Web accessibility or eAccessibility is the practice of ensuring there are no barriers preventing access to or interaction with web sites and applications by people with physical disabilities, situational restrictions, and even limitations on bandwidth or speed. Inclusivity continues to become increasingly important, and as a result, standards are being developed and regulations put in place to protect and improve on these practices.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines help developers like you and I to create web sites and applications that are accessible to everyone.
WCAG includes guidelines for things like color contrast between elements and their backgrounds, color contrast between elements of the same time, labels and other attributes to improve usage with screen readers, as well as guidelines for allowing users to zoom in on their browser window and use only a keyboard to navigate and interact with web sites.
Why Care About Accessibility?
The first reason here is because it's important to make sure we are being inclusive when we design digital products. The same way it's important to provide wheelchair access to important buildings, it's important to implement practices in our designs to ensure the ability of everyone to access these products. Not only is it the 'right' thing to do, but obviously the bigger your audience of potential users, the better. Also, as if all of that isn't enough, accessibility is a legal requirement.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public areas must accommodate people with disabilities which includes your website. Now I'm no lawyer so I have no idea how serious this can actually get, but just the idea of facing potential legal action because I thought accessibility was just not that important seems a bit silly.
How to Improve Accessibility
There are many ways to improve accessibility within your application. One of the most commonly known ways is to add the 'altText' attribute to image elements to provide a description and function of the image on the page. This is similar to the aria-label attributes and other ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) properties.
Semantic HTML is use of HTML markup to reinforce the meaning of the information on web sites and web applications instead of just using it to define its appearance. This means instead of using a paragraph element tag (p) for all the text on the page, you would use header tags (h1, h2, h3, ...) for headings. This allows screen readers to better read your web page and, as a result, increases your SEO as well. Best practice is to focus on using semantic HTML to improve accessibility, and use aria as a tool only when needed. This is because adding aria attributes can be a lot of work which shifts around based on rule changes making semantic HTML the more stable option.
How to Test Accessibility
Full disclosure, I only really started to learn accessibility a couple weeks ago. I have known about it, and kind of tried to make my sites more accessible, but when you really start to dive into everything that is involved it can be a bit overwhelming. Trying to get familiar with all the guidelines and remember all the techniques and methods seems impossible. The good news is, with all the guidelines and regulation comes testing methods.
There are browser extensions like Accessibility Insights that can provide a quick rundown of your web page and provide a live report of all the issues found on it based on accessibility standards. Another great tool for testing accessibility is screen readers. Get one and use it on each page of your site to ensure that it works well. Any time it misses something or reads something incorrectly, you know you have to fix it. Finally, for all the keyboard only users, navigate and interact with you site using only your keyboard. This will give you a good feel for any issues that may arise from only using a keyboard on your site.
Digital accessibility is incredibly important and is only continuing to become even more important. Don't make the mistake of thinking it doesn't apply to you. There are many standards and guidelines that serve to help developers and engineers make sure everyone can access their digital products and services. There are also many methods and techniques used by developers to improve accessibility and test the accessibility of their products. Let's make the world a better place... and keep your company out of trouble! :)