Every website needs an accessibility statement. It’s one of the first things that many assistive technology (AT) users look for when browsing a new site — and it’s a great way to showcase your efforts to create inclusive content.
However, accessibility statements must be written in plain language. The purpose of the statement is to identify known barriers, tell people what steps you’re taking to fix them, and provide contact information for reporting new issues.
If you’ve taken steps to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), you should tell your audience. However, you should also provide additional context: Many people don’t understand what WCAG is, why it’s important, or what “WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformant" actually means.
Before talking about WCAG, explain what it means
Imagine that you’re browsing a website for the first time. You don’t know much about digital accessibility, but you use assistive technology, and you want to make sure that the website will work with your software.
You click on the accessibility statement, and you’re presented with this text:
WCAG 2.1 AA conformant, with exceptions for third-party content.
If you’re not familiar with WCAG, that sentence doesn’t make much sense. A better practice is to provide a quick description of the guidelines, including the full text of the acronym.
Here’s an example:
[Organization] is committed to making its website usable by all people, including those with disabilities by meeting or exceeding the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 Level A/AA (WCAG 2.1 A/AA). We strive in making our site an equal playing field for everyone.
By explaining what WCAG is — without getting too descriptive — the user can understand that accessibility is a priority. They can easily find more information about WCAG.
From here, you should also include additional information that might help your audience:
- Explain how you test your content. If you’re working with an accessibility partner, identify them.
- Explain that accessibility is an ongoing priority. If your website has barriers that haven’t been remediated, identify those barriers.
- Provide contact information for reporting issues. Wherever possible, provide multiple contact options.
- Identify any third-party widgets and applications used by your website that may not be accessible.
It’s also important to remember that some organizations (especially government agencies) may need to follow specific formats when publishing accessibility statements. The best practice is to work with an accessibility partner when developing the content.
Should I make a WCAG conformance claim?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes WCAG, does not require conformance claims. You can include a conformance claim, but if you haven’t thoroughly tested your content, you should not do so.
If you decide to make a conformance claim, the W3C requires that you include the following information:
- The date of the claim.
- The guidelines title, version, and URI (Uniform Resource Identifier). For example: "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 at https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/"
- The conformance level satisfied (Level A, AA, or AAA).
- A concise description of the web pages that conform.
If you’re still working on making improvements, claiming conformance might frustrate some users. Even if you’ve tested your content, a conformance claim may be too much information.
The best practice is to keep your accessibility statement as simple as possible. Remember, you’re writing for real people. Most readers are concerned with the user experience, not your level of conformance.
Accessibility statements must be accurate to be useful
If your website doesn’t have an accessibility statement, that’s a problem. However, if it has an inaccurate or misleading accessibility statement, that’s a much bigger issue.
For that reason, we strongly recommend working with an accessibility partner. At BOIA, we help our clients create long-term, self-sufficient strategies for digital compliance, which includes the development of accessibility statements.
When you broadcast your commitment to inclusive design, your audience listens. Brands that support their accessibility statements with clear actions can reach more people — and provide each user with an engaging online experience.