There are more than one billion people across the world living with some form of disability or impairment. With the wide adoption of web and mobile apps for almost every daily task, they depend on accessible design, devices, and services to interact with the world.
May 20 was Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), marking the tenth year of the campaign to bring awareness and attention to digital access and inclusion for people living with disabilities.
Accessible design is part of the core of our design and development process. “With many of our larger clients located in Ontario, we have a deep understanding of the requirements for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.” explains Attila Schmidt, BitBakery’s Director of Design. “Those requirements are just a starting point for our team – we work to ensure that all users, disabled or abled, have a best-in-class experience when using the web or mobile applications we work on.”
Web accessibility isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the law in Ontario with The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). There are straightforward guidelines for what businesses need to do to make their websites and content accessible. Not where to start? Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know about website accessibility so your website is usable by everyone.
Almost every business in Ontario must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Any business with one or more employees in Ontario needs to meet the WCAG standards if your business provides goods, services, or facilities to the public.
- If you’re building a website for a public sector organization or government entity, you’ll need to meet these standards too.
It’s not just meeting the standards, it’s communicating them too
- You need to create and maintain your accessibility policy and plan and make it publicly available on the website.
- Accessibility doesn’t stop at the end of the page. You’ll need to provide training to employees, volunteers, and those who provide goods and services on behalf of the organization.
- All of the website’s feedback and support processes must be made accessible.
- You need to notify the public of available accessible formats.
- Your accessibility policy must have a response time component.
There are three different levels, here’s how they’re applied
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA are the technical standards for web compliance – and there’s three levels you need to know.
- Level A - this is for newly created or refreshed website content. It’s the bare minimum with 25 requirements that must be met. Doing this will make your website more accessible that most of the content on the web today.
- Level AA - this is the standard most developers are working to meet – and the one that our team focuses on. The big difference between A and AA is in how strict the requirements are. Colour is a great example. In Level A, you cannot have text that says “Click the red button to cancel”. In Level AA, you need to ensure that the Level A colour requirements are met and that color contrast requirements to ensure readability are met too.
- Here’s a great WCAG 2.0 AA checklist to get an understanding of what you’ll need to do.
- In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has its own set of guidelines. You can learn more about them here.
Not all your content needs to meet the requirements (but it’d be great if it did)
- Any websites or web content, web application, text, images, forms, or sounds that you own must meet the requirements.
- If you don’t own the content or it’s hosted by a third party, it doesn’t need to meet the requirement.
- Any content posted before 2012 doesn’t need to be modified.
How do I make sure my website meets the standards?
There are a number of ways to know if your new or refreshed website is accessible:
- Try automatic assessment and assistive technology.
- Ask people with disabilities to test your new or refreshed site before you launch for optimal user testing and feedback .
- Use an online accessibility checker like AChecker or the Accessible Usability Scale.
We believe that creating accessible design does more than open your business up to new ways of thinking. When you put accessibility first, you gain a deeper understanding of design principles and the reasons behind them. Ultimately this makes better products because you're designing with everyone's needs in mind.
Our accessible design process includes testing – but much of that is automated testing. How do you know if real-world users with disabilities or impairments will be able to use what you’ve designed? At BitBakery we compliment our automated testing with human input.
One firm that provides human testing and verification is Fable, a leading accessibility testing platform powered by people with disabilities. We had the opportunity to speak with Samuel Proulx, Accessibility Evangelist at Fable. Proulx says that accessible design includes building an accessible mindset into the development process.
Design should start with inclusivity in mind.
As a blind individual since birth, Proulx knows and values the importance of accessibility in all aspects of life. He has been an advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the digital world for years and has actively worked to build communities for these groups, starting with building connections and sharing stories on the Reddit community as a teen.
Now at Fable, Proulx brings his life experience, plus his previous experience as Community Manager to his current role as Fable's Accessibility Evangelist. Here, Proulx continues to foster the community of accessibility testers working with digitals teams and engages with the ecosystem and communities on how we can advance accessibility in the tech industry.
