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sunrise over lake with Global Accessibility Awareness Day printed across the top with accessibility icons under the horizon

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day

David Gibson

Thursday May 18th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day to raise awareness and educate people about digital access and inclusion for more than one billion people with disabilities or impairments around the world. 

As someone who’s been building websites for the past 26 years and led a team of web accessibility experts for the past 8, I want to share some insights and tips on how to make your websites more accessible and compliant with the ADA and other state and federal accessibility requirements..

What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them. More specifically, to enable all people to be able to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Web - and contribute to the Web.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the Web, including:

  • auditory
  • cognitive
  • neurological
  • physical
  • speech
  • visual

Web accessibility also benefits people without disabilities, such as:

  • people using mobile phones, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
  • older people with changing abilities due to aging
  • people with “temporary disabilities” such as a broken arm or lost glasses
  • people with “situational limitations” such as in bright sunlight or in an environment where they cannot listen to audio


Why is web accessibility important?

  • It is a human right. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, as a basic human right.
  • It is a legal obligation. Many countries and regions have laws and policies that require web accessibility. In the US, government websites must comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and commercial websites under the ADA. 
  • It is a business opportunity. Web accessibility can help you reach more customers, improve your brand reputation, reduce legal risks, and enhance your SEO performance. Also consider the 60M Americans with a disability and the 70M seniors.
  • It is a social responsibility. Web accessibility can help you create a more inclusive and diverse society, where everyone can participate and contribute.


How can you make your website more accessible?

Start by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which provide a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. The WCAG are organized into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Each principle has guidelines, success criteria, and techniques to help you implement them.

Some examples include:

  • Use semantic HTML elements, which provide meaning and structure to your web pages. For example, use `<h1>` to `<h6>` tags for headings, `<p>` tags for paragraphs, `<ul>` and `<ol>` tags for lists, `<table>` tags for tables, etc. Semantic HTML elements help screen readers and other assistive technologies understand your content and navigate your website.
  • Provide alternative text for images, which is a short description that conveys the essential information of an image. Alternative text helps people who cannot see the image understand its content and purpose. You can provide alternative text using the `alt` attribute on the `<img>` tag or using the `aria-label` or `aria-labelledby` attributes on any element.
  • Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background, which is the difference in brightness and color that makes text readable. Sufficient color contrast helps people with low vision or color blindness read your text. You can use online tools such as WebAIM's Color Contrast Checker to test your color contrast ratios.
  • Make your website keyboard accessible, which means that users can access all functionality and content using only the keyboard. Keyboard accessibility helps people who cannot use a mouse or a touch screen navigate your website. You can make your website keyboard accessible by using semantic HTML elements, providing focus indicators, avoiding keyboard traps, and implementing keyboard shortcuts.
  • Provide captions and transcripts for audio and video content, which are text versions of the spoken words and sounds. Captions are synchronized with the media and displayed on the screen, while transcripts are separate from the media and can be read or downloaded. Captions and transcripts help people who are deaf or hard of hearing access your audio and video content.
  • Avoid or limit the use of flashing or moving content, which can cause seizures or distractions for some people. Flashing or moving content includes animations, slideshows, carousels, auto-playing videos, etc. If you use flashing or moving content, provide options to pause, stop, or hide it.

How can you test your website for accessibility?

While automated tools can catch some issues, manual testing is essential to ensure full compliance with the WCAG standard. A complete WCAG website audit should include human testing of "unique pages" that include examples for all templates and page level components. The first step is to identify the unique pages and elements that require testing, and then an accessibility consultant and development team can work together to review the code and test use-cases using actual assistive technologies, such as screen readers and keyboard-only navigation. The findings should be presented in an audit report that documents all WCAG violations, including guidance for remediation.

Use Testers Who Also Know The Code 

To effectively audit a website for WCAG compliance, it's essential for the auditor to have a strong understanding of the front-side code, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This knowledge will allow the auditor to not only identify each issue but also provide guidance on how to fix it. Having both a web development and accessibility consulting teams under one roof, we’re fairly unique and especially qualified to provide the best guidance for rapid remediation.

Overlays: What to avoid when making your website ADA Compliant?

Naturally, there is great demand for a quick and inexpensive solution. And even if one doesn't exist, that won't stop some from claiming such. Avoid what are known as "overlay solutions, toolbars, or widgets". These providers claim to make your website 100% ADA compliant overnight using everyone’s favorite buzzword: artificial intelligence. They use javascript to inject corrective code over the existing code - hence "overlay". However, since even the best automated tools can only detect 50% of WCAG issues, their claims are flatly false. Not only do they fail to provide adequate accessibility access or tools for people with disabilities, they also fail to provide legal protection - regardless of their claims of guarantees.

In practice websites that use overlays are getting specifically targeted. Since overlays cannot correct the underlying code, and provide only a leaky bandaid, trolling lawyers know they are not compliant and are now targeting these sites. More details on why overlay solutions fail and increase legal risk with links to supporting articles.

Final thoughts

Web accessibility is not only a human right , a legal obligation , a business opportunity , and a social responsibility , but also a rewarding challenge for web developers who want to create websites that work for everyone . By following some simple principles and best practices, using some helpful tools, and working with a qualified team of accessibility consultants to provide informative audits, you can make your website more accessible and compliant with the standards and regulations that promote digital accessibility.


Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!


- Dave Gibson, President


Photo credit: Dave Gibson