WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of standards adopted by the governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, UK, and the US to measure digital accessibility. These standards provide ways to ensure that people who have disabilities, particularly those with visual, auditory, mobility, and some cognitive disabilities, can access digital content in the same way as their peers without a disability. These standards are categorized into four main pillars that mandate material must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users on all devices.
- Perceivable– Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. If you present images and text, they should be alternatively available in audio format (often via screen reader software). Likewise, videos and audio formats should have captions or transcripts available.
- Operable– User interface components and navigation must be operable. Users should be able to navigate your website by either a mouse or keyboard.
- Understandable– Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. Avoid jargon, spell out acronyms, and use language that is generally easy for anyone to understand.
- Robust– Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
- US – Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973- This requires Federal agencies to make all electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities.
All states at least have policies requiring federal government agencies to make their websites accessible to all visitors, mandated by Section 508, which was an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This usually includes any organizations who receive government funding, such as public hospitals or schools.
- Text alternatives to all non-text elements.
- Equivalent alternatives for any multimedia presentation shall be synchronized with the presentation.
- Web pages shall be designed so that all information conveyed with color is also available without color, for example from context or markup.
- Documents shall be organized so they are readable without requiring an associated style sheet.
- Redundant text links shall be provided for each active region of a server-side image map.
- Client-side image maps shall be provided instead of server-side image maps except where the regions cannot be defined with an available geometric shape.
- Row and column headers shall be identified for data tables.
- Markup shall be used to associate data cells and header cells for data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers.
- Frames shall be titled with text that facilitates frame identification and navigation.
- Pages shall be designed to avoid causing the screen to flicker with a frequency greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz.
- A text-only page, with equivalent information or functionality, shall be provided to make a web site comply with the provisions of these standards, when compliance cannot be accomplished in any other way. The content of the text-only page shall be updated whenever the primary page changes.
- When pages utilize scripting languages to display content, or to create interface elements, the information provided by the script shall be identified with functional text that can be read by assistive technology.
- When a web page requires that an applet, plug-in or other application be present on the client system to interpret page content, the page must provide a link to a plug-in or applet that complies with §1194.21(a) through (l).
- When electronic forms are designed to be completed on-line, the form shall allow people using assistive technology to access the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues.
- Website Accessibility Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act– Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities by state and local governments. This commonly includes websites for those entities as well.
- 21st Century IDEA Act– This was signed into law on December 20, 2018, and requires all federal government agencies to have modern, accessible websites. These websites must also include self-service, fillable forms so that citizens have digital alternatives to physical paper forms of every federal document. The deadline for these updates is December 20, 2019.
US State Laws– Visit our state law page.
- Accessible Canada Act – Under this legislation, the Government of Canada will develop accessibility standards and regulations in priority areas such as employment, the built environment, and the design and delivery of programs and services. Organizations under federal jurisdiction will be required to follow accessibility regulations and to develop accessibility plans describing how they will identify, remove and prevent barriers across their operations. They will also be required to establish processes for receiving and dealing with feedback about the implementation of their accessibility plan and about any barriers that a person may have encountered in dealing with the organization. Organizations will also have to publish regular progress reports describing the implementation of their plans, feedback received, and how that feedback has been taken into consideration.
- Accessibility for Manitobans Act – The legislation aims to identify, prevent and eliminate barriers encountered by persons with disabilities. The standards that have been developed are designed to ensure accessibility in important areas of everyday life: customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation and the built environment. A barrier is defined: “for a person who has a physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disability, a barrier is anything that interacts with that disability in a way that may hinder the person’s full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.”
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)– The AODA aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers to people with disabilities.
- Ontario Regulation 191/11 Integrated Accessibility Standards- The Government of Ontario, Legislative Assembly, and every public sector organization that provides goods, services, or facilities to the public must develop, implement and maintain policies governing how the organization achieves or will achieve accessibility. Obligated organizations, other than small organizations, shall include a statement of organizational commitment to meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in a timely manner in their policies. They must also prepare one or more documents describing the policies it developed and make the documents publicly available and, on request, provide them in an accessible format.
- Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat Standard on Web Accessibility- Continued providing accessible and inclusive services by building accessibility and inclusion into decision-making, project management, procurement, technology, infrastructure, I&IT and training, and focusing on leadership, developing an effective feedback process and raising awareness.
- Australia – Disability Discrimination Act, 1992- This prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities employment, education, publicly-available premises, provision of goods and services, accommodation, clubs and associations, and other contexts, including failure to make reasonable accommodations for their disabilities.
