What Are the Four Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?

Posted on April 26, 2021 | Updated on September 24, 2021

When you think of web content accessibility guidelines, you may immediately think of people who have visual impairments. However, there are many different types of challenges your site visitors might encounter that make browsing your website difficult. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, 40.6 million Americans live with a disability. They overcome issues with hearing, cognition, vision and mobility. Ensuring your site is accessible to everyone means being aware of the different ways people access your website, such as via a reader or with voice commands. 

There are four main web content accessibility areas you can focus on to meet the guidelines and ensure all your users have equal access. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may even make it a necessity rather than an option. It’s better to get some things in place now to ensure your site is usable to all. 

What Are the ADA Requirements for Websites?

Are you trying to figure out what makes a site ADA compliant? You might think the government would make it clear what you need to do to meet guidelines, but they don’t. If your website is under Title I or Title III, you must create pages that offer reasonable accommodations for users. 

Most small businesses will fall under Title III for commercial “facilities.” There are some pretty specific guidelines for everything from text to how you handle the foreground and the background. 

Learn about the Four Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

To meet ADA guidelines, the content of your site must be POUR, which stands for “Perceivable,” “Operable,” “Understandable” and “Robust.”

1. Perceivable

Any information on your site must be comprehensible to those with disabilities. 

  • Images must offer text alternatives, such as alt-tags, so users know what is present on the page even if they can’t see it. 
  • If you have time-based features, you must have a way for them to take the time they need to peruse or click on the object. 
  • Adjust the layout as needed so it is simple enough to absorb without losing meaning. 
  • Separate the background and foreground and add enough contrast for elements to stand out. 

Put yourself in the place of someone with a visual impairment. If you were colorblind, could you read blue text on a red background? Perhaps two shades of gray isn’t the best idea. Does every image have an alt tag for those who are using readers to describe what’s on the page?

2. Operable

The interface must work in different ways in case the user can’t perform a physical function.

  • Make sure everything works via a keyboard. If the user can only access some things via a mouse, then ramp up your compliance. 
  • Add extra time so people have enough minutes to read, use and interact with content. 
  • Avoid colors and features that might trigger seizures. No flashing lights.  
  • Offer additional ways to navigate your site, such as via voice command or multiple links and search functionality.

People visiting your site might have physical disabilities that keep them from using a mouse with ease. Plan for multiple ways to move through your site. 

3. Understandable

There is an old rule of thumb in newspaper writing that the average person comprehends at a sixth grade level. While that isn’t true of everyone who visits your website, if you always strive to keep things simple enough for a 12-year-old student, you’ll make sure most of your audience gets what you’re saying. 

  • Make sure people can easily read your text. Does it convert well to different screen sizes? Is there enough contest between the background and letters?
  • Create your website based on common usage. Don’t try to make your navigation work differently than the millions of other websites out there. Go with what is predictable and familiar. 
  • Use predictive text to save time and autocorrect to fix common mistakes.

A few of those visiting your site may suffer from traumatic brain injuries or learning disabilities. Make sure you keep things as straightforward as possible, so everyone benefits from the information. 

4. Robust

Take the initiative to learn what types of assistive technology is available. Look at future tech trends and try to stay up to date with what’s current.

  • Voice search technology is used by both people with disabilities and those without. According to Statista, around 75% of homes in the United States will own a smart speaker by 2025. 
  • Test readers to see how they work. Try them out on your website to see if you forgot alt tags or any other elements.
  • Team up with an other-abled person to find out how you can improve. Seek brand ambassadors with various disabilities and strive to improve your site to their needs.

Following these four pillars will help ensure you’re as compliant as possible. More importantly, your site visitors with a disability will be able to easily use your site.

Test Your Compliance

You may think you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. However, there are miniscule elements that might escape your notice. Take the time to run your site through a free compliance checker and see how it stacks up.

If your website runs on WordPress, there are apps you can install that notify you if anything becomes inaccessible or needs adjustments. Test everything multiple times and get as much feedback as possible.

Why You Should Care About Web Content Accessibility

Perhaps most of your site visitors don’t have a disability and this all sounds like a lot of extra work. However, ensuring your site will work for even the handful of leads who need the extra effort is the right thing to do. Not only will you comply with federal regulations, but you’ll gain the goodwill of the family and friends of those with disabilities. 

Take the time to focus on the four pillars of an accessible site and you’ll also create pages that work well for everyone. As more people use smartphones and speakers to access websites, you’ll be ready for any shift and new technology as it emerges.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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