Website accessibility: the power of inclusivity

Oct 10, 2023
  • sales, marketing and service

Websites that don’t allow you to zoom in, even when the font is too small to read. Getting unclear error messages when filling out a form. Not being able to navigate without a mouse or touchpad. For non-disabled people, these experiences can be mildly frustrating. But for people with disabilities, they can make life online impossible. A new European law is set to change that, but there’s a lot you can (and should) already do today.

Sometimes, the examples are not that obvious. For example, if buttons on a website only have an icon and no alternative label, someone using a screen reader to navigate the page has no idea what will happen when you click them. Or, if a form only uses colors to communicate errors, someone with visual impairment can’t possibly know what the problem is. And what if a person with epilepsy or motion sickness can’t turn off the flashy, potentially seizure-inducing animations on your website? These examples show the importance of creating inclusive and accessible online environments – and how easy it is to forget. 

Inclusivity benefits everyone

The 2023 WebAIM Million report on the accessibility of the top 1 million home pages notes that “users with disabilities would expect to encounter errors on 1 in every 21 home page elements with which they engage.” The most common errors include low contrast text, missing alternative text for images, missing form input labels, etc. 

That’s where ‘web accessibility’ or ‘a11y’ comes in. The goal of this practice is to enable as many people as possible to use your website or online documents, without any loss of information or context. But it’s about more than improving the experience for people with disabilities: it also makes sure that your website adapts to different devices and situations – e.g., use in ‘dark mode’. 

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The European Accessibility Act and WCAG

To provide some clarity around web accessibility, the WWW Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG): a list of 78 success criteria, divided into 3 performance levels: 

  • Level A refers to the default standards (the bare minimum). For example, your website should be navigable with just a keyboard, pre-recorded audio includes a transcript, etc. These success criteria don’t have a big impact on the overall website design or structure.
  • Level AA is more specific. For example, you’ll have to ensure that all text meets certain color contrast requirements, content should be organized in a logical order using clear headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.), and navigation elements should be consistent across the site.
  • Level AAA criteria are very strict and specialized. Most websites don’t reach this level. Examples include sign language translation for pre-recorded video content, extended audio descriptions for pre-recorded videos, and a text-background contrast ratio of at least 7 to 1.

According to the European Accessibility Act (EAA) of 2016, all websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies and most private companies in the EU should conform to WCAG level AA. So far, however, the legislation has not been fully enacted. This will change on July 28, 2025, when it must be enforced by all EU member states. 

While that might seem far off still, the 2023 WebAIM Million reports that 96.3% of inspected home pages currently still have WCAG failures. That’s only marginally better than in 2022 (96.8%). So there’s still a long way to go.

A process, not a checklist

But accessibility requires more than just following the WCAG standards. It’s crucial to adopt a pragmatic approach at the start of any web project, with input from all actors involved. As such, it requires a mindshift. For example, content creators and copywriters have to consider alternative labels for buttons and images, UX designers have to make sure that contrast and target size are correct, the team managing the data needs to present information clearly, etc. In other words, accessibility must be considered right from the start. 

At delaware digital, we been steadily building our expertise and experience regarding web accessibility. Our frontend experts have embraced the semantics and declarative nature of HTML, as well as the adaptive features of CSS. In a functional workshop with your team, we can take a look at your project and map it onto the WCAG criteria. 

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