Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Make a list of the four principles of WCAG and Define Each in Your Own Terms
Web content should be:
- Perceivable: “Users must be able to perceive it in some way, using one or more of their senses.”
- The web contains different types of media – text, images, video, audio – and users should be able to perceive that content in some way. Often this will mean providing text-based alternatives for non-text elements, but it also means making things stand-out (e.g. don’t use white text on a white background).
- Operable: “Users must be able to control UI elements (e.g. buttons must be clickable in some way — mouse, keyboard, voice command, etc.).”
- While many users use the cursor to interact with elements on the web, there should be other ways to interact with a page. Primarily this means a keyboard alone should be enough to navigate a page. This has design implications, as the order of element selection needs to be logical and the amount of time (for page time-outs such as filling out a form) should allow for someone using a keyboard to complete the task within the time limit.
- Understandable: “The content must be understandable to its users.”
- This means that the content of a page should be human readable, and ideally free of too much jargon and abbreviations (of course there is always room to bend the rule). The website should behave as users expect and the design should help to prevent mistakes. The last two items here reflect key UX principles. It reminded me of this Core77 article, A Look at Some Wild 80s Digital Dashboards. Although they may look cool, the departure from the norm could make these cars difficult to drive at first. One of the reasons proficient drivers can jump into almost any vehicle and drive it are because of these principles of things should behave as expected, and common iconography is shared.
- Robust: “The content must be developed using well-adopted web standards that will work across different browsers, now and in the future.”
- This boils down to using the markup and semantic elements for their intended purpose and if custom elements are introduced, using the correct conventions to introduce those elements.
Consider how you could test a design to evaluate it under these criteria
Overall there are a couple of ways that come to mind, a more technical one, and a user-based one. For the technical testing, if accessibility checkers such as WAVE were not available, then using a screen reader and a tool such as WebFlow to simulate different types of vision. The tester could limit their interaction with the site to use only a keyboard. And to check for robustness, the tester could use something like browser stack to tests compatibility. For understablility, standard user testing of providing a set of tasks and observing the user attempt those tasks would suffice.
WebAIM’s WCAG 2 Checklist
How useful is this document to you as a developer?
Speaking from an instructional design perspective, the checklist is a helpful tool for sure. This is something we could use as part of the course review. However, using the list as is would not be the most efficient use of it as the current learning management system we use has a basic accessibility checker (focuses mostly on perceive). The checklist could be used in conjunction with that automated checker and serve as a job aid both at the time of course builds as well as during quality assurance testing.
Can you think of any common design practices that are bad for accessibility based on this checklist?
Some of the big ones that come to mind, particularly from a course design perspective in higher ed are not providing text alternatives for media types (from images to audio/video), and the use of colour. I come across insufficient colour combinations very regularly.
When or where should this document be consulted in the design process?
In the development of online courses, I could see this list being used at the time of content creation (usually done outside of the web platform) to flag additional items (e.g. if images are included, course authors required to provide alt text). It can be used as a job aid by the course builder, and then again by an instructional designer or reviewer to ensure at least AA standards are met. Many of the items, as I mention previously, are platform based, so we would use a streamlined version of this document.
Difference between 508, ADA, AODA and WCAG 2.0
Why is it important to create accessibility design standards?
Abdalla (2019) argues that, “The web is designed for everyone, no matter what kind of hardware or software a user might use, what their language or nationality is, where they are and what their abilities are. It should be inclusive of every type of people around us.” Creating accessibility standards is one way to approach the goal of making web content as inclusive as possible. For example, if each browser had different markup and you could not access a site because you had the wrong browser, you would not be able to participate fully in society.
Is it more important for designers or developers to understand the details of the accessibility design standards?
Abdalla (2019) does not actually address this question. However, my perspective on this is that the question itself leads us in the wrong direction. The designers and developers are meant to be working towards the same goal, and should be communicating and collaborating in a way that meets the goals of the user. For example, there are plenty of cases where I see instructional designers come up with fantastic ideas about learning activities for online classes, but practically and from an accessibility standpoint the developer suggests some alternative way to make the interaction. I also see this the other way around, where an approach may be used by the online course developer that functions, but does not take a wide range of users into consideration. This relationship is another example of we go farther if we go together.
Does understanding the accessibility standards make accessible design a greater priority?
Not so much the standards, but the purpose and use cases that informed the standards.
Research any specific accessibility policy in your region
Looking at the article I knew about AODA, but didn’t realize that Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Quebec also had provincial legislation. I was unsurprised that Saskatchewan was not listed in the article, but I did find that Saskatchewan is in the process of researching and drafting its own provincial legislation. Just last year (2021) they had a public engagement initiative a released the report. Now the government here is drafting legislation. How this is different than the Federal legislation? The Sask government explains it this way,
The Accessible Canada Act covers areas under federal jurisdiction, such as television and radio, telecommunications, air travel, banking, and interactions between the public and the Government of Canada.
Accessibility legislation for Saskatchewan will apply to areas under provincial jurisdiction, such as provincially‑owned properties, cities and towns, parks, and schools.
Compare and contrast these requirements with WCAG 2.1
The key areas defined in the initial report are:
- Service Animals
- Design of Public Spaces
- Information and Communication
- Public Sector Employment
- Public Sector Procurement
- Public Transportation
This list looks a lot like AODA from what I recall from when I took AODA training. Information and Communication included a few things, but this snippet hints that WCAG 2.1 may come into play:
We also heard that information, especially information about public services, needs to be accessible to everyone. Many participants shared ideas about how information could be more accessible, including:
- following web accessibility guidelines (steps to make websites accessible);
- using plain language; and,
- providing information in different formats (for example, braille, ASL, large print, audio and pictures).
Decide which accessibility standards you will reference
Until there is a provincial set of regulations that specifies the requirements of educational institutions, the WCAG checklist above looks like it will be the best reference to inform my work. Once the accessiblesk project states standards for this province, then we can seek to review and cover any gaps between the checklist and the newly established standards.