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Web accessibility: things you need to know

Web Accessibility: what you need to know

Many businesses have overlooked the importance of web accessibility when it comes to building websites and mobile apps, but things are about to change.

All public sector websites and mobile apps in the UK must be accessible by 23rd June, 2021. Additionally, public websites and mobile apps are also required to publish and maintain an Accessibility Statement about their websites or mobile apps.

In this article, we provide an overview of what businesses need to know about web accessibility and why it needs to be incorporated into your development process.


What is web accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to the degree to which a website, mobile app, or any other technology tool is designed to be used by as many people as possible including:

  • Older people with changing abilities
  • Those with a disability (whether that’s visual, auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, or speech)
  • People with a temporary impairment e.g. a broken arm
  • People with slow internet access
  • Individuals using mobile phones, smartwatches, and other devices with mini-screens or unique input modes
  • People dealing with situational challenges such as bright sunlight or loud noise, or in environments that do not make it easy to listen to audio


At least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability.  With websites and mobile apps becoming an ever increasing part of our lives, it is unacceptable for potentially 1 in every 5 people to not have equal opportunities to engage with brands, products and essential services online.


Why is website accessibility important?

Firstly, designing for accessibility is very simply, the right thing to do!

If we can make the lives of people with disabilities easier with a few changes to the design of our websites and make access to content and interaction easier for them, it’s a no-brainer.

Secondly, the law requires it!  Business and website owners have a legal obligation to ensure accessibility, as per the Equality Act 2010 which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.

Thirdly, making websites or mobile apps fully accessible makes business sense for website owners. In the UK alone, there are 14.1 million disabled people. Creating a website or app that meets accessibility standards means you can extend your services or products to a new demographic that might otherwise be excluded.

Finally, it gives you a business edge. All users prefer accessible websites.  If you’re not on the vanguard of embracing accessibility, your competitors have the chance to gain an advantage over your business.


How do you know if you need to create a new website or app?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provide a checklist you can use to evaluate whether your website or mobile app accessibility meets the required standards.

Typically, there are three levels of compliance:

●    Level A – The base standard for conformance. Your website cannot be considered conformant with other levels without at least meeting Level A success criteria first.

●    Level AA – This is regarded as the threshold for most businesses in both the private and public sector.

●    Level AAA – This is considered the most advanced level of compliance and that the web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, Additional information on WCAG levels can be found in Understanding Levels of Conformance.


For public sector websites and mobile apps, compliance with WCAG 2.1 is a legal requirement and enforcement to begin on June 23, 2021.

For private businesses, the situation is not as straightforward.  The accessibility regulations build on your existing obligations to people who have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 (or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland). These say that all UK service providers must consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

Check out the full [WCAG 2.1 Compliance checklist] 


How to improve accessibility on your websites or mobile app

The POUR Principles, as outlined in the WCAG 2.1, are a good place to start in identifying areas of your site that need improvement.

Since the guidelines are very detailed, they are often simplified into four main areas that web content must satisfy to be considered accessible:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust


These include guidance such as:

  • Applying colour and contrast to guarantee text readability.  For example, avoid having dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background.
  • Making it possible for users to navigate the website without a mouse. For example, allowing them to use the tab key to navigate the website more easily.
  • Adding relevant alt text on images, videos, icons, and other media. This way, you allow visitors with screen readers to access the same information as everyone else.
  • Structuring content in a simple and sensible way with standard header tags and subheadings. Additionally, using numbered and bulleted lists is another way to create an accessible content structure.
  • Providing indicators or descriptive text to ensure user interface elements such as buttons can be understood even in instances where they are out-of-context. For example, instead of saying “Click here” your button should provide actionable text such as “Learn about GDPR.”
  • Incorporating relevant mouse pointing gestures. For example, changing the pointer icon to a hand to make it clear to users when functionality such as drag and drop is available. For example a custom slider requires movement in a strict left/right direction when operated by dragging the thumb control. Buttons on both sides of the slider increment and decrement the selected value and update the thumb position.
  • Add additional visual signals to your site such as a change in color of the button when the user moves the cursor over it.


How do you update a website or mobile app with assistive technology?

There are various automation tools (known as assistive technology) available to check if a website is accessible. These include official validators from W3C:

  • HTML Validator– checks the markup validity of web documents in HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML, etc
  • CSS Validator – checks the CSS validity of web documents in HTML, XHTML etc.


It’s important to remember, however, that automated tools may not uncover all accessibility issues, since all they check are the technical aspects of your website.

Therefore, while assistive technology is cheaper than extensive user testing, it can’t replace actual user feedback. For example, real users will know and be able to tell you whether a PDF file is easy to download or not. Similarly, an automation tool couldn’t tell you a document is readable as reliably as a real user with visual impairment would.

This is also why it’s important to include users with various impairments in the user testing process to guarantee successful outcomes.


What is the WAVE API and how does it work?

WAVE is a one-stop-shop of evaluation tools to help website developers and owners to make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

As well as providing an automated way to assess accessibility issues and shortcomings in WCAG compliance, it also facilitates human testing of how accessible web content is.

Are there accessibility evaluation tools similar to WAVE for mobile apps?


The top 5 accessibility evaluation tools for mobile apps are:

  •     Accessibility Scanner – a free Android and iOS app that allows you to identify accessibility issues in apps you’re developing.
  •     Axe for Android – considered the most comprehensive Accessibility Suite available for the Android OS, Axe is a free downloadable app to help developers create WCAG 2.1 compliant mobile apps.
  •     TPGI’s Colour Contrast Analyser – free open-source software that helps developers determine and change the contrast of visual elements. It also has a colour blindness simulator and text legibility feature.
  •     GSCX Scanner – Google’s Accessibility Scanner comes with built-in checks for catching accessibility issues and supports an extensible plugin framework for adding your own checks when building iOS apps. It’s a free open source C-library software.
  •     A11y Ally by Quittle – a free open-source tool for developers to identify accessibility issues as they appear during regular use of your app, or to stay on top of regressions during automated integration tests.


Although compliance with web accessibility guidelines is often considered the duty of developers, successful delivery of accessible websites and mobile apps needs involvement and feedback from a variety of stakeholders including:

  • Service providers such as software developers and UX designers
  • Public bodies responsible for policy making and providing the compliance blueprint
  • Compliance assessors
  • Senior citizens
  • People living with disabilities


Web accessibility, ultimately, is about equal opportunity for all. It is about equal access to products and services. It’s about equal rights. Developers, web developers and content writers are now in a unique position to lead from the front in promoting inclusion on the web. And we’re proud to be part of that group.


Got questions about improving the accessibility of your website? Get in touch, and let’s see how we can support you.

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