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Web Accessibility, ADA, WCAG, Section 508, POUR, Level A, Level AA, Level AAA
An Introduction to Web Accessibility: ADA, WCAG and Section 508

We often tell our clients, if your website is not accessible, then it is not usable.  All too often, we see websites that aesthetically look great, but are not accessible, and thus are not usable by users of all abilities and backgrounds.

Before getting into how to make your website accessible, it’s important to understand the various accessibility guidelines and levels of compliance.

Accessibility Guidelines

There are three general guidelines that advise on making technology accessible to people with disabilities.  Disabilities can include vision impairment such as low-vision or color blindness, deaf or hard of hearing, mental health conditions and physical disabilities.  These three guidelines are:

  1. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA is a civil rights act that requires organizations to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.  The ADA does not explicitly require websites to be accessible, and it oftens falls to courts to determine how ADA guidelines fall to websites.

  2. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  WCAG is developed by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in partnership with several individuals around the world, and serves to provide a shared standard for web accessibility that meets the needs of users of all abilities.  WCAG advises how to make website content more accessible, including text, images, sounds and even the code that defines the structure of the website. At the time of this post, WCAG is at version 2.1 which was published on June 5th, 2018.

  3. Section 508 is a federal government-wide IT accessibility program.  It requires all electronic and information technology that is developed or used by the federal government to be accessible for users of all abilities.  

The Differences

In a nutshell, the simplest way to interpret the three guidelines are:

  • The ADA requires reasonable accommodations be made for people with disabilities, including at movie theatres, restaurants, digital media, etc.  It does not explicitly define accessibility requirements for websites.

  • Section 508 mandates government websites and information technology used in the federal sector, to be accessible.  Section 508 generally does not apply to the private sector. (FYI: In January 2017, Section 508 adopted the WCAG 2.0 standard to Level AA compliance).

  • WCAG defines the standard for developing accessible web content, particularly for the private sector. WCAG standards represent a higher level of accessibility than 508 standards, although they are similar.

For most consumer-facing websites, we recommend trying to abide by the WCAG guidelines.  There are three different levels of WCAG conformance.

3 Levels of WCAG Conformance

The three levels of WCAG conformance are: Level A, Level AA and Level AAA.

  • Level A conformance is the minimum level of web accessibility.  Most websites must satisfy this level, in order for users to find the website usable and reasonably accessible.

  • Level AA conformance is the next level and encompasses all Level A requirements.  Websites should satisfy this level, which will remove significant barriers to accessing web content.

  • Level AAA conformance is the highest level of web accessibility, and fully encompasses Level AA and Level A requirements.  Websites that prioritize accessibility may satisfy this level.

Creating a POUR Website

Beyond the three levels of conformance to the WCAG guidelines, there are four key guiding principles for a website to be accessible.  These are:

  1. Perceivable: Users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it cannot be invisible to all of their senses).

  2. Operable: Users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that the user cannot perform).

  3. Understandable: Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content cannot be beyond their understanding).

  4. Robust: Users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content must remain accessible).

Let’s start the conversation

This post is an introduction to web accessibility.  We covered the accessibility guidelines and standards, the differences between them, the three levels of WCAG conformance with the guiding principles to make your website WCAG conformant.

If you’re interested in improving your website’s usability and accessibility, here are a few questions for you to consider:

  • Which guidelines are you interested in conforming to: Section 508 or WCAG?

  • If WCAG, which conformance level are you interested in satisfying?

  • Do you have any other website accessibility requirements?

  • What is your timeline for making your website accessible?

  • Are you looking for an accessibility audit, or for full-service design and development to make your website accessible?

We would be happy to guide you through this process.  Let’s start the conversation -- contact us for a free consultation and complimentary website audit.  Just fill out the form below and we will be in touch soon.