EDF's electronic resource on web accessiblity

What is web accessibility and why is important?

According to the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), “web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web, and that they can contribute to the Web”.

Access to the web is crucial, as it is where many kinds of technologies converge (audiovisual content, communication among people, mobile services, electronic services). Therefore it is a fundamental right indispensable to enable us to lead an independent life and fully participate in society. An inclusive web can represent a gateway for persons with disabilities to education, employment, leisure or culture, among others.

That is why the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically points at Internet in article 9 on Accessibility, requiring States Parties to “Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet”.

How to achieve web accessibility?

Web accessibility is not a black/white issue or a once-off action. It is a quality aspect similar to how user-friendly a website is, and therefore it must be understood not only by the web developers and designers, but also by the web manager and the staff working on a website.

There are different levels of web accessibility. The worldwide acknowledge tool to make websites accessible is the international standard developed by W3C called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. This standard can be used for all kinds of websites and is divided in three levels: A, AA, and AAA, being the latter the most complete one.

From the disability movement we call website owners and policy makers for ensuring at least WCAG 2.0 Level AA, but strive for higher levels and innovative solutions as well, including an accessible alternative when some specific content on a website is not made accessible.

The 10 golden rules on web accessibility

The following are a set of general rules, but for a complete understanding of web accessibility, all these players should be aware of the standards and guidelines available (see more resources below).

  1. Provide text equivalents. When using a non-test elements such as images or multimedia to convey information, always provide text equivalents that convey the same information or functionality. This way, users of Assistive Technology can access relevant information. To do so it is necessary to fill all alt text-fields, for instance.

  2. Organise and structure content. Organise the document dividing the information into separate blocks, and use semantic elements to mark each block, so users of assistive technologies (such as screen readers) can identify and navigate the document sections efficiently.

  3. Do not depend on single sense. When providing instructions, do not rely on colours or other sensory characteristics such as shape, directions, tone, etc. for example, avoid sentences like “mandatory field are marked in red” or “press the button on the left side of this text”.

  4. Ensure keyboard access. Many persons with disabilities cannot use a mouse, it is important to ensure that all contents and functionalities are accessible using a keyboard. For example, avoid drop-dawn means that can only be opened moving the mouse over them, drag and drop without alternative, etc.

  5. Give users enough time. Different users perform tasks and read at different speeds. For that reason, avoid banners that change very fast; or processes where the session expires before the user can complete the task in a reasonable time.

  6. Avoid interferences. Do not create content that interferes with access in other parts of the document. For example, if a multimedia component starts automatically, its audio can interfere with the speech synthesis of a screen reader; or if a new window is opened without warning, some users might feel disoriented.

  7. Identify hyperlinks and contents. Use short and description texts for headings and to clearly identify the purpose of links; this facilitates navigation and understanding of the structure of the documents and its whole website.

  8. Use consistent navigation interfaces. Use visual design and internal structure consistently to create user interfaces that facilitate navigation between the different pages of the website.

  9. Help users avoid mistakes. Minimise user mistakes by providing adequate labels for form fields and informing about any errors in the data entered, and how to correct them.

  10. Ensure compatibility. Use web standards according to the technical specifications, and always, test content with assistive technologies.

This list is also shared in the European Commission webpage on web accessibility.