What is WCAG a, AA, Section 508, how do these apply to your website? Are you legally obligated to follow these rules?

US federal agencies’ websites must comply with Section 508 guidelines. The proposed new standard for Section 508 is expected to require conformance to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. In 2010, the Department Of Justice issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to specifically ensure all websites, public and private, are subject to ADA compliance. This means those changes are coming.

How do you actually comply with WCAG 2?

There are five requirements that must be met in order for content to be classified as ‘conforming’ to WCAG 2:

1. Conformance Level
Level A: For Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
Level AA: For Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
Level AAA: For Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.

2. Full Pages
Conformance (and conformance level) is for full Web page(s) only and cannot be achieved if part of a Web page is excluded.

3. Complete Process
When a Web page is one of a series of Web pages presenting a process (i.e., a sequence of steps that need to be completed in order to accomplish an activity), all Web pages in the process conform at the specified level or better.

4. Only Accessibility-Supported Ways of Using Technologies
Only accessibility-supported ways of using technologies are relied upon to satisfy the success criteria.

5. Non-Interference
If technologies are used in a way that is not accessibility supported, or if they are used in a non-conforming way, then they do not block the ability of users to access the rest of the page.

Accessibility Support According to w3c

To qualify as an accessibility-supported use both 1 and 2 must be satisfied:

1. The way that the Web content technology is used must be supported by users’ assistive technology. This means that the way that the technology is used has been tested for interoperability with users’ assistive technology in the human language(s) of the content,

2. The Web content technology must have accessibility-supported user agents that are available to users. This means that at least one of the following four statements is true:
A. The technology is supported natively in widely-distributed user agents that are also accessibility supported (such as HTML and CSS);
B. The technology is supported in a widely-distributed plug-in that is also accessibility supported;
C. The content is available in a closed environment, such as a university or corporate network, where the user agent required by the technology and used by the organization is also accessibility supported;
D. The user agent(s) that support the technology are accessibility supported and are available for download or purchase in a way that:
-does not cost a person with a disability any more than a person without a disability
-is as easy to find and obtain for a person with a disability as it is for a person without disabilities.

It’s Not That Easy

While many companies/developers look at this compliance as a checkbox on their list. You can reach Section 508 by simply going through your code and making some extra tweaks on the end of your process. This is a best a hack to get your checklist to pass and will not really suffice. It does not actually enhance the user experience. Sure, you may have added a link or two to change how content is selected and may even technically meet the minimum requirements, but that is not how we should address accessibility. These details should be there at the beginning and programmed and designed from the ground up.

From the Ground Up

When looking at how a Web Technology is going to be accessibility supported this takes time. Each interaction must lead to an accessible user experience. The design must be thought through and scrutinized from the start to ensure no pieces are missed. These improvements and forethought will not only enhance the user experience but the overall quality of the product itself. Knowing these key pointers is only the start of a long journey to truly understanding web accessibility. This is just a summary and more details can be found at www.w3.org.