An accessible website means a larger audience, reduced legal exposure, and better engagement with users. The business benefits of accessibility are well established — but if you’re thinking about accessibility for the first time, you might feel (reasonably) overwhelmed.
After all, the goal of inclusive design is to create content that works for as many people as possible, not just a single group of users with disabilities. Where are you supposed to start?
Fortunately, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provides an effective framework for digital accessibility. If you’re ready to adopt WCAG and provide your users with the best possible experience, here’s what you need to know.
Understand the basic principles of accessible web design
Before you start testing your content and fixing barriers, it’s helpful to understand the foundational concepts of digital accessibility.
Per WCAG, content must POUR: It must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Every accessibility requirement falls under at least one of those principles. Read more about the four categories of accessibility.
When you incorporate those principles into your design and development processes, you can understand how each improvement will impact users. That’s key: Without that perspective, you may end up implementing accessibility “fixes" that actually make your website less accessible.
With a principle-oriented approach, you can avoid thinking of accessibility as a simple checklist — and each remediation will have a positive impact on real-life users.
Test your website for common barriers
After building your knowledge of the four principles of accessibility, you can set a goal for WCAG conformance (“conformance" means voluntarily following the guidelines). Most types of content should follow all Level A and Level AA requirements in the latest version of WCAG.
To test content against those requirements, you can perform two types of audits:
- Automated testing uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to scan your website for potential WCAG failures. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides free graded reports, which can identify many common issues such as low-contrast text and missing page titles. AudioEye’s solution goes further, testing content with every visit (and fixing some issues as the page loads).
- Manual testing is performed by accessibility experts — ideally, people who have experience with screen readers and other assistive technologies. While you can perform some accessibility tests on your own, expert testing provides the best path to digital compliance.
The best practice is to combine automated and manual testing. While automated testing is inexpensive and effective, some WCAG issues require human judgment — and automated tests may result in false positives and false negatives, which must be identified by people with accessibility training.
To learn more about the best practices for structuring web accessibility tests, read: 4 Ways to Improve Your Web Accessibility Audits.
When fixing web accessibility barriers, don’t overthink your approach
If you’ve never thought about accessibility, there’s a good chance that your website has a considerable number of WCAG violations. You’re not alone: The vast majority of websites have accessibility issues.
Fortunately, most accessibility issues can be remediated easily. WCAG suggests techniques for meeting each criterion (and our blog contains hundreds of articles with detailed guidance for conforming with WCAG Level A/AA).
Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when planning an accessibility remediation strategy:
- Start with the most serious issues. Generally, this means WCAG Level A failures — especially if those barriers are present on your home page, your checkout page, or another essential part of your website. Read: Web Accessibility Triage: Fixing Barriers That Affect the Most Users.
- Start with the issues that you can address quickly. For example, adding alternative text (alt text) to an image takes a few seconds — changing your website’s low-contrast color scheme may take more time.
- Get your entire team onboard. Accessibility cannot be assigned to a single person or team; everyone has a role to play.
- Wherever possible, use the simplest fix. For example, if you’re considering adding WAI-ARIA markup to define your website’s structure, ask whether you can use plain, old semantic HTML (POSH) instead. Simple fixes are often more reliable and robust.
For additional guidance, read: 4 Web Accessibility Remediation Mistakes to Avoid.
If you’re thinking about accessibility, you’re on the right track
Remember, accessibility is about progress, not perfection. Every time you fix an accessibility barrier, you’re improving your website for actual users — and you’ll enjoy more of the business benefits of accessibility.
For large or complex websites, an accessibility remediation project may take months. Additionally, accessibility is never “finished,” and you’ll need to consider users with disabilities when planning updates or new features.
You can speed up the process by working with a qualified accessibility partner. By taking advantage of digital accessibility training resources, manual remediation services, and third-party accessibility audits, you can work towards a long-term, self-sustainable strategy.