever to prioritize accessibility in our products.

Accessibility marking in a parking spot

In this article, I want to focus on the WCAG guidelines which are concerned with recommendations for making web content more accessible, and how the AODA holds up with all of this.

What is WCAG?

WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a set of standards published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

The WCAG exists to make sure that web content is produced to be more accessible to people.

These guidelines help individuals with disabilities like blindness, hearing loss, or cognitive limitations to access web content without any trouble.

The WCAG is not limited to just the web though. The WCAG has expanded to cover other devices like mobile phones. It is now an ISO standard.

The four principles

In order to meet the requirements for providing a good user experience for disabled individuals, the WCAG has come up with four principles. Namely; Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. Let’s take a look at these principles a little closer.

Perceivable

The perceivable principle suggests that you need to provide a text alternative to any non-text content on your product. It also says you need to provide alternatives to time-based media, create content that can be presented in different ways (simpler layout), and make it easier for users to see and hear content.

An example of the implementation of this principle would be transcripts for videos and alt-text on

Operable

This principle recommends that user interface components and navigation must be operable. This suggests things like making all functionality available through a keyboard, not design content in a way that causes seizures, and aids the user in letting them know where they are in navigation or product.

It also suggests that you need to provide users enough time to read and use the content.

Breadcrumbs on websites and other navigation elements are examples of this.

Understandable

The understandable principle states that the content on a user interface needs to be understandable to the user.

This principle is quite self-explanatory. The web content needs to be readable and understandable, it should behave in a predictable manner and help users avoid mistakes.

An example is the validation messages on forms.

Robust

This suggests that the product needs to be compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

A good example of robust design is responsive design in web development. The websites are designed to behave dynamically so that they can be viewed by a number of devices through several operating systems.

WCGA 2.0 vs 2.1

The standards were recently updated to a new version called the WCGA 2.1. The new version just builds on the first one and exists to make the guidelines future-proof. A significant update to the current guidelines can be expected in the coming years but for now, let’s take a look at a few noticeable additions to the current version(WCAG 2.1)

  • The orientation of the screen — Websites are required to be built for both portrait and landscape orientations. Developers need to make sure they put effort into making their websites responsive.
  • Reflow while magnification — For people with visual impairments like poor eye-sight and users with cataracts need the elements in the UI to reorganize when they zoom in. Designers are required to make sure the elements are still organized in a particular way so that they don’t look disorientating to handicapped people.
  • New hovering rules — WCAG 2.1 requires websites to have navigation menus that expand not only to a mouse hover but also to a click from a mouse or a keyboard input. This is to make sure that even people without a mouse can navigate the site without any issues.
  • Naming labels — The new guidelines require the accessible name of an element to be the same as the name of the label so that it is easier for users of screen readers to navigate the product.
  • Status changes for screen readers — Another new addition to the guidelines is that the users of screen readers should also be notified of status changes via a sound.

Let’s talk a bit about what the role AODA plays in this

AODA, which stands for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, exists to identify and remove barriers faced by people with disabilities.

The AODA not only protects disabled people when it comes to digital products but across a wide variety of areas. These include:

  • Customer service standard
  • Information and communication standard
  • Employment standard
  • Transportation standard
  • Design of public spaces standard

How does this affect websites?

If you’re operating a business in Ontario, following the AODA guidelines is mandatory. This applies to all levels of government, non-profits, and private sector businesses.

The AODA requires websites to comply with the standards set by the WCGA. If you’re in violation of this, you can be fined up to $100,000 for each day of the violation. That is a pretty hefty fine if you overlook basic accessibility guidelines.

As of January 2014, if you start a new website it must be compliant with the AODA rules, and by 2021, all websites are required to follow the guidelines laid out by WCAG 2.0.

The role IASR plays in this (I know, so many acronyms 😅)

In addition to complying with the regulations, companies are required to follow the IASR standards.

The IASR standards outline requirements for organizations to create, provide, and receive information and communications that are accessible to people with disabilities. Whenever disabled individuals request certain information from an organization or company, they should provide it to them in an accessible format.

Getting back to our point, the companies are required to make sure they follow the rules set out by the IASR due to the fact that the AODA is a part of the IASR standards.

The other IASR requirements related to accessibility are:

  • Provide training to staff and volunteers
  • Develop an accessibility policy
  • Create a multi-year accessibility plan and update it every five years
  • Consider accessibility in procurement and when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks

Why all of this matter

group of people from different background
group of people from different background

You might be wondering why things need to be this formal and complicated. On the contrary, it’s not that complicated. The guidelines are pretty straightforward and exist for a very important reason — to make sure disabled individuals have an equal opportunity in the world as people without disabilities.

In addition to that, accessibility-friendly products are good for businesses as well. For example, the Royal Bank of Canada reported that people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of around $25 billion annually across Canada.

In a world where we are forced to depend on digital devices than ever before, we need to be responsible for giving every human being an equal opportunity and make the internet a better place.

Accessibility Evangelist & Certified UX Wizard. Perfecting the art of humanizing technology at CityWide Automation— more on HasnainBakhtiar.com