Your website is accessible if it meets the standards of WCAG 2.0, which consists of 12 guidelines organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
The Principles of WCAG 2.0
Here's how each principle of WCAG 2.0 plays out in practice:
- Perceivable: Make all web content detectable by assistive technologies — such as screen readers — through the use of image alt text, video captions, headings, and color contrast.
- Operable: Confirm that interface elements such as buttons and tabs can be navigated and acted upon. This principle mainly addresses keyboard use.
- Understandable: Ensure that your site is consistent, that it handles errors correctly, that each element includes the right label, and that it is written in the best language and reading level for your users.
- Robust: Check that the code adheres to common web standards so assistive technologies can interact with your site in a predictable way.
WCAG 2.0 Success Criteria
Each of the 12 WCAG guidelines has testable success criteria known as A, AA, and AAA. If your site meets WCAG 2.0 standards at any of these levels, users will find your content to be accessible in general. AA, however, is the standard that most organizations, including the federal government, should meet. The AAA standard serves as a "blue sky" ideal. A site that meets AAA standards would include a sign language alternative to video, user-selectable foreground and background colors, text written at a 5th-grade reading level, and a definition and pronunciation tool.
WCAG 2.0 and Section 508
Right now, WCAG 2.0 is the gold standard for web accessibility. WCAG 2.0 sometimes gets mixed up with Section 508, which is a federal law that contains a checklist that sites must follow to be accessible. As of January 2017, Section 508 points to WCAG 2.0 AA as the standard to meet, so you don't have to worry about following different sets of guidelines.
Who Benefits From Accessibility Standards
By focusing on WCAG 2.0 guidelines, you can reach out to people with disabilities, including those who are deaf, deaf-blind, or blind, along with those who have cognitive and motor disabilities. By making your content accessible to those with disabilities, you are helping all of your users. For example, in the case of higher ed, perhaps some of your alumni, faculty, staff, and students include aging populations with changing vision, hearing, and motor skills. They may require accessible websites, if not now, then in the future.