Here are a four examples of web accessibility accommodations and how they can remove barriers for some users.
1. Offering a high-contrast option (or “dark mode”)
High-contrast themes, often called “dark modes,” accommodate people with certain vision disabilities by making text easier to read. Instead of displaying dark-colored text over a light background, a dark mode displays light-colored text over a dark background. The Biden administration implemented a dark mode on Whitehouse.gov as an accessibility feature in early 2021, and many apps offer the option to switch between color schemes.
As we’ve discussed on this blog, high-contrast modes should always be optional, since darker color schemes can create new accessibility issues for people with astigmatism, dyslexia, and other conditions. You’ll also need to test your dark mode thoroughly for WCAG conformance — regardless of whether your “light mode" passes WCAG.
Even so, offering a dark mode can be beneficial. High-contrast websites are less likely to trigger photophobia (sensitivity to light), and many users find dark modes easier to read for long periods of time.
2. Providing optional captions for multimedia content
WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 1.2.2 requires text alternatives for multimedia content; captions are required for pre-recorded audio content in synchronized media such as videos. The guidelines don’t require optional captions — but creators should still attempt to make captions optional wherever possible.
While captions are helpful, they can be distracting for users with dyslexia, attention disorders, and other conditions, so try to choose a video player with an on/off toggle. Wherever possible, video players should allow users to change the size of the font.
3. Offering a plain-text alternative to HTML emails
Assistive technologies like screen readers are adept at reading HTML, but some email clients may not render HTML newsletters properly. Some users may prefer to avoid emails with complex visual presentations.
By offering HTML and plaintext versions of your newsletters, you’ll give readers more control over their experience. Make sure your plaintext emails include all of the relevant content from the HTML newsletters.
4. Offering several authentication methods
The most common user authentication methods require users to remember passwords and usernames. However, passwords create a cognitive function test — they require users to remember information. This creates barriers for some people with dyslexia, memory issues, and other cognitive conditions.
WCAG 2.2 is expected to include a new Success Criterion 3.3.7, “Accessible Authentication,” which reads:
For each step in an authentication process that relies on a cognitive function test, at least one other authentication method is available that does not rely on a cognitive function test, or a mechanism is available to assist the user in completing the cognitive function test.
Your website can still require passwords, but you’ll need to follow the best practices of accessible authentication to ensure that the password requirement isn’t unnecessarily burdensome.
Developers should also consider accommodation users by offering authentication options. Authentication methods like Web Authentication (WebAuthn) and third-party authorization protocols like Open Authorization (OAuth) allow users to verify their identities without passwords. While these aren’t required for WCAG conformance, they may improve your on-page experience — and promote user retention.
Consider your entire audience when building your content
All web accessibility accommodations have something in common: They expand your site’s audience. According to the CDC, about 26 percent of adults in the United States have some type of disability. Optional features can ensure that your brand offers an equivalent experience for more of its users.
Of course, web accessibility is more effective (and considerably less expensive) when adopted early. By utilizing the WCAG framework, webmasters can make substantive improvements to their content, which yields benefits like higher user retention rates and better search engine positioning. To find out whether your website conforms with WCAG 2.1, get started with a free, confidential compliance summary.