Common question by accessibility consultants is ‘What is the guideline for this problem?’ Is every problem experienced by the user is considered to be an accessibility compliance defect? For digital accessibility, what’s beyond guidelines?
Let’s try to understand the thin line between compliance and digital accessibility, what’s beyond guidelines.
What Is Meant by Web Accessibility Compliance?
We interact with several websites and mobile applications in our day-to-day life. Connecting on social media, e-commerce, entertainment, online education to name a few. The content and interactions provided on many of these platforms cannot be used by those who are blind, low vision, deaf, hard of hearing, physical and cognitive challenges many times.
To ensure that the digital content is reached to every individual irrespective of their disability, several countries have legal requirements. Americans with disabilities act (ADA), Equality Act 2010 of UK are examples of the anti-discrimination laws. Obliging to these legal requirements for web accessibility is called the web accessibility compliance or digital accessibility compliance.
Since the legal acts and their sections cannot provide technical guidance to make the websites and mobile applications accessible, various guidelines and standards are framed. W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Section 508 of United States Rehabilitation Act are couple of popular guidelines / standards. W3C’s WCAG is a globally recommended set of accessibility rules while Section 508 is an United States specific Federal requirement.
To have a measurable and testable conditions for web accessibility, the accessibility professionals lean on any of these guidelines.
For Digital accessibility, What’s beyond guidelines then?
The disabilities and the related problems are several. It is not possible to fulfill the needs of every disability. This could be because of various reasons. Solving problem for one disability can create barrier to other; incompatibility of technology; needs of every individual is different; coverage of different disabilities via applicable guidelines may not be possible and so on.
When a particular end user problem, barrier or issue on website or mobile application cannot be addressed through or mapped to a specific requirement of said guideline then that problem, barrier or issue is considered to be ‘beyond compliance’.
Saying something beyond compliance means that is a liberty for the business to ignore the problem encountered by the user. It can technically be argued that it is beyond specified rules and guidelines. However, the businesses are still obliged to resolve or show an alternate way to achieve the same experience to overcome the accessibility barrier in the best possible way.
How to Callout Accessibility Problems Beyond Guidelines?
People use different terminology to refer accessibility problems beyond compliance on an accessibility report. Couple of them are ‘Best Practice’, ‘Good to have’. These again can have different taxonomies such as user experience, usability, functionality, assistive technology. Example scenarios are provided later in this article.
Examples That Are Sure Compliance Failures
- Img elements missing alt attributes. (1.1.1 non-text content)
- Form controls missing the relation with their label. (1.3.1 Info & Relationship)
- Web page without a language specified. (3.1.1 Language of page)
- Content with it’s background failing to meet required color contrast ratio. (1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum))
Examples That are Not Necessarily Compliance Failures
- The captions for the videos are not resized when the page is resized up to 200%. This is an exception as per WCAG 2.1 1.4.4 Text resize.
- Screen reader is not pronouncing the word ‘SuccessCriteria’ because space is missing between the words. Yes, this is a problem for those who rely on screen readers. However, this is purely an editorial mistake than an accessibility issue. In the accessibility report the accessibility consultant/ tester can document this bug as a ‘Beyond compliance’ error.
- Screen reader is reading the phone number as a pair of two digits. For example ’95 22 45 12 67’. This could be because of variety of reasons. Screen reader specific settings, the way the text is marked up, because some special characters are added in between two digits. It is recommended to check the verbosity settings and the editorial before confirming it as an accessibility bug. Be very careful while documenting these types of bugs.
- We have our logo on the website. When read by screen reader NVDA on Chrome it says, ‘Graphic logo’. When the same image is read by Voiceover on Safari it says, ‘Image Logo’. This is purely the browser/ operating system / screen reader property. The underlying meaning of ‘graphic’ and ‘image’ is same. Hence this is not an accessibility problem at all. Do not document these types of screen-reader verbose as accessibility bugs.
- We have a readonly text control that has aria-readonly set to true or using HTML readonly property. NVDA latest version on Firefox is not announcing it as a readonly text box. All other screen reader vs browser combinations are reading perfect. Perhaps it is a bug in the latest version of NVDA or the specified screen reader. You may still want to raise the bug and perhaps mark it as assistive technology bug. Adding any reference to support your documentation will be good. (NVDA here is just used as an example)
- The submit button when disabled have poor contrast with the text and its background. This is a usability problem because of the exception for 1.4.3 Contrast (minimum) that says, inactive controls do not require to meet the contrast requirements.
- The cancel button is not working at all because of a bug in the submitFunction(). This can be documented as a bug but not specifically an accessibility one. Because it is primarily failed to function as a feature itself, consider it as a functionality bug rather than an accessibility bug.
There might be several scenarios we observe in our accessibility audits. Since we cannot document all of them, this article can probably give some guidance on digital accessibility, what’s beyond guidelines.