Section 508, ADA compliance, WCAG, WAI-ARIA are technical standards that are mentioned in the web and digital space. What do they mean and why do they matter? Let me start with why they matter. There are one billion people in the world with disabilities. Let me repeat that – billion with a b. These disabilities range from visual which means a person maybe blind or with severely limited eyesight that restricts them from viewing website images and therefore require alternate text descriptions to fully comprehend the site. A hearing disability refers to people who are deaf, or hard of hearing and require captioning for video presentations and visual indicators as opposed to audio cues. People with motor disabilities may need alternative keyboards or additional adaptive hardware to help them type and navigate on their electronic devices. Lastly, cognitive disabilities can refer to any number of cerebral limitations that may hinder the understanding of a website.
The solution for accommodating cognitive disabilities is to ensure an uncluttered screen, consistent navigation and the use of plain language to confirm understanding and engagement with the content. When we take time to pause and understand various disabilities, we embark on the first step towards making the digital world more accessible for all. This becomes even more significant when we see national and global movements geared towards accessibility and inclusivity.
Moving onto what these standards actually mean, which is actually quite simple. There are a number of laws, regulations, and industry standards created that not only safeguard accessibility of digital content but mandate it so that there is no unfair advantage given to abled people over the disabled. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) develops web accessibility standards for different components:
Websites have to increasingly govern their content to ensure it follows required guidelines. These practices allow equal access for all, which leads to inclusivity. We have to make a conscious effort to ensure our digital content is accessible for everyone and that starts with questioning our own content. We must learn to be critical and look for issues which may or may not be apparent. Doing so opens our eyes to a whole set of improvements we can make.
In addition to self-introspective, there are multiple free and paid tools that offer accessibility testing. One simple Google search yields 1,570,000,000 results, which shows accessibility is truly a momentous concept. It also means there are a lot of paths one can take and this is a journey towards continuously improving and enhancing your digital content. It also means you must always be willing to learn, adjust, and improve to achieve a truly inclusive design.