Understanding WCAG Guidelines

In January of 2017, the United States government adopted a set of guidelines to aid in meeting digital accessibility regulations. This is referred to as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. The WCAG divides itself into four main ideas which, when put together, make for fully accessible websites, apps, and digital information. These four main concept categories are: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Each broad concept has particular guidelines it is composed of, many of which may seem daunting but are quite comprehendible when broken down.

The first section of the WCAG deals with information being perceivable. The four guidelines within all relate to one simple question: can users of all abilities take in the content on screen? According to the WCAG, developers should provide text alternatives for visual content, provide captions and similar alternatives for multimedia, create content that can be presented in different ways while still keeping its meaning, and generally make it easier for users to see or hear content. This may seem like a lot, but there are a variety of methods for accomplishing these tasks. Alt-text is a great way to give users a written description of images from within any developed code. For multimedia, closed captions and text transcripts are great ways to include a wider user base.

The next section deals with operability. Here, the WCAG discusses the importance of making all functionality available from the keyboard, giving users enough time to read and use content, avoiding content that causes seizures, and helping users navigate and find content. It is necessary to be aware that accessibility isn't just about visual and hearing impairments, but applies to those with loss of limb function, learning difficulties, and more. Exclusively using the keyboard to perform clicking and navigating tasks instead of a mouse can be a useful metric in determining whether one is WCAG compliant. Minimizing visual content that could potentially cause seizures is another.

In the third WCAG section, the focus is in creating understandable content. Making text clear, readable, and predictable can help users avoid and correct mistakes. Color contrast is a large part of success in this category, because it plays such a role in whether or not users can read and move within content. Many tools exist to assist in incorporating and understanding the role of color contrast, larger text, and font adjustment in meeting the needs of this population and making information more understandable.

The final category is simply that of developing robust content. The one guideline herein is to maximize compatibility with current and future tools. Basically, this means to keep up with the advances of technology including that which people with disabilities might use. Fortunately, assistive technology grows with the advancements of other surrounding tech, allowing all developers to work hand-in-hand to build a more inclusive world.

Understanding the ideas within the WCAG is by far the best way to build and maintain accessible materials. Perceivable, understandable, operable, robust content makes for optimal accessibility for all users. By breaking down these guidelines into words anyone can comprehend, all developers can create quality, compliant user-friendly content.

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