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Meeting the highest standards for website accessibility

16 Jan 2017

We’re always striving to deliver the very best for our clients and are proud to report that our suite of dynamic IR tools now meet AAA accessibility standards

Working with clean and valid code

Website accessibility is one of those terms that is often used but rarely understood. As defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (aka W3C):

Web accessibility means people with disabilities can use the Web. More specifically, Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the Web

When asked I’ve always explained it that companies have a duty of care to ensure their services are accessible to everyone equally. To offer an analogy, if you owned a shop you might provide step-free access or a ramp for wheelchair users, enabling them to enter.

To put this in context of websites, if a user has poor sight, they might use a Screen Reader to read the words on screen out loud through their computer speakers – effectively listening to the website instead of reading it. However, a Screen Reader can only work effectively if the web page has been coded to an agreed standard.

This is only one example of course. There are many scenarios to be considered but the key principals are well known and catered for within the rules and guidelines available through bodies such as the W3C. Some of which are simply good practice anyway, including delivering clean and valid code, as this can assist with cross browser compatibility that benefits non-disabled users as much as those with disabilities.

There are also trade offs. In some senses, the more accessible a website is, the less creative freedom you might have. For this reason there are three levels of accessibility, A, AA and AAA, and the rules get stricter and more rigid the further you go.

Delivering accessible content also goes beyond ethical or commercial reasoning. If your website or web services do not meet accessibility standards, you could be sued for discrimination. As Outlaw highlights, only a few UK companies have faced legal action, but service providers still have a duty to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure services are accessible to everyone equally.

Our HTML tools now meet Level AAA of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

For those interested, you can read the WCAG 2.0 guidelines for delivering web services to an accessible standard. Although reading and understanding the guidelines is only half of the challenge. It’s equally important to test code to see where it needs improvement.

There are a number of free website accessibility checking services available, but for the most part they can only go so far. Accessibility, by its very nature, is a difficult thing to automate the testing of and you might only get a summarised view using such services.

We began the process by ensuring our tools passed The W3C’s Markup Validation Service, which simply checks the markup validity of various web documents and formats. Passing validation is a good first step towards delivering accessible and compliant tools.

We then worked closely with our friends at CST Group, specialists in standards compliant responsive web development, who were able to run our services through additional tests to help us identify, fix and certify our tools using various processes and external testing solutions.

The end result is a suite of tools which pass validation and meet the strictest requirements and guidelines for website accessibility. And thanks to our innovative use of SaaS technology, all our clients now benefit equally from the improvements we made.