The web is dynamically developing and affects more and more aspects of everyday life, like education, health, fun, business or government. It’s an authoritative source of information and a place of social interactions. You can say that it affects practically every one of us. The point is to make the equal access to the web for all the users. The accessibility concept concerns mainly people with different disabilities.
But there are also other groups: the senior users or mobile devices users, who also have their professions thanks to this. These groups are the same important as the customer base. Beyond reaching the group's other benefits of having the accessible website is the better search engine optimization, higher users’ trust and also the confidence of having a valid website in the perspective of possible changes in the law. It’s time to understand and accept the technical, social and financial positive aspects of the Web accessibility.
Web accessibility is officially recognized as a basic human right. But it covers more than disabled access only. It gives all the people access to your website from many different devices, independently from screen sizes, type of browser or any other settings (for example plugins).
People with disabilities want to access electronic information just like other people. This can especially apply to areas such as home shopping or access to various services. They need to challenge some barriers (see - Principles of website availability). Therefore the web content designers are obligated to remove the issues that prevent accessibility tools from proper functioning. It does not have to be a problem, but sometimes it happens that the solutions require extra work on your website.
For example, users that somehow visually limited will use the screen reader to translate the website content with the help of speech synthesizer. Another example is the user with the similar disability who want to understand the site but encounters images without an alternative text.
Barriers for people suffering any such disabilities can be directly interpreted as discrimination.
There are existing WCAG standards purposed for creating web pages.
Section 508, is a part of the United States Rehabilitation Act announced in 1973. In accordance with its requirements, all federal agencies need to provide their technology (both electronic and information) accessible to people with disabilities. It concerns about online accessibility standards important not for federal agencies only but for contractors and employers as well. The rule concerns all institutions that become any State or federal funding.
It’s important to mention that on January 18, 2017, the rule according to accessibility requirements for information and communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act was refreshed and reorganized by the Access Board.
ADA compliance which is the short name of Americans with Disabilities Act states that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. The ADA standards must be followed by all commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation” which includes the internet. It is recommended to use the WCAG 2.0 level AA guidelines as a guide on how to become accessible.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the most public collection of worldwide known documents (set of twelve guidelines) that explain how to make site’s content accessible. If you are not sure if your website follows the required standards you should use the useful tools that will help you test the accessibility level. Using them allows seeing the reported list of issues and elements that need to be improved.
Because of the goal of making websites more accessible for people with the disabilities the EU law obliges entities performing public duties to have websites ready to meet the WCAG 2.0 requirements.
How does it exactly look in the European countries? Many EU members have still no legal accessibility standards purposed for websites’ providers. Countries like Austria, Belgium, Malta, or Spain, come with accessibility requirements for public and private providers as well. Eight EU members ( Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden) have legal standards that apply to public providers only. They are obligated to meet the WCAG 2.0 AA standards.
Are there any exceptions? of course… There are countries that have non-binding recommendations. For example, Finland is the country where recommendations for web services in public administration must meet a minimum A level accessibility standard.
Now let’s focus on another interesting example: Israel - the only country in the world obliged to making any internet websites accessible to people with disabilities.
According to Article 35 of the Regulations for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the accessibility must be provided to all websites and apps providing service or public information. These rules include businesses, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and much more. The Article 35 is not binding now but was postponed because of the Israel Internet association's request. Why? Many website owners from Israel was not able to comply with the regulation is such short period. The rules will be effective on 26th October 2017 so all websites need to be accessible and upgraded to AA level by October 2017 ( it concerns, of course, guidelines published by W3C organization Document – WCAG 2.0)
There is another one interesting issue - how has Brexit had an effect on web accessibility in the UK and what it means for those people that live there with different disabilities. The Brexit vote provoked some investors from EU to drop the project and cause some panic. But there is no reason to panic. All existing regulations will be still legal and binding because there is no reason and need to make any changes. When it comes to web accessibility, the UK treats the public sector as an essential element in moving the technology industry forward.
What about Section 508? As we have stated earlier, the Section 508 requirements not explicitly colleges and universities. Few educational institutions like Harvard University or the University of California, for example, had some problems with the inaccessibility already. University of California, Berkeley was obligated to make the content more accessible. Because making the changes was too costly, they had to remove many lectures from their website. Universities and colleges need to follow the Section 508 standards because they are granted by the government funding.
For every issue, even most complicated there is a solution available. Do you want to run a small business and do not have skills, the experience of funds to make an accessible website from scratch? Use the ready to use WCAG website template for Joomla or WordPress.
You need to face the challenge coming from standards to which your website must be developed. In the near future will probably increase the percentage of website owners that need to take some steps to ensure that the pages are accessible to all people. This concerns mainly users with disabilities who have no choice and must access the internet using assistive technology or have to come out against other barriers in accessing web pages.
If your website already follows WCAG 2.0 standards then do not forget to check the site for accessibility issues, and fix them as soon as possible.