The internet's ability to connect people of different backgrounds and abilities with information and services makes web accessibility crucial for all organizations. This includes federal procurement bodies, which subscribe to web accessibility and technology standards when opening the public purse.
The latest Internet and Communication Technology refresh implements the latest standards for web accessibility as outlined in WCAG 2.0. Upgrading websites to these standards ensures that organizations don't miss out on the opportunity to communicate with as many people as possible, regardless of their abilities.
Origin of the ICT Refresh
Representatives from disability, government, and industry groups convened to update Section 508 standards and Section 255 guidelines, which determine federal procuring decisions involving these three stakeholder associations. The common goal revolves around setting accessibility standards that reflect modern technology and communication standards. This latest refresh — guided by the U.S., the European Commission, Japan, Australia, and Canada — updates the Section 508 standards implemented in 2000.
These standards covered electronics and IT, including computer hardware and software, office machines, info kiosks, websites, electronic documentation, telecommunications, and other federally required goods. The Web Accessibility Initiative's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) served as the consensus that these countries strived for in the refresh, specifically, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Deliberations started in April 2008, involving 41 members of TEITAC, an advisory committee for various industry and public stakeholders.
A pair of drafts for the refresh were made public and open to comments in 2010 and 2011, noting the current ICT changes and feedback from the general public. Published on January 18, 2017, these new rules went into effect on March 21, 2017.
Web Accessibility and Visual Content
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines, which represent a voluntary consensus among international groups, replaced and expanded upon the first set of guidelines published. Accessible web content represents the focus of these guidelines, which outline reasonable accommodations for people with a wide range of challenges. WCAG 2.0 aims to make online content accessible to those with:
- Deafness and loss of auditory capacity
- Limited visual acuity and blindness
- Cognitive medical conditions
- Learning disabilities
- Speech disabilities
- Movement-based limitations
- Other types of disabilities which impede content consumption
Visual design often takes front and center with accessibility issues. For example, poor contrast between foreground and background, or a color scheme that renders info invisible to the color-blind, will fare extremely poorly on accessibility tests. Flashy designs — especially those with strobes and wild alternating colors — might grab the attention of most visitors. However, some could experience extremely negative repercussions, such as seizures, when exposed to web pages that don't meet WCAG 2.0 standards.
Usability combines visual design with user experience best practices to provide clear, concise design, which helps all users move on to their desired destination. Avoid distracting obstacles and present multiple ways to navigate the page, without losing vital information or functionality. Visitors should not feel rushed; they should have plenty of time to consume the content presented. Site navigation and any fields or forms should be completely accessible by keyboard, helping those who might have movement restrictions.
One of the most notable changes for the refresh involves the use of closed captioning for live digital media. In particular, the guidelines demand real-time transmission of text during a two-way voice conversation over the internet. Compliance with the new standards might be more complex than expected, potentially requiring a collaboration with web accessibility experts, including a detailed ADA audit, to meet federal guidelines.
Connect with the Widest Possible Audience
Other than complying with federal procurement standards, upgrading websites to meet WCAG 2.0 standards ensures that businesses and organizations reach out and communicate well with as many visitors as possible. Visual, audio and mobility impediments shouldn't be a barrier to understanding. Instead, fully accessible websites should bridge communication gaps for all audience members.