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Easysite Resource Centre
Web Accessibility

Web Accessibility

What are your responsibilities as a website administrator? How accessible do you need to make your website, and how do you go about it?

What is Web Accessibility?

When we talk about web accessibility we mean, 'can people of all abilities and disabilities use it?' Website administrators have a responsibility to ensure that their sites are as accessible as possible - though they also need to balance this against the needs of their business, and their target users.

WCAG standards compliance

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) set up the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They state their goal as:

"providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally."

They have specified three levels of conformance to their guidelines, priority 1 being a basic level of accessibility which all sites should meet, and priority 3 being the highest level of accessibility. These standards are commonly referred to as A, AA, and AAA. 

Priority 1

"A Web content developer must satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it impossible to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement for some groups to be able to use Web documents."

Priority 2

"A Web content developer should satisfy this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers to accessing Web documents."

Priority 3

"A Web content developer may address this checkpoint. Otherwise, one or more groups will find it somewhat difficult to access information in the document. Satisfying this checkpoint will improve access to Web documents."

WCAG Priority 3 specifies very strict guidelines, for instance the levels of contrast between text and background colours. These rules can be extremely prescriptive, to the degree of interfering with the design of the site and the way it is perceived by non-disabled users. For example, the colour red could not be used, as neither black nor white gives sufficient contrast against it. Being limited to only very dark and very light colours could result in a design being either heavy and overpowering, or plain and boring.

These limitations could actually harm usability for non-disabled users. Limiting the available colours could hamper the ability to show hierarchy, relationships and relative importance between the various parts of the page.

For most sites it is not necessary to strictly adhere to Priority 3 compliance.

Accessibility and the law

In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 (EQA) states that service providers (including web service providers) must make 'reasonable adjustments' to enable disabled people to access their services. This does not necessarily mean that your site must pass every test for WCAG priority 2 or 3. It means that you should take appropriate steps to make your service as accessible as is possible or practical.

You can find a thorough discussion of the implications of this on Out-law.

Accessibility and Easysite

Most Easysite website integrations will aim to achieve WCAG priority 2 compliance. We use automated tests, for instance Cynthia Says, but we also use human judgement.

Even so, it is not generally practical to make an explicit claim of priority 2 compliance with a large, multi-authored cms. WCAG standards are about content. Although the CSS and the underlying HTML play a large part in meeting these guidelines, and we do our best to adhere to them, ultimately it is the site administrators and authors who are responsible for creating content which meets the guidelines. This means using alt text on images, using headings and meta tags to provide correct semantic meanings, etc.

Accessibility Links

Historically many Easysite customers have opted to include 'standard accessibility links' in their sites. These are a collection of links, usually at the top of the page, giving options such as: text only, text resizing, high contrast, and sometimes a reading service such as Dixerit or Browsealoud.

Over the years since these options were first introduced by Easysite, web browsers have developed significantly. Today most modern browsers allow users to customise their web experience directly through the browser. Explicit, site-specific options are not generally required.

Text Resizing and Text Only options

We no longer recommend that Text Only or Text Resizing options are necessary for your Easysite site. It is simple for most users to resize text or hide images without our assistance. People who regularly require these adjustments are likely to know how to achieve them themselves. The internet is no longer new. On the whole, people know how to use websites, and they know how to use them in a way which suits them. 

High profile sites such as the BBC no longer offer site-specific accessibility options, but they do provide a comprehensive series of short articles detailing how to customise your web experience - not just for their site, but for all your web browsing.

So if you feel it is unnecessary to include accessibility links, but still want to provide some help to your users, then this approach could be a good compromise. It is not necessary to write your own versions of these articles; simply linking to the BBC accessibility page would be sufficient.

High Contrast Styles

Hiding images and resizing text is simple and well understood by many people. Changing text and background colours is a little more involved, and perhaps less well known. Although it is possible to change these settings across your browser or computer, it is arguable that site specific high contrast options still serve a purpose - providing a simple, one-click solution for users who would benefit from this option.

Another option is third party plugins which offer advanced readability within your browser, such as Readability.

Screen Reading solutions

It is possible to configure your computer to read to you without any extra software or site specific options. But, like high contrast styles, the set up is quite involved. Therefore you may feel it is valuable to your users to offer explicit screen reading solutions within your site. 

If you are unsure what accessibility options you need to include on your site, talk to your account manager or to our Design department about the particular requirements of your website.