If you have a website, you may have heard the term “website accessibility” and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG and that your site must meet those guidelines. If you’re like other website owners, you’re confused and scared and can’t make heads or tails of what it all is and if you need it.
This article aims to help you make some sense of what to do. It won’t explore the history of accessibility. There are lots of great articles on the web about this. As we find some, we’ll link them here.
There are two main things that inspire website owners to make their site compliant. One is to avoid being sued and the other is to advance the cause of accessibility. The later is the right thing to do but the former is a motivator too.
The accessibility standards are called WCAG 2.1 and there are several different levels: A, AA, AAA. The minimum standard is WCAG 2.1 A, however it will not keep anyone from getting sued (there have been instances of people who meet the minimum still getting sued). The recommended standard is WCAG 2.1 AA and most organizations should strive for that. Here is a link to the WCAG quick reference: https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref if you want to get techie.
In terms of legality and avoiding being sued, the best bet is to strive for WCAG 2.1 AA on every single page. As told by an accessibility expert I talked to, “If you meet this level, getting a legal complaint is highly unlikely as they are looking for the easy targets. A lot of these drive-by accessibility lawsuits are run by law firms that don’t actually care about advancing the cause of accessibility and are just out to make a quick buck. They rely solely on AI-based tools and use shoddy techniques for analyzing accessibility, with little to no oversight or testing by actual experts in the space. Fortunately, lawmakers are starting to take notice and they are working to tamp down on this type of litigation without harming the (real) accessibility cases that involve people experiencing actual discrimination or harm. Sorry, this is a bit of a tangent. I am sharing this to make you aware that much like copyright trolls, there are unscrupulous law firms out there that are suing anyone and everyone hoping that a percentage of the legal threats they send out will result in a settlement. It is awful, and we hope it stops.”
Option 1. Fixing all the accessibility errors identified with an accessibility plug-in + some manual testing*.
This option is a faster, leaner, viable approach to accessibility that balances results with budget. It will result in a website that is unlikely to present someone who uses assistive technology with any significant barriers and it’s way more accessible than 95% of what’s out there. However, if the objective is to find and fix every single error no matter how small and to be 100% compliant so nothing slips through the cracks, Option 2 would be the better choice.
*Manual/User testing is used for verifying the accessibility of certain features or multi-step user journeys. It will yield a lot of useful feedback to help make a website more accessible, but it is not the same as an audit (option 2).
Option 2. 100% compliance with certification of conformance.
If the goal is to demonstrate that you are 100% conforming to 2.1 AA, this is the route you want to take. By an accessibility expert, it includes an audit, followed by fixes, followed by user testing to confirm the fixes. The audits are an exhaustive top-to-bottom analysis of one or multiple web pages to identify every single accessibility problem present and recommends specific fixes for each one. After all the errors identified in the audit are corrected, the expert will then go back and user test to verify that fixes were made. After the audit, fixes, and verification are all complete, the expert will then issue a certificate of conformance.
An expert would certify the site’s accessibility for the pages that you want verified as being accessible. You can show off the certification on the website or for download or just keep it on file.
There is no central authority that certifies accessibility. Certificates are issued by companies or individual experts that specialize in accessibility. This is done at their own risk, as they need to have the right skills, tools, and expertise to help their clients find and fix accessibility errors. The company I’ve been talking to and would most likely do the audit is a corporate member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), which is one of the major global professional organizations that focuses on accessibility.
I hope this clarifies things but please let me know if you have any questions.