- UK – Equality Act 2010– Legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.
- EU Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications – requires EU member states to make sure their websites and mobile apps meet the common accessibility standards, mainly by following the four pillars of WCAG- perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Screen readers are a type of assistive technology that is able to read aloud text that is on a screen so that those who experience visual or cognitive disabilities or are otherwise unable to read material visually can access it. While screen readers can read simple, plain text set up as a simple paragraph with ease, it is more difficult to read information that is presented in columns, tables, or charts, since the screen reader can only read right to left, up and down, straight across a page, unless it is instructed to do otherwise. However, tags can be added to the background HTML to tell a screen reader how and where to read and in what order. The same is true of images and PDFs, which are inaccessible to screen readers because they only read text. PDF files can be converted accessible formats and alt text can be added to images to make them accessible. The two most commonly used screen readers are NVDA and JAWS.
- NVDA– Free screen reader software compatible with Microsoft Windows that reads text aloud to users or can be used with a braille display.
- JAWS– Paid screen reader software compatible with Microsoft Windows that reads text aloud to users or can be used with a braille display. Has greater functionality than NVDA and is compatible with Excel and Powerpoint.
- ZoomText– Paid software that uses the JAWS system and adds extra functionality using screen magnification and visual enhancement.
- Narrator – Built-in screen reader for Windows.
- VoiceOver – Built-in screen reader on Apple devices including Macs, iPads, and iPhones.
- Talkback – Built-in screen reader on Android phones and tablets
- Equidox Software – Equidox by Onix™ is a self-service, semi-automated software solution that converts inaccessible PDF documents into WCAG 2.0 AA-compliant HTML and accessible PDF and EPUB 2 content. It’s so easy you can learn the basics in under an hour.
- Accessibility Color Wheel – This is a tool which can help in choosing the colors to use on a web page. The text and background color of websites should be readable even to those who do not have perfect vision.
- Colour Contrast Determinator -This tool is a color contrast analyzer that makes it easy to find with sufficient contrast. Simply type in color values or copy and paste a value form a style sheet, then use the sliders to adjust the color – full height on the slider means the color has sufficient contrast.
While there are a number of automated tools available to crawl through your website to quickly identify any inaccessible elements, even the most sophisticated automated tools can only catch 25-30% of accessibility issues. It requires a human review to make sure that functional elements of the website actually make sense when read by a screen reader. However, automated tools can give you a starting point for accessibility, making sure many of the most common “behind the scenes” elements of accessible HTML are correct.
- AChecker– An open source accessibility evaluation tool in which you can upload a URL or HTML file and choose standards against which to evaluate it.
- WAVE– A tool available both online and as a Firefox plug-in that reports accessibility violations by annotating a copy of the page and provides suggestions on how to fix them.
- OzArt – An innovative accessibility reporting tool that makes it easy to comprehensively report on, and maximize your site’s accessibility. OzART simplifies the task of making your site accessible according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG2) because it searches and reports defects in categories e.g. images, page titles, content, and headings.
- Siteimprove Accessibility Checker – The Siteimprove Accessibility Checker is your tool to evaluate any web page for accessibility issues at any given time. It provides intuitive, visual feedback about your content by highlighting detected issues right on the page. All analysis is done entirely within the Chrome browser, allowing secure evaluation of password-protected or non-public pages, multi-step forms, and dynamic content.
508 – Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communications Act. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Government-wide Policy (OGP) is tasked under this law to provide technical assistance to help Federal agencies comply with these requirements and ensure that covered ICT is accessible to and usable by, individuals with disabilities.
ADA – Americans With Disabilities Act: The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
DAISY Consortium -Digital Audio-Based Information System: A global consortium of organizations committed to developing global solutions for accessible publishing and reading, in partnership with civil society, publishing and technology industries, standards bodies and governments.
EU – European Union – A political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where members have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development.
ePUB – Electronic Publication: an e-book file format that uses the “.epub” file extension. The term is short for electronic publication and is sometimes styled ePub. EPUB is supported by many e-readers, and compatible software is available for most smartphones, tablets, and computers. EPUB is a technical standard published by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).
HTML – HyperText Markup Language
IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
JAWS – Job Access With Speech
NVDA – Non-Visual Desktop Access
PDF – Portable Document Format: A file format that provides an electronic image of text or text and graphics that looks like a printed document and can be viewed, printed, and electronically transmitted.
URL – Uniform Resource Locator
WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
W3C – World Wide Web Consortium: An international community where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards.W3C’s mission is to lead the Web to its full potential.