Did you know approximately 3.8 million working aged Canadians (15-64) are self-identified as disabled The Canadian Survey on Disability? That’s almost 14% of the Canadian population! Whether you are updating your company’s site, or having an online tool designed and built for the public to use, it is important to be familiar with common accessibility issues and concepts related to website accessibility.
The following 10 terms will help you better understand the domain of accessibility.
Alternative content is provided for users who may not be able to access all the content in your site. Visually impaired users can benefit from text descriptions of icons, illustrations and graphs. Hearing impaired users can benefit from on screen captions during video play, or downloadable transcripts. Providing alternative content on your website plays an important role in removing barriers for people with a disability.
80% of people with a disability use some form of assistive technology The Canadian Survey on Disability. Assistive technology includes devices built to communicate, improve mobility, and assist in rehabilitation. In many cases, the devices have been adapted, or specifically designed for, computer use. Screen readers, such as JAWS, are the most common assistive technology, and there are a number of others, too. Headband users, for example, are able to press the keys of a standard keyboard using only head movements. Voice recognition software allows users to interact with the computer using spoken commands.
A screen reader is an assistive technology that reads the content of a computer screen out loud. It’s important to remember that most users are not completely blind, so a website should expect a range of visual impairment from low vision, to total blindness. A website can be made accessible to screen readers by following common accessibility standards, including WCAG 2.0 (see below for more on WCAG). The two most common examples of screen readers are JAWS (Job Access with Speech), and NVDA (Non Visual Desktop Access).
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of principles for ensuring web content accessibility. These standards are maintained internationally for meeting the accessibility needs of people with a disability located anywhere across the world. According to Ontario law, WCAG 2.0 is currently being phased into organizations’ digital presences.
Currently, any new website or web content from public sector organizations, business and non-profit organizations, with a staff of 50 or more, must conform to WCAG 2.0 level A. And by 2021, all content on public sites posted after January 1, 2012 must conform to WCAG 2.0 level AA Government of Ontario.
Bypass links allow people with a disability to skip certain navigation links that may reappear on multiple pages of a web site. The option to skip is particularly helpful for screen reader users, as these readers would read out the same set of links on every page, which may be a cumbersome experience.
How readable is the colour combination of, for example, text and the background colour it is displayed on? Colour contrast refers to the technique of maintaining a contrast ratio between the foreground colour and the background colour of online elements. The foreground needs to be populated by text and figures that are more easily read when there is a high contrast against the background. Colour contrast is an accessibility standard required by WCAG for persons with a disability, and there are a number of colour contrast ratio calculators online to help you determine this.
A keyboard trap is the inability to move beyond a section of a page using only keyboard control. The most common areas of concern are pop up content and widgets separate from the main content. According to WCAG accessibility standards, all sections of a website should be compatible with keyboard control.
Visible focus is the highlighted sections of a web page where the user has focus at any given browsing moment. You will commonly see a focus state, like a coloured outline, around links, input boxes, buttons, navigation, etc. This is important for people with a disability who are using keyboard controls and do not have a mouse cursor to guide them. Visually impaired users may also benefit from the visible focus that helps them locate their position on a web page.
Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) enables screen readers and other assistive technology to access sections of a website that are not coded using HTML. Assistive technology, like JAWS, can only read HTML code, so without ARIA, they would have trouble accessing elements coded using JavaScipt or Ajax. ARIA will assign roles, states and properties to these user interface elements and then translates this information to the assistive technologies. This translation of symbols and images into words, enhances the accessibility of the website without hindering operational efficiency.
Off-screen text is accessible to assistive technology such as screen readers, but cannot be seen on screen. It provides alternative text that describes visuals like illustrations, graphs or other on-screen content that would otherwise be confusing, or completely inaccessible, to a visually impaired user. Off screen text can be used to announce real time content changes as a user inputs info.
The above terms can either be used as a way to get you started on thinking about accessibility, or simply as a refresher on the key basics of accessibility. Accessibility is an important part of any digital experience to make sure all your customers and potential customers are included.