If you own or operate a business, odds are you’ve taken steps to ensure that your physical spaces – like offices and storefronts – are accessible to those with disabilities. As modern businesses continue to evolve, however, it’s important to work just as diligently to improve the accessibility of virtual spaces like websites, video chats and social media pages.
Several web accessibility guidelines lay out key principles and strategies for ensuring the accessibility of web content and digital media. To meet such requirements and continue supporting community members’ diverse needs, business leaders must familiarize themselves with all of these web accessibility standards. Let’s explore some of the major rules and regulations governing online accessibility and explore some of the steps business leaders can take to make their digital content and virtual communications more accessible to all.
Web accessibility: An introduction
The concept of web accessibility is constantly evolving with new developments in technology. On a basic level, “web accessibility” refers to the concept of designing and developing online spaces and tools by prioritizing equal use and access for individuals of all backgrounds and abilities.
Web accessibility standards and guidelines outline how businesses, institutions and other organizations can offer equitable online experiences to those with disabilities and specific learning needs. As more and more businesses have scaled up their online presence in recent years, the importance of web accessibility has become more apparent. As a result, consumers now expect certain accommodations for online experiences. Properly implementing accessibility standards can help businesses cultivate more inclusivity and offer a more engaging user experience.
Understanding web accessibility
There are four key principles of web accessibility that business leaders should keep in mind when developing their accessibility initiatives. The major tenets of web accessibility dictate that online spaces should be:
- Perceivable – Information is presented to users in ways they can easily perceive
- Operable – User interfaces can be easily navigated and operated by all users
- Understandable – All online information is easy to understand, and instructions are provided for the proper use of all user interfaces
- Robust – Content is presented clearly enough so that it can be properly interpreted by individuals and assistive technologies
Remembering this acronym (P.O.U.R) during web development and content creation can help business leaders more effectively support the diverse needs of their employees and client bases. Those with disabilities aren’t the only people who can appreciate the benefits of web accessibility – everyone can benefit from these standards and guidelines as they help make information more accurate, engaging and inclusive.
Web accessibility standards and guidelines
Businesses and institutions across various industries are subject to different requirements when it comes to online accessibility. Let’s take a closer look at each of the major sets of web accessibility standards and guidelines:
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are a subset of accessibility requirements published by the Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. The WCAG outlines requirements for accessible web design and focuses primarily on the P.O.U.R. concepts outlined above. These guidelines pertain to web content design for all kinds of digital devices, including mobile phones and tablets. The newest version of the WCAG (WCAG 2.2) is currently in development and likely will come out sometime in 2023.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is a piece of federal legislation that requires federal agencies to ensure their information and communication technology is accessible to individuals with disabilities. This guidance applies to internal and external agency communications and requires that all employees and members of the public can access information.
The Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (ARIA) is a web accessibility initiative outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium. The WAI-ARIA addresses improvements to the accessibility of dynamic content and certain online user interfaces. Some HTML content is not sufficiently accessible to those with disabilities because its controls are incompatible with screen readers. Users can’t navigate this content without a mouse or other pointing device. The WAI-ARIA outlines how to add certain semantics and metadata to HTML pages to make them more easily navigable by assistive technologies.
Implementing web accessibility standards
Many tools and resources are available to web developers looking to make their online content and experiences more accessible to all. Here are a few different approaches to improving web accessibility:
Focus on accessible design
Accessibility often starts with design. Things like poor color contrast or over-dependence upon color alone can make digital content hard to read for individuals who are blind and color blind, as well as those with other vision and eye disorders. Unfortunately, screen readers don’t typically convey the color of a website’s text to a user. As a result, color-coded information (such as red text that highlights important information) is not sufficiently accessible to screen-reader users.
Similarly, it’s important to include alternative text on web pages to allow users who are blind or low-vision to engage equitably with visual content like images and charts. Alternative text provides critical context for these visual components and is accessible to screen reader users.
Implement testing and evaluation
Implementing testing and evaluation processes is the best way to ensure that your website is functioning properly. Business leaders can invest in testing services like user testing that rely upon actual hands-on site usage to identify gaps in their web accessibility. There are also several online web accessibility evaluation tools available that can help web developers determine whether their web online offerings are sufficiently accessible.
Create accessible content
Digital content is one of modern business leaders’ most valuable marketing and communication resources. Audio and video content are helping brands expand their reach and boost engagement. However, these types of content are not always accessible to audience members with disabilities.
Adding closed captions to video content is one way to ensure that all viewers can engage equitably with a video’s messaging. However, it’s important to understand that all captions must achieve exceptionally high accuracy rates to adequately support accessibility standards and guidelines. Similarly, audio descriptions on video content support audience members who are blind or low-vision because audio description tracks provide an auditory narration of key visual components of an online video.
Creators can maximize the value and improve the accessibility of their audio content by offering written transcripts of these recordings. Businesses can also partner with a professional captioning and transcription provider like Verbit to produce real-time transcripts of live communications via online platforms like Zoom.
Benefits and impact of web accessibility standards
Everyone stands to benefit from the implementation of web accessibility standards and guidelines. Designing and developing accessible interfaces and content offerings can help build public confidence in a business or brand and offer more positive and engaging user experiences.
Web accessibility standards are about more than mere legal compliance. They also help organizations and institutions foster inclusivity and embrace diversity. Proactively providing users with access to assistive technologies like captioning and transcription can help to support community members with a wide range of disabilities and specific learning needs and contribute to the development of more inclusive online environments.
Assistive technology solutions can also help brands expand their reach and boost audience engagement in several ways. First and foremost, making content more accessible enables more audience members to participate meaningfully. Additionally, converting audio and video content to text in the form of captions or transcripts can positively impact search engine optimization and make the content discoverable by a wider audience.
Fostering accessibility with strategic partners
It’s hard to overstate the importance of online accessibility and the proper implementation of web accessibility standards and guidelines. With so many brands embracing technology and developing new ways of conducting business, it’s perhaps more important than ever to invest in the accessibility of online spaces and materials.
Verbit offers a full suite of assistive technology solutions like captioning, transcription and audio description that support critical accessibility guidelines while fostering the development of more inclusive online experiences. With Verbit’s captions and transcripts, it’s possible to achieve high accuracy rates on various communication and content offerings. For more information about improving web accessibility with captioning and transcription or to learn more about the potential uses of Verbit’s assistive technologies, reach out today to speak to a member of our team.