Although English is the lingua franca of modern global society, not everyone understands it or feels comfortable using it all the time. With this fact in mind, developers who want to expand their user base internationally should understand the process of localization, which means adapting a website for use in other countries or regions. Localization involves many considerations: translating the text of a webpage, of course, but also adjusting for different time zones, or changing the format of dates, times, measurements, and addresses.
Just as web developers need to account for the experience of people with disabilities who visit their website, they also need to consider how to accommodate users in other countries or who speak different languages. However, localizing a website introduces some additional concerns for accessibility. To make a website accessible for all its intended users, web developers should follow extra guidelines.
Translations and Text
One of the most important (and time-consuming) parts of localization is translation from the original language to the target language(s). For your website to remain accessible after localization, you must translate any text or audio that is used for accessibility purposes, including captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions.
In addition, many websites use sign language for videos or other content. However, just as there are many different spoken languages in the world, different countries and regions have distinct versions of sign language. In this case, localization should also involve translating the original sign language into the local sign language.
There are many pieces of text that need to be translated when doing localization; some are more obvious than others, and many of the less obvious ones are important for accessibility. In addition to the page’s main text, elements such as page titles, alt attributes for images, and language attributes should all be adjusted accordingly. If the text has a simpler alternative version, then both versions should be translated.
After a website has been localized, it must go through testing to ensure that it remains functional. During the testing process, preserving the site’s accessibility should remain a key concern.
There are a few key concerns to keep in mind during localization testing:
- The website’s layout and structure should remain the same to assist people using screen readers or the keyboard to navigate.
- Language tags should identify each page’s language so that screen readers can properly read the text.
- The reading level of the website’s text should remain roughly the same to assist users with reading difficulties.
- Proper accents and characters must be used in order for screen readers to pronounce the words correctly.
Localizing technology for use in other countries often introduces unexpected consequences due to different laws and regulations. For example, U.S. technology companies that expand into the European Union must comply with strict privacy laws intended to safeguard citizens’ personal information.
The same concept, of course, holds true for accessibility laws. For example, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires U.S. federal agencies to have accessible websites. In addition, the U.S. Access Board suggests using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA criteria as a blueprint for website accessibility.
However, other countries have different laws regarding accessibility that might be more or less stringent than the U.S. laws. Developers should thoroughly investigate the applicable regulations regarding accessibility to make sure that they’re in compliance before releasing the localized website.