Compliance is Key: Opening the Internet to All
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What does it mean to be web compliant?
What makes a website compliant, and what are the requirements? Compliant with what, and why? Who makes these decisions?
When you’re new to the world of accessibility, these may seem like basic questions with simple answers. They’re not.
It’s easy to get lost when you begin to work your way deeper into the details. Web accessibility is a highly technical field, regulated in various ways by countries of every size around the world. There is no single set of rules to follow. Rather, accessibility is an ever-changing landscape where the bar is constantly set higher, with the goal of achieving universal access for everyone.
What standards apply?
Although your company may be based in one country (the US or elsewhere), standards and requirements of additional countries often apply as well, since the general internet is of course open to the world. The most relevant standards are listed at the top of this page.
Standards are followed not because we are legally required to, but because they are right and fair. Everyone should be able to access the web, and proper accessibility guarantees that. It’s why UserWay was created. What’s important about the specific standards set, and compliance with them, is that when you’ve made sure your site is in fact compliant, you know that most or all user challenges that people complain of will be removed, clearing the way for greater and freer use and enjoyment of your site.
And, in nearly every case, eliminating obstacles to full access invites the certainty of greater revenues for the site owner. That’s a nice bonus.
We should mention that aside from doing the right thing, it is wise to protect your business from legal action regarding any lack of compliance, whether the litigation is justified or not. UserWay helps you do that.
Who sets standards?
Standards-setting bodies are oftentimes independent, but may in some cases be government-run. They are by and large composed of accessibility advocates who care enough about accessibility to involve themselves seriously. These individuals often come from a background of having a disability themselves, having a family member or loved one with a disability, working in disability spaces, feeling strongly motivated to create good change in the world, or some combination of the above.
The bottom line is that these are individuals with good reason to think about accessibility, and a lot of thought has been given to each compliance measure put into place. That’s before the discussions take place regarding what really fits best for the greatest number of people, and what can be put into place. In short, these are people well worth listening to, and a great deal of work, thought, effort, and time has gone into the creation and maintenance of sets of standards both locally and internationally. These standards are never arbitrary. They deserve our respect and our compliance.
What makes a website compliant?
While there are many, many details to take into account, the overall aim is always to strive to ensure that all users can access your content, or at least the greatest number of users possible.
Consider the various disabilities that may interfere with access.
People who are blind or visually impaired will often be using screen readers. Can the majority of screen readers work with your content? Does your site have alt text? Do the important functions of your site present only visually, or have you provided alternative options?
For those who can see but perhaps need color-blindness functionality, or greater contrast, or larger text, or a different font: what options have you set up for their use?
People who are deaf or hard of hearing will need captioning and transcription for any audio or video with audio. And so forth. Clearly there are many, many considerations.
Start with the UserWay widget and see what violations can be cleared immediately. You may be surprised at how effective it is. In fact, it may clean your site up entirely.
Then, if you see that further investigation and remediation is needed, decide if you need the UserWay AI advanced widget, or, at the next level, a manual site audit.
All steps toward compliance are good steps. That still leaves your way forward open to creating greater accessibility for your content. See where you can get started, and start.
What compliance means: intent
At first, the regulatory environment may seem like a tangled mess of overlapping and sometimes contradictory laws, but there is a great deal of agreement on what compliance means. It comes down to the basic principles of POUR.
POUR is a four-letter acronym you'll find a lot in the accessibility space. These high-level principles encompass functional accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
We perceive things in the world via our senses. For users, the available senses in most spaces online or in tech are currently seeing and hearing, with touch at hand as well where haptics are included. New technologies may allow us to interface via touch, smell, or taste. Those would also be included in “perceivables”.
We operate controls, navigation, buttons, and other interactive elements in order to control an interface. When users can interact with an interface in this way, it is known as operability. Many users may identify elements visually and subsequently swipe or click. Other users will utilize voice commands or a keyboard.
What makes something understandable? Consistency of format and presentation, and predictability of design and use patterns, are part of what makes technology reliable and easy to navigate. Multimodal and concise content that is tone and voice appropriate is also more understandable. When content is comprehensible to users, they’ll find the interface more available to them. They’ll learn to use it, and remember it without a great deal of trouble.
Is your IT designed to function on all relevant technologies? Does it comply fully with all necessary standards? Can users choose how they interact with your material online, i.e., documents, websites, multimedia, etc? If the answer is yes to all of the above, that is robust.
Principles such as POUR can apply to many situations, online and off. Although they were originally intended to describe accessibility on the web, they are clearly pertinent in other areas of accessibility. Anyone working in technology should provide users with the ability to access their technology via perception, operation, and understanding. All tech should work robustly across multiple platforms, and assistive technologies must be included in that list.
Privacy by Design
For example, a common thread you’ll find at the center of almost all web accessibility standards is privacy protection for web users. People with disabilities should never be required to submit private information about their diagnoses, or be forced to label themselves as even having one. Additionally, some types of personal information should never be used for marketing purposes without explicit consent, and disabilities are at the top of that list.
That is why UserWay does not store or collect any personally identifiable information about our users.
We believe in Privacy by Design, which means all of our products are planned from the very beginning to not require personal information in order to operate. User privacy is a central principle that guides all of the decisions we make as a company.
Beyond preserving individual privacy, compliance standards seek to ensure everyone is able to access the internet without facing unnecessary barriers or hurdles. Just because someone is differently-abled doesn’t mean they should be excluded from the many benefits of using the internet. And, as more government agencies and businesses move many of their services online, universal access has become a requirement. It’s almost impossible to function in modern society without navigating the web.
