Why digital accessibility matters
Accessible web content and code ensures people with disabilities can navigate and interact with your product.
Many websites, apps and tools are developed without a focus on accessibility. When that happens, we exclude people and limit their service experience. As a government, people living in B.C. need to interact with us. The goal is to make their interaction accessible, no matter what channel they use.
Our commitment to digital accessibility
Since 2014, we have been committed to achieving Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Level AA compliance for websites and applications. This commitment is restated in the AccessibleBC Plan (2022 to 2025), Priority 2.
It’s important to remember that these guidelines only cover the technical aspects of web development.
For websites, apps and tools to be functionally accessible, they must also be usable. Usability focuses on how people interact with the content. This means working with a diverse range of real people to build and test your products.
User stories: Understanding the people we serve
Web accessibility improves how people use and access digital information. Real life examples include:
- Chen is a senior who has trouble seeing small things on a computer screen. It’s hard for him to read small text and click on tiny buttons. He knows how to zoom in to make it easier, but if the content isn’t designed to be responsive, he loses track of his place when he has to scroll back and forth
- Riley lives in a small town and their internet is slow. Pictures take a lot of time to load and use a lot of bandwidth, so they don’t download them. Alternative text on images helps them understand what’s in the pictures even when they can’t see them
- Aditi has Parkinson’s, which makes it hard for her to control a mouse with her hands. Instead, she relies on special keyboard shortcuts to navigate on her computer. These shortcuts help her open drop-down menus, click on links and use buttons without needing a mouse. When websites aren’t designed for keyboard navigation, she’s unable to use the site independently
What is WCAG
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations from around the world. They’re published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C is the main international standards organization for the web.
The goal of WCAG is to maintain a shared standard that meets the needs of individuals, organizations and governments around the world.
How WCAG defines web content
All content in a web page or application, including:
- Text, images and videos
- Code or markup that defines structure or presentation
Stability of the guidelines
The guidelines are stable, once published they don’t change. New versions build on previous ones, so by conforming to WCAG 2.1, you also conform to 2.0. The most current version is WCAG 2.2.
The guidelines aren’t specific to any technology and are designed to be applicable to current and future web technologies.
W3C maintains resources to reflect updates and changes to best practices and technologies.
How to understand the WCAG guidelines
WCAG uses 4 principles and 13 guidelines to provide direction on making web content more accessible.
Within the 13 guidelines, there are 78 testable success criteria that can earn a level score of A, AA or AAA.
The 4 principles
WCAG definition: Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.
What this means: Some people see content. Others understand it through sound or touch.
- Someone using a screen reader needs to be able to hear their way through the content
WCAG definition: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
What this means: Many people use a mouse, while others may use a keyboard, speech input software, head pointers, motion or eye tracking, single switch entry devices or large-print and tactile keyboards.
No matter what input device they use, a person should be able to navigate and use the content.
- Someone who is blind does not use a mouse to navigate, they need to be able to move through content using only a keyboard
WCAG definition: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
What this means: Many people struggle with understanding long and complex sentences, large blocks of text and advanced vocabulary.
Content should be presented in a clear and predictable way. When people are asked to input information it should be clear what they’re inputting, and if they’ve made an error, what the error is.
- Many types of assistive technology rely on page structure and tagging to navigate in the correct order. Content needs to be designed so it can be read, understood and used without excessive effort
WCAG definition: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
What this means: User agents includes browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Edge), web-enabled devices and assistive technologies (screen readers, braille terminals, text magnification, speech recognition). Code built into web pages describes how content should be formatted and what purpose it serves.
When creating web pages, errors sometimes happen in the code. This can affect the look and functionality of the content. Robust content displays and functions as the author intends and avoids specific coding errors.
- There are complete start and end tags, elements are nested correctly and form elements can be programmatically determined
The 13 guidelines
The 13 guidelines outline the basic goals of WCAG. They’re not testable themselves but set the framework and objectives for the success criteria.
Success criteria and levels
For each guideline there are specific and measurable success criteria with detailed guidance on how to achieve them.
In WCAG 2.1, there are 78 success criteria in total, 50 of which make up Level AA.
Level A: The basics
If you aren’t meeting Level A, there are people who can’t access your content at all.
Level AA: Our goal
This level is usable and understandable for most people with or without disabilities.
To achieve Level AA, you must also meet all guidelines covered in Level A.
Level AAA: Know your audience
As a general policy this level isn’t recommended for entire websites because it’s not possible to meet all the success criteria for some content. There’s also guidance within AAA that’s useful for some but can create barriers for others.
Within AAA, we’re committed to meeting Success Criteria 3.1.5 (AAA) which covers plain language and reading level.
Make your product or service accessible
- Find plain language guidance for your next project or task
- Recruit a diverse participant pool when conducting discovery research or usability testing
- Review the Accessibility and Inclusion Toolkit. It can help you plan inclusive events and create accessible documents like PowerPoint and email