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The Long Road to Achieving Web Accessibility

Achieving and maintaining WCAG AA success criteria can be a challenging journey. It goes beyond allocating development resources; it requires a deep awareness and understanding of how users interact with the website.

According to the legal requirements of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), businesses must meet a minimum standard of web accessibility. This standard is defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA Conformance.

Achieving and maintaining WCAG AA success criteria can be a challenging journey. It goes beyond allocating development resources; it requires a deep awareness and understanding of how users interact with the website. It is crucial for all website stakeholders, including the design and marketing team, to prioritize accessibility. This means incorporating accessibility elements into design decisions. Content editors also play a vital role by writing and adding contextual content that caters to both regular users and those using screen readers.

Business owners need to grasp that web accessibility compliance is not solely about achieving a perfect score in automated tests or fulfilling every success criterion in the WCAG AA guidelines. It's important to recognize that some outdated technologies may hinder complete accessibility implementation.

However, businesses should demonstrate their utmost commitment to making their websites and applications accessible to people with disabilities. 

Testing Process

To achieve accessibility compliance, these steps need to take place:

  1. Audit

    • An Accessibility Audit can take the forms of automated or manual testing.

    • Automated testing utilizes tools that scans the underlying code of a website and simulates user interactions. The effectiveness of automated testing is limited to the capabilities of the testing tools being used. Both free and paid tools are available for conducting automated testing.

    • Manual testing involves the use of screen reader tools, various forms of assistive technologies, and even keyboard-only to navigate a website. Testers utilize these tools to assess whether the page content and interactive elements are comprehensible or if they present barriers or cognitive challenges when attempting to use the page

    • The best form of accessibility audit will be a mixture of both automated and manual testing. 

    • A domain expert will be needed to interpret the automated audit results and determine which fixes are critical and which are actually feasible

    • All websites and applications should be subjected to an accessibility audit be it public-facing, behind login, or internal use by employees.

    • 9thCO or third party accessibility companies (e.g. Deque, WebAim, Level Access) can perform these tests.

  2. Resolution 

    • Once the problem areas have been identified in the audit, the next phase is to figure out how to resolve these issues

    • These issues can range from simple fixes to complicated ones that either require a rethought of a design decision

    • Some of these issues might not even be solvable due to the limitations of the legacy technology

  3. Maintenance

    • Once the fixable accessibility issues have been resolved, another automated audit can be done to ensure no new or undiscovered issues will be picked up

    • Accessibility workshops should be held with all website stakeholders to ensure awareness and understanding of web accessibility concepts, principles and guidelines. This will help inform future feature and content additions and changes to the website

Accessibility Certifications

A reputable independent third party website certification provider is WebAIM. Their certification comes as part of a larger evaluation package. Please review their website for more information on the certification service.

For US-based businesses, there is also the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). VPATs can be done by the companies themselves or with the assistance of reputable accessibility companies such as Deque.

Keep in mind that these certifications tend to be tied to a point in time. Changes to the website since the certification will normally require a reassessment and likely a recertification.

Ultimately, the most effective approach is to construct a modern website with accessibility as a core consideration at every stage of the design and development process.