All About A11Y: Understanding Online Accessibility

By: Verbit Editorial

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When you think about accessibility, what comes to mind? In public spaces, we often encounter physical tools, resources and accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Wheelchair ramps at business entrances, captioning devices at public performances and braille lettering on physical signage are all common examples of these kinds of accommodations.  

These accessibility tools are inarguably critical for offering equitable experiences for those with disabilities. However, the need for accommodations extends beyond physical spaces. Current estimates suggest that the average person spends roughly 40% of their waking time online. Statistics like this show that the internet has become one of the most popular public spaces for the global population to visit. As a result, it stands to reason that accessibility initiatives must extend to virtual spaces as well as physical ones. With all of this in mind, online accessibility – sometimes referred to as A11Y – is becoming one of the most important considerations for businesses, brands and content creators looking to make a global impact.  

What Does A11Y Mean?

A11Y is a numeronym for the word “accessibility.” The number 11 in the middle of the abbreviation is used to represent the number of letters omitted from the word between the letters A and Y. Individuals use this numeronym almost exclusively when discussing accessibility in online forums. A11Y doesn’t generally refer to in-person accessibility, and people don’t use it for official documents or correspondence. It is essentially a convenient shorthand for individuals who regularly discuss web accessibility via online platforms. 

What is A11Y Compliance?

There are a few different sets of standards and guidelines that govern A11Y (accessibility). The standards you’re most likely to encounter when discussing web accessibility are Section 508, WCAG, and the ADA. Here is a closer look at the expectations that each of these standards creates for A11Y compliance. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The ADA applies to just about everything from work environments to public places to online spaces.

The ADA requires that businesses offer reasonable accommodations for both employees and customers with disabilities. As more and more businesses offer remote and hybrid work arrangements, it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to consider the kinds of accommodations necessary to adhere to the ADA even when working via virtual platforms. However, the ADA doesn’t spell out specific guidelines for A11Y, meaning business leaders will want to pay close attention to other pertinent accessibility standards. Doing so is the only way to ensure they’re offering all of the necessary accommodations and resources.  

Section 508

The term Section 508 refers specifically to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 508 establishes clear guidelines for federal agencies when it comes to digital A11Y. Essentially, it mandates that federal agencies take steps to ensure that the technology, websites and virtual platforms they use on a regular basis are accessible. 

In order to comply with Section 508, federal agencies must provide accommodations for both internal and external communications. This requirement means that agencies must prioritize the accessibility of their websites and other information they share with the public. Some steps that agencies might take include alt-text descriptions of images that appear in informational PDFs or providing accurate closed captions of any training videos.  

WCAG

Perhaps the most commonly referenced set of A11Y guidelines is established in the WCAG. The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a voluntary set of online accessibility standards that the World Wide Web Consortium created. The global community has long embraced these standards as a blueprint for providing equitable online experiences for those with disabilities.  

The WCAG sets forth an A11Y checklist based on four key principles. The WCAG says that in order for a product or platform to be accessible, it must be:  

  • Perceivable: Online information must be perceivable by people of all abilities. This might require accommodations like alt-text, audio description or transcripts of video or audio content.  
  • Operable: User interfaces and navigation must be operable and functional for all. This means that users must be able to use assistive devices to navigate online platforms, for example.  
  • Understandable: Interfaces and platforms must be easy to use and understand. This often means avoiding unnecessary pop-ups, clearly labeling specific elements like search bars and including explanations or external links for uncommon terms or concepts.  
  • Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a variety of users, as well as assistive technologies. This may require that webpages are coded specifically so as to avoid display errors on common assistive devices.

Verbit’s Dedication to A11Y

Verbit recognizes that the changing landscape of digital media is creating a growing need for effective, reliable accessibility tools. Partnering with Verbit means gaining access to a platform that supports critical accessibility guidelines. Taking this step demonstrates a dedication to providing equitable experiences. 

Verbit offers a wide range of assistive technologies like captioning, transcription, translation and audio description that can help creators, businesses and brands scale up their accessibility initiatives without compromising on accuracy or cost efficiency. Reach out to learn more about how Verbit’s solutions can help foster more inclusive environments both on and offline.