2017 Jun 09

A common question I get from co-workers and clients alike is “where can I find information about web accessibility?” It’s a loaded question, and one I could likely end up talking to you about all day. (Just ask my co-workers who’ve attended one of my “1 hour” Lunch & Learns.)

As part of my positions in Quality Assurance over the past 8 plus years I have gravitated to web accessibility which has been a neglected, yet vitally important, aspect of the web industry. When I first started out in Quality Assurance, I’d run a validator tool against the website’s code, check images to make sure they had alternative text, and I was done testing.

It wasn’t until I bought a textbook about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that I learned there was a lot more involved in ensuring a website was “accessible.” Note: I put “accessible” in quotes as you can meet the standards, but some users could still have issues. Still, building a website to conform to WCAG guidelines will help you get closer to ensuring your website has the best chance at being accessible to as many users as possible, no matter how they access your website (e.g. desktop, mobile, with a screen reader, screen magnifier, use keyboard only, etc.), or if they have a disability (e.g. full or partial blindness, vestibular issues, cognitive issues, or a range or combination of issues).

It’s important to understand that not all disabilities are obvious. I have a condition called “Photosensitivity” which isn’t obvious unless you read my Medic Alert tag, or I tell you. This means that rapid flashes of light can cause me to have a seizure. Luckily for me, WCAG version 2.0 has a Success Criteria (SC) called “Three Flashes or Below Threshold SC 2.3.1.” Based on the working group’s research when developing this Success Criteria, they determined that “flashes more than three times in any one second period” is too much for someone with my condition. Therefore, any elements on a web page that flash must be below this threshold in order to pass SC 2.3.1.

The WCAG 2.0 Guidelines were written to take into account different users and aim to standardize how web accessibility is approached around the world.

Resources

Thankfully, there are many resources available to learn about web accessibility. Here are some of my favourite places to send people who ask:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Overview - A great primer on what WCAG is, its history, who it’s for, and its purpose. From here you can dive as far as you want into everything WCAG.
  • WebAIM (Web Accessibility in Mind) - WebAIM is an organization dedicated to web accessibility. The first place I’d point you to on their site is the “Introduction to Web Accessibility” page.
  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Image Concepts Tutorial - A common question I receive is “when and how do I write proper text alternatives for images?” WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.1 requires that all non-text content has a text alternative. In this case, we’re talking about images. Some users may not be able to see images (for many reasons), so you need to provide some text to help describe the purpose of the image. The Image Concepts Tutorial will help you decide how to proceed.
  • W3C WAI Tips on Writing for Web Accessibility - While a Content Management System (like Drupal 8.0) has been developed to support and encourage web accessibility best practices, it’s up to the content writers and publishers to ensure they maintain accessibility within their content.

If you prefer in-person learning, come out to one of the YOWa11y Meetups. (“YOW” being the airport code for Ottawa, and “a11y” being a numeronym for “accessibility.” There are 11 characters between the letters “a” and “y” in the word “accessibility.”). Here, experts and enthusiasts gather to discuss different topics relating to accessibility, including if the short-form “YOWa11y” is causing issues itself.

There are many more resources out there, but start here. If you’d like to chat more about web accessibility, get in touch with us.