Whether you’re a designer, developer, or content creator, you have a responsibility to think about accessibility.
However, even if you read through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and make a firm commitment to users with disabilities, you’ll probably make mistakes or encounter issues that you can’t solve right away.
That’s okay — in fact, it’s a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.
The goal of web accessibility is to improve experiences for as many users as possible. That includes people with vision disabilities, hearing disabilities, cognitive differences, memory disabilities, and temporary or situational disabilities — and those conditions can affect each user in profoundly different ways.
Every once in a while, it’s important to check your expectations. “Perfect" web accessibility doesn’t exist, and if you’re making progress, you’re on the right track.
Accessibility doesn’t have an expiration date
Let’s say that you operate a large eCommerce website. You’ve built your website over the past 20 years, and you learned about web accessibility last week.
You decide to make your content fully conformant with WCAG by the end of next month. That means adding alternative text to hundreds of thousands of images and completely reworking your checkout process. You’ll need to revamp your animations, add captions to videos, and write transcripts.
Does that sound achievable?
Probably not. Most businesses cannot throw all of their resources behind an accessibility initiative, and that’s rarely a productive goal: Accessibility must be a part of your process, not a project with a defined lead time.
Building for accessibility consumes much fewer resources than a massive remediation project. More importantly, it leads to better outcomes for actual users.
Realistic goals help you create better content
If you take a simple compliance-based approach, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Anything short of full WCAG conformance will be considered a failure.
And instead of thinking carefully about each barrier, your team will be rushing to find quick fixes, which may harm the user experience. For example, removing all of your videos will technically fulfill WCAG Success Criterion (SC) 1.2.2, “Captions (Prerecorded).” If you have no videos, you don’t need captions.
But by removing the videos, you’re making your website less useful — and since some users prefer multimedia to text, you’re also making your content less accessible overall.
Gradually adding captions to your videos is a much better approach. Creating a new policy that requires captions is even better, and helps you avoid the cost of future remediations.
Some accessibility barriers can be addressed in multiple ways — and there’s no perfect solution
WCAG is the international standard for accessibility, but it’s written to apply to different types of digital content. As a result, it relies heavily on the reader’s judgment.
You’ll need to interpret the guidelines to figure out how they apply to your website. For example:
- WCAG requires descriptive link text, but you’ll need to decide whether users can understand the purpose of a hyperlink by reading the link text alone.
- WCAG requires a “mechanism" to pause content that moves, scrolls, or blinks for more than five seconds. You might implement that mechanism with a pause button, keyboard controls, or by limiting long animations — all of those techniques would fulfill the requirements.
- Many success criteria have exceptions for “essential" functionality. You’ll need to determine what qualifies as “essential,” which isn’t always easy.
To make your website more accessible, you’ll need to make dozens of judgment calls. You’ll also need to compromise; at a certain point, spending too much time on a certain issue might prevent you from fixing other barriers.
And while most people would love to browse a website that delivers a perfect experience, it’s far more important that websites function predictably. For most users, “good enough" is okay — but “broken" is unacceptable.
Accessibility can be difficult, and motivation is important
In those articles, we focus on mindsets. When your team understands the importance of inclusive design, accessibility becomes second nature. Rather than worrying about deadlines, your team can focus on how real people interact with your content.
That’s a more sustainable approach, and it’s far more effective. An accessibility partner can help you build a balanced, long-term strategy that treats users with disabilities as valued members of your audience.