If you’re at the first stage of an accessibility initiative, you’ll probably find yourself asking a basic question: “Is my website accessible?”
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to answer that question with a simple “yes" or “no.” Even if you commit to following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and meet the highest level of conformance, your website will likely present issues for some users with disabilities.
But that doesn’t mean that digital accessibility is optional — and you can still set clear goals for your accessibility initiative.
There’s no such thing as a 100% accessible website
Websites can certainly be more or less accessible, but the reality is that disabilities affect people in profoundly different ways. No website works perfectly for everyone.
And while webmasters should make every effort to improve accessibility, some types of content have built-in issues that impact users with disabilities. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which publishes WCAG, acknowledges this reality when discussing WCAG’s highest level of conformance, Level AAA:
It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.
Even if you were able to build a website that perfectly fulfilled all of WCAG’s Level AAA success criteria, some users would run into issues. That’s the nature of digital content: A perfectly equivalent user experience isn’t always possible.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can ignore accessibility. Non-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require businesses to make their digital communications accessible, and inclusive design yields enormous business benefits.
If you care about search engine optimization (SEO), brand positioning, and user engagement, you need to think about accessibility. And while accessibility isn’t binary, you can certainly set a clear goal.
WCAG Level AA is the standard benchmark for accessible design
Websites that follow all WCAG Level A and AA success criteria are considered reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities. That generally includes people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT), along with people with low vision, neurocognitive differences, and other conditions that affect their internet usage.
WCAG Level AA conformance doesn’t mean that your website is perfect, but it’s an excellent goal. The Level A/AA standards address many of the most serious accessibility barriers that impact real users:
- Low-contrast text, which may be unreadable for people with low vision and color vision deficiencies.
- Poor keyboard accessibility, which impacts people who use a keyboard (with no mouse) to browse the internet.
- Missing alternative text (also called alt text) for images and other non-text content.
- Using color alone to convey information, which impacts people who cannot perceive color.
- Redundant or empty hyperlink text, which is especially important for screen reader users.
- Missing captions for videos, which may make content less useful for people with hearing disabilities.
When you test content against WCAG, you take a crucial step towards accessibility. After addressing Level A/AA issues, you can also review Level AAA success criteria, which can help you accommodate a greater variety of users; learn why Level AAA criteria are strict, but still worth your attention.
Start working towards a more accessible website
Unless you have an extremely simple website, “perfect accessibility" probably isn’t possible. But you can still build great content for users with disabilities — and every time you fix an accessibility issue, you’ll have the opportunity to reach more people.
To learn more about the best practices of accessible design, download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.