Web Accessibility Standards

Posted on Wednesday, 8 April 2020 by Marissa Sapega

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web way back in the dark ages of the 20th century (1989!). Five years later, in 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) came into being with Berners-Lee as the director. The W3C is a web standards organization whose goal is to provide guidance and structure to developers that propagates an inclusive and consistent experience for everyone.

What are web standards?

Have you ever traveled to a foreign country and gone to plug in your phone charger and realized that, oops, your plug doesn’t fit into a foreign socket? (We’ve all been there.) Or, even worse, fried an electrical appliance because you tried to operate it using a voltage it was never meant to withstand? This is a frustrating experience, to say the least. The reason this happens is because plugs and voltages are not standardized throughout the world.

Now imagine this happened routinely when surfing the web. Say you went to a website that was written in code your browser couldn’t understand. You’d experience the same kind of frustration you feel at not being able to use your appliance.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen – thanks to the efforts of the WC3. As the international governing body of the web, they create web standards for developers worldwide to follow. In doing so, users are able to visit websites on a variety of devices and have reasonably consistent experiences across browsers and devices.

Web accessibility standards explained

The W3C also created web accessibility standards. As with web standards, they are intended to ensure a consistent, accessible web experience across a range of technologies. One component of these standards is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines, including WCAG, ATAG, and UAAG. These web accessibility guidelines are the foundation upon which accessible websites are built.

What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?

You may have heard of WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.) They are a set of criteria that, when followed by creators of web content, help ensure an inclusive web experience. The W3C is always working on revising and improving these guidelines; the most recent version is WCAG 2.1, which was released in 2018.

What are Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG)?

While not nearly as well-known as WCAG, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines are equally important, as they apply to the tools individuals use to create web content. Examples of such tools include content management systems and what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) HTML editors.

ATAG’s purpose is twofold: one is to ensure that the tools themselves are accessible, the second is to ensure the tool has the necessary features and functionality for the user to be able to generate accessible content. The W3C has a terrific summary of ATAG 2.0 for readers interested in getting into more detail about them.

What are User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG)

These guidelines specifically revolve around ensuring user agents are accessible and present the content they are fed to additional user agents used by people with disabilities. A user agent is software that renders or allows a user to interact with web content, like a browser, media player, or a screen reader, to name a few. The latest version of UAAG, 2.0, is used by developers who create these user agents. UAAG is a critical component of the website accessibility standards: consider that even if all web content were accessible, if the user agent (like a browser) was not, it would all be out of reach for people with disabilities.

Website accessibility is a growing priority among forward-thinking organizations. If you’re interested in learning more about how TPG can help your company conform to web accessibility standards, contact us any time! We’ll help get you set on a future path to greater accessibility.


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