Guide: WCAG 2.0 AA for Beginners
To create or fix a website to be accessible, you need to start by conforming to WCAG 2.0 AA (or, even better, 2.1 AA) but what does that even mean?
Background (6 seconds):
WCAG stands for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which is a set of standards authored by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) under the W3C.
There are currently three versions of WCAG (1.0, 2.0, 2.1) and three conformance levels (A, AA, AAA).
Most entities need to bring their websites, mobile apps, and other digital assets to WCAG 2.0 AA or 2.1 AA.
So how do you it?
Here’s a lightning quick WCAG 2.0 AA checklist created by yours truly:
Section 1: Alternatives
- Alt text (1.1.1): All images and non-text content needs alt text (there are exceptions)
- Video & Audio alternatives (1.2.1): All video-only and audio-only content has a text transcript. Transcripts are clearly labeled and linked below the media.
- Closed captioning (1.2.2): All video with sound contains accurate closed captioning.
- Audio description (1.2.3): For any video with relevant information not conveyed by audio, add an audio description of information conveyed visually or include a text transcript.
- Live captions (1.2.4): Any more formal, live presentations must have closed captions.
- Audio description (1.2.5): An audio description is optional under 1.2.3 level A but not in 1.2.5 AA.
Section 2: Presentation
- Website structure (1.3.1): Use proper markup techniques to structure your website’s content (e.g. use correct heading tags and HTML for ordered and unordered lists)
- Meaningful order (1.3.2): Present content in a meaningful order and sequence so that it reads properly.
- Sensory characteristics (1.3.3): When providing detailed instructions, make it so they aren’t reliant on a single sensory ability.
- Use of color (1.4.1): Do not rely on color alone to convey information.
- Audio control (1.4.2): Any audio must be able to be paused, stopped, or muted.
- Color contrast (1.4.3): There must be a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between all text and background.
- Text resize (1.4.4): Text must be able to be resized up to 200% without negatively affecting the ability to read content or use functions.
- Images of text (1.4.5): Do not use images of text unless necessary (e.g. logo).
Section 3: User Control
- Keyboard only (2.1.1): All content and functions on a website must be accessible by keyboard only (i.e. no mouse).
- No keyboard trap (2.1.2): Keyboard-only users must never get stuck on any part of the website; they must be able to navigate forwards and backwards.
- Adjustable time (2.2.1): If there any time limits on a website, users have the ability to turn it off, adjust it, extend it.
- Pause, stop, hide (2.2.2): If there is content that blinks, scrolls, moves, users must have the ability to pause, stop, or hide it.
- Three flashes or below (2.3.1): Web pages do not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period.
- Skip navigation link (2.4.1): A “Skip to Content” or “Skip Navigation” link allows users to bypass the header / navigation menu and go straight to the main content.
Section 4: Understandable
- Page titles (2.4.2): Each page of a website needs to have a unique and descriptive page title.
- Focus order (2.4.3): Users must be able to navigate through a website in a logical sequential order that preserves meaning.
- Link anchor text (2.4.4): The purpose of each link should be clear based on its anchor text (e.g. don’t use “click here”)
- Multiple ways (2.4.5): There are multiple ways to access different pages/information on a website (e.g. search bar, nav menus, sitemap, breadcrumbs, helpful links after content).
- Descriptive headings and labels (2.4.6): Headings and programmatic labels must be clear and descriptive. They do not need to be lengthy.
- Focus indicator (2.4.7): Any “user interface control” that receives focus from a keyboard user should indicate that focus on the current selected element (e.g. add a visible border around a text link).
- Website language (3.1.1): Set the language for your website.
- Language changes (3.1.2): Indicate any language changes for an entire page or within the content.
Section 5: Predictability
- No focus change (3.2.1): Nothing changes merely because an item receives focus; a user must actively choose to activate an item (e.g. hit enter to submit) before a change takes place.
- No input change (3.2.2): Nothing changes just because information is inputted into a field (e.g. form doesn’t auto submit once all fields are filled out).
- Consistent navigation (3.2.3): Keep navigation layout consistent throughout all pages of the website (e.g. same links in the same order).
- Consistent identification (3.2.4): Components that have the same function within a website are identified consistently (but not necessarily identically) (e.g. two check marks can indicate two different things as long as their function is different — one indicates “approved” on one page but “included” on another).
- Error identification (3.3.1): Make any form errors easy to identify, understand, and correct.
- Form labels and instructions (3.3.2): Programmatically label all form or input fields so that a user knows what input and what format is expected.
- Error suggestions (3.3.3): If an input error is automatically detected, then suggestions for correcting the error should be provided.
- Error prevention on important forms (3.3.4): For pages that create legal commitments or financial transactions or any other important data submissions, one of the following is true: 1) submissions are reversible, 2) the user has an opportunity to correct errors, and 3) confirmation is available that allows an opportunity to review and correct before submission.
- Parsing (4.1.1): Make sure HTML code is clean and free of errors, particularly missing bracket closes. Also, make sure all HTML elements are properly nested.
- Name, role, value (4.1.2): For all user interface components (including forms, links, components generated by scripts), the name, role, and value should all be able to be programmatically determined; make sure components are compatible with assistive technology.
You can look up further information on each by searching the numbered section in parenthesis + WCAG.
You can also get my WCAG 2.1 AA checklist for free when you subscribe to Accessible.org.
Here’s how to view WCAG in a legal context:
To have an ADA compliant website, your website must be accessible.
The best known and universally accepted standards for web accessibility are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
If you meet all 38 success criteria under WCAG 2.0 AA (success criteria are the 38 different accessibility items called for) then your website will be considered accessible by most laws including the current U.S. legal landscape.
Think of WCAG as the what you need to do but not the how.
If you go to each section of WCAG, they’ll provide you with some guidance (examples, explanations, and resource links) but they don’t detail how to make your website accessible.
And that’s not a deficiency in the guidelines; a good chunk of website accessibility calls for underlying technical knowledge.
Another angle which you probably already know is that WCAG is a tough read for anybody but especially a non-technical person.
This is precarious because as a website owner you need to at least understand what needs to be done.
You might say, “Eh, do I really? I’ll just hire someone.”
Here’s why you still need to educate yourself on WCAG:
- The person you hire might not know what they’re doing (many say they do but do not)
- The solution you buy might not be effective
- You’re ultimately responsible for your website accessibility so you’ll want to verify that it is, in fact, accessible
Thus, it’s very important, that you, on an organizational or individual understand web accessibility basics.
So, again, this is where my WCAG 2.1 AA checklist comes into play.
It will give you a great feel for the technical document without actually having to spend hours going through it.
If your website conforms to WCAG 2.1 AA, it’s very, very likely compliant with the ADA and other applicable laws.
There are other legal best practices to follow (such as posting an accessibility statement) but WCAG conformance is the single most important component of compliance.
If you should nevertheless receive a demand letter (it does happen, even to owners of accessible websites), then your attorney may be able to convince the plaintiff’s law firm to drop the case. If not, a motion to dismiss is in the cards.