Because of this new level of necessary access, compliance standards are increasing in importance, and the number of new standards created every year continues to grow.
The speed at which compliance standards are changing, and the increasingly technical nature of the field, have made it increasingly difficult for most web developers and IT departments to stay current. This has led to the development of businesses like UserWay that specialize in accessibility and help organizations navigate their compliance journeys while simplifying the process along the way.
How do we make compliance easy?
Automated remediation based on a true and basic human desire to expand accessibility for all users is our starting point. The UserWay Accessibility Widget contains all the rules needed to adhere to global compliance standards, and is able to scan and remediate websites to bring them up to those high levels of compliance.
And, as compliance standards change, the widget changes with them: we constantly update it and are continually researching new and expanded definitions of and standards for accessibility.
Without this tool, organizations are left using web developers to hand-code updates across all pages on their websites, which, as might be expected, is generally a time-consuming and expensive process. It also leaves a lot of room for errors and omissions.
UserWay has moved beyond basic automation to ensure strict compliance. Since almost every website contains some custom code, a simple automation can’t interpret everything it scans. That’s why we developed an AI-powered accessibility widget that can decipher the structure of any site. It also writes grammatically-correct descriptions of the images it scans so screen readers can describe them to users who are visually-impaired. No other website compliance solution is more efficient, or more cost-effective.
The speed at which a website can be made compliant is also critical with regard to litigation.
As compliance guidelines turn into compliance laws, businesses of all sizes with non-compliant websites are being targeted by lawsuits. This is clearly a financial liability, and, importantly, it also harms sales numbers and downgrades the digital reputation of a company when a large percentage of site visitors can’t gain full access. Demonstrating the ability to quickly remediate all the pages on a site while also being responsive to people with disabilities is the safest way to avoid financial losses and lengthy court cases.
Standards to Follow
The most important standards you should know are briefly described below with links to pages that contain more details. Please note: just because a law originates in another country, outside where your organization is based, does not mean the law does not apply. Most countries have signed treaties and other agreements that require their businesses and other organizations to follow their web compliance standards. This is why, for example, most companies in the USA are compliant with GDPR, which was enacted by the European Union. UserWay products and services meet, and often exceed, all of the standards listed here.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, is an important piece of legislation that protects people with disabilities from barriers to physical and digital access. Essentially, the law helps to ensure that anyone with a disability will receive the same opportunities that an individual without a disability has, in the public sector and some parts of the private sector.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C is an international community that develops regulations and recommendations for the internet to help ensure its longevity and usability. The W3C established the WCAG standards to provide detailed guidelines for website owners, designers, and developers to create websites and digital content and markup through accessible approaches that work seamlessly with assistive technologies used by people with disabilities.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 508 refers to a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. When the Rehabilitation Act was created, its goal was to prevent disability discrimination in federal organizations, federal programs, federal contractors, and similar groups. This act was amended in 1998 to include Section 508 because of the technological advancements being made at the time.
EN 301 549
A European standard for digital accessibility
EN 301 549 is the European standard that pertains to digital accessibility. This standard mandates that all Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the public sector must be fully accessible. No matter what disability a person might have, they should be able to access the same information as those without disabilities.
General Data Protection Regulation
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union regulation that took effect in 2018 and helps to allow citizens the right to control their personal data. This includes data within the EU as well as data that is transmitted to other regions.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was passed in the US, and helps to protect an individual's medical information. It allows everyone to request to see or receive copies of their medical records, even though the information may not be fully available. Additionally, HIPAA lets people request revisions to their records if an error is made. Importantly, HIPAA also gives individuals the right to learn how their information is both used and shared.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) was put into effect in 2000 and applies to the owners or operators of websites and online services that are for children who are younger than thirteen years old. It also applies to the operators of services and sites that are knowingly collecting the personal information of children younger than thirteen online.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a law passed in 1974 that oversees who can access a person's education information and related records. In part, the law helps give current and former students the right to a certain level of privacy when it comes to their education information. Institutions may need prior consent to divulge certain information about a person's education history or records.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was enacted in 2005 in Ontario, Canada. This Act was created to help increase the accessibility of Ontario's public areas by the year 2025. By creating a target date that was twenty years in the future from its inception, the Act gave plenty of time for planning, revisions, and correction of inaccessible facilities.
Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines
The Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 provide detailed accessibility standards for creating web content authoring tools. These guidelines present ways to make tools that are both more accessible to authors with disabilities and that are designed to encourage and promote the creation of more accessible web content by authors using those tools.
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) became law in 2010. The original Communications Act of 1934 was limited in its scope due to vast achievements in technology in the decades since it was signed, and the terms needed to be updated. President Obama signed this amendment to the original act to ensure that all telecommunications innovations would be accessible to people with disabilities.
What’s All This For?
All of the standards listed above ensure that every industry, including government, public sector, healthcare, IT, security, education, banking, retail, hospitality and all others, continue working toward universal access for all web users, no matter what physical or cognitive challenges they may face.
The AI-Powered UserWay Accessibility Widget is the easiest way to bring your website into full compliance across all of these standards. It also ensures any new content you add is compliant as well. Making your website standards-compliant will help boost your bottom line, but at its core, it’s about making sure that the doors of your website are open to all. Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do. Because everyone should have equal access to the internet.