The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of standards intended to help private and public sector organizations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. These pieces of legislation protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in numerous ways, including making websites accessible to all people. Since they do not establish specific guidelines, the WCAG is used as the standard by most organizations when it comes to assessing and achieving compliance.
Web developers must be aware of the WCAG and build websites that are usable by people with disabilities, which requires attention to detail and use of specific tools that offer alternative methods of navigating and operating a website. Honing these skills will make broaden a developer’s range of abilities and make them stronger overall. The following are benefits of WCAG compliance as an essential part of the web development process.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a method of driving quality traffic to websites via search engines. It is an essential way to bring in new clients and improve visibility. CEOs, CIOs, and other organizational leaders know that constantly attracting new business is critical. Part of a quality website experience is easy-to-read content that offers useful information without being confusing. Accessible websites are, by definition, easy to understand, use, and navigate, which would require quality SEO via title tags, clear headers, descriptive alt text, useful keywords, and HTML sitemaps. All of these elements of website development work to strengthen SEO and improve accessibility. Developers who incorporate these practices into their work are more likely to create websites that are easy for potential clients to find and drive organic traffic.
A major part of Google’s algorithm in determining which websites to promote on search engine results pages (SERPs) involves three factors: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT). Google’s quality raters look for these qualities in websites through things like well-optimized content, clear navigation, and usability. An accessible website is more likely to present clear, easy-to-access information and offer a high-quality user experience (UX), therefore increasing the chances of higher rankings on SERPs. This is important for any business, considering there are 5.6 billion searches conducted on Google per day. Developers that keep EAT in mind are more likely to create content that aligns with Google’s definition of a quality accessible website.
Websites that are created with WCAG compliance in mind are more likely to have a high-quality code base. Cleaner code has a number of benefits, such as fewer bugs, better user interface, and faster load times. Website designers that are writing code to achieve accessibility will, in effect, generate better code, which is one of the most important skills for an IT professional. Accessibility-testing tools and services can help identify errors that can create problems with usability.
The goal of accessibility is to serve the public by making information, services, and products accessible to people with disabilities. This means that they need to be able to use the website to its fullest capacity. A developer that designs with the goal of usability at the forefront will create user-friendly websites that encourage customers to fully complete transactions, reach out via contact forms, and complete any other actions CEOs and IT leaders hope to achieve. The WCAG requires websites to be entirely navigable with only the keyboard and without use of a mouse. This benefits users who may have challenges operating standard computer mouses. It also makes websites well-structured, organized, and easier to use for all users. The WCAG also requires alternative text for images. This can help those with poor internet connections understand the purpose of some content before it loads and continue using the website without having to wait. Using the WCAG to build websites helps designers understand the needs of all potential users and make content available to a much broader audience.
WCAG compliance places the responsibility of paying extra attention to detail and ensuring maximum user experience on the developer. CIOs and business leaders that hope to effectively allocate resources and serve their communities want to work with developers with diverse skillsets that facilitate the creation of high-quality websites. Making a habit of prioritizing accessibility in every part of website design will help developers expand their skillsets and create stronger websites that can be used by larger audiences.
Web Accessibility Tools
Creating WCAG-compliant websites for private and public sector agencies requires the use of a wide range of development tools. The more of these tools that are in a developer’s arsenal, the better their websites will ultimately be. Some of the tools developers can learn to use regularly which make websites more accessible include:
- Alt text
- Title tags
- Alternative keyboards
- Audio options for text
- Appropriately-placed headers
- Forms optimized for screen-readers
- Navigation and content usable via speech recognition software
Knowledge of Compliance Standards
Building websites with accessibility in mind will quickly become habit for developers. Since both public and private sector agencies must comply with the ADA and Section 508 or else face major fines and penalties, it is critical that designers are well-versed in the WCAG. Developers that are aware of the standards websites must meet to avoid these penalties have a significant advantage over those that do not.
Equal Opportunity for Disabled Developers
Beyond creating a more accessible, collaborative, inclusive internet for all people, WCAG compliance also affords opportunity to disabled developers. Disability diversity is not even included in the reporting of many major tech companies, despite an unemployment rate of 12.6% amongst disabled adults. While web design may have seemed like an unattainable career for disabled individuals for some time, the ADA and Section 508 are changing the landscape. The normalization of using the WCAG may encourage the continued creation of accessibility tools and generate opportunity for these developers.
If you are interested in learning more about building WCAG-compliant websites, contact Ignition72 today. Our team works with clients to identify weaknesses, create accessible websites and digital communications, and ensure compliance at all times.