As a web developer, you know the importance of writing clean code — and limiting trouble tickets as much as possible, particularly in the first stages of product development.
An inclusive approach can help you meet those goals. When you consider the needs, preferences, and expectations of users with disabilities, you can serve your content to the broadest possible group of people. Accessible design can also reduce the time you spend on remediations and help you build components that work better for all users (including those who don’t live with disabilities).
By building your knowledge of digital accessibility, you can start enjoying the benefits. Here’s how to get started.
1. Know (and use) the principles of accessibility
Web accessibility isn’t just about accommodating people who are blind or deaf. The goal is to provide a consistent experience for everyone — that includes individuals with neurocognitive differences, learning disorders, and temporary or situational disabilities.
That might seem like a tall order. Fortunately, there’s a rulebook: The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG includes four guiding principles, commonly known by the acronym POUR. To be accessible, content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
If you’ve started researching accessibility, there’s a good chance that you’ve read about the POUR principles already. However, it’s important to internalize these principles and use them in your work.
- Can users perceive the feature, even when using assistive technology (AT)?
- Can users operate the feature by using a keyboard alone?
- Am I providing enough semantic information to help users understand how the widget operates?
- Is the widget implementation robust enough to work on different types of devices?
You can learn quite a bit by reading blogs and studying WCAG, but for many developers, the best way to learn is to practice. The POUR principles provide a solid foundation for making better development decisions.
2. Read through WCAG
WCAG is a technical document, but it’s written in simple language with basic requirements called success criteria that can apply to most types of digital content. By simply reading the requirements of each criterion in the latest official version of the document (currently, WCAG 2.1), you can find ways to improve your content.
As you review WCAG 2.1, focus on why each requirement is important. The W3C’s Understanding WCAG 2.1 resource pages provides more detailed information than the official WCAG publications, including info about how each criterion may affect people with disabilities. It also includes basic suggestions for remediations.
WCAG is organized into three levels of conformance (conformance means voluntarily satisfying the requirements). Most websites should follow all Level A and Level AA criteria, so start with those guidelines.
It’s still a good idea to review Level AAA criteria and follow them when you can — the goal is to provide users with a better experience, not to earn a certain level of conformance.
3. Follow accessibility advocates
The accessibility space is filled with helpful voices, and reading practical advice can help you prioritize accessibility in your work. In addition to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s blog (the one you’re currently reading), here are a few resources geared towards different aspects of accessibility:
- Accessibility Voices, which includes blogs written by people with disabilities about their accessibility experiences.
- Ashlee M. Boyer’s Blog, written by a disabled and neurodivergent software engineer and web accessibility specialist.
- WebAIM, a non-profit organization based at Utah State University that performs the annual WebAIM Million analysis.
- Manuel Matuzovic’s blog, which focuses on accessible HTML and CSS.
Try to find resources that write specifically to your areas of interest. For example, if you work primarily with CSS — or you’d like to develop your CSS skills — start there. You can also follow advocates on social media to stay aware of major news within the accessibility space (for example, the upcoming publication of WCAG 2.2).
4. Promote accessibility from within your organization
Digital accessibility is a set of shared priorities, not a one-time task that can be assigned to an individual. While developers have unique responsibilities, so do web designers — along with content writers, managers, and every other member of your organization.
To that end, start discussions about accessibility. Advocate for the best practices and be prepared to explain why inclusive design is important (if you need help, reviewing the business case for accessibility can give you useful talking points).
Finally, remember that an accessible website is an achievable goal. WCAG’s principles are closely aligned with the best practices of web development, so you won’t need to re-learn how to write code or markup — you’ll simply build better products that work for more real-life users.