From his life-long experience, Proulx can affirm that digital accessibility isn't a quick fix, such as adding descriptions to images. It needs to be an ongoing initiative in your organization. "This mindset is short-sighted," said Proulx. "Working with people with disabilities is important for more than just user experience. If you start testing during the prototyping stage when decisions are being made, you can figure out whether your design is accessible in the first place. This helps you find problems before it's too late."
It's critical to focus on accessibility beyond avoiding getting in trouble with various laws. You need to change your mindset from accessibility being another item on a checklist to including accessibility in the whole development process.
Diverse voices make for a more inclusive, flexible, adaptive, and high-quality end product without the stress of scrambling to retrofit your product at the end of your development cycle.
Not only that, creating accessible designs and testing from day one means that you can expand your potential market and improve your business. Accessible websites have better search results, reach a larger audience, are SEO friendly, have faster download times, encourage good coding practices, and always have better usability.
Accessibility makes things better for everyone, not just a small minority.
"Too often when we think about accessibility, we think we're making a change for a tiny minority," said Proulx. "The reality is, it's 15% of the population. It's aging populations and it could be you someday – many people will experience disability at one point in their lives."
For people who don't experience daily life with a disability, accessibility is something we take for granted. But it's something Prolux says we benefit from every day.
For example, captions help sighted people understand images or watch a video in a loud environment. Alt text lets blind users know what pictures are on your site, and it optimizes SEO. Using high-contrast colors for foregrounds and backgrounds benefits users with visual impairments and also assists others without them needing to squint or experience eye fatigue. Voice recognition allows you to send a quick text while on the road.
Dark mode on your phone? Accessibility tool.
Audiobooks? You guessed it, accessibility.
Accessible design supports social inclusion for people with disabilities and improves overall user experience and satisfaction in various situations across different devices.
Better awareness and resources lead to better accessibility.
"There are people who have not interacted with anyone with a disability," said Proulx. "There is still a lack of awareness around accessibility."
Many digital teams aren't adequately informed and trained on the techniques required to address accessibility in their roles. This lack of awareness on top of a lack of resources leads to insufficient testing tools. The lack of understanding can impede the identification of real issues for users with disabilities.
Prolux said not to get discouraged. "With any journey and any process, there are multiple tools that are necessary to get the job done," added Proulx. "Any start is a good start."
Simple steps, such as automated testing, can help catch 20-25% of accessibility issues. But these are ones bound by yes or no conditions.
To fully assess accessibility, there must be an expert capable of manually processing whether specific success criteria are met, going much deeper to test critical areas and capabilities that automated tools cannot assess.
Not sure where to start? Fable has you covered.
Growing up, Proulx always had the support of his father, who was also blind and worked for IBM. Proulx has experienced new waves in accessibility improvements and is working to create new community spaces for people with disabilities. When the opportunity to become Fable's first hire came in 2018, it was the perfect fit.
Fable works to move organizations from worrying about compliance to building exceptional, accessible user experiences. Using a community-powered testing platform driven by people with disabilities, Fable helps solve the pain points on both ends. They advocate for people with disabilities who need flexible employment and support companies that need rapid accessibility testing to recruit real-life individuals experiencing disability to get feedback in days.
Worried about where you stand with accessibility? Fable offers a free Accessible Usability Scale (AUS) tool to measure the usability of a digital product for assistive technology users. The tool consists of ten questions administered at the end of a user experience to calculate a score. You can also schedule a one-on-one call with an expert to talk about compliance and building an exceptional user experience. "With the right principles behind you, they will carry forward, it's never a step back in the world of accessibility and it's never too late to start," Proulx said.
As designers, it is our responsibility to champion accessibility. By focusing on inclusive design, we can make technology usable to all people regardless of their abilities, economic situation, age, education, or geographic location. Accessibility is for everyone – design responsibly!