Web content accessibility principle: operable

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braille keyboardDisclaimer: Real Estate Webmasters is sharing these opinions based on our interpretation of WCAG 2.0 compliance guidelines. This does not constitute legal advice in any manner.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a series of recommendations that help make the web more accessible to people with disabilities. There is a wide range of conditions that impact a person's ability to use a website, including physical, visual, speech, and neurological disabilities.

On Monday, we went into detail about the Perceivable principle from WCAG 2.0. Today, we're going to dive into the Operable principle and talk about how it helps make websites that are better for everyone.

What does Operable mean?

W3.org explains the Operable principle as, "User interface components and navigation must be operable." In other words, people need to be able to easily navigate and use a website, even if they have limitations or disabilities.

There are many examples of how the Operable principle applies to people. A few example scenarios include:

  • An amputee who can only use a keyboard or mouthstick
  • A quadriplegic who uses voice commands
  • A person prone to seizures can explore a site without being triggered

In addition to the benefits for people with disabilities, an operable website is in the best interests of every person. It ensures we can use a site quickly and efficiently and, as a result, many of the guidelines are simply best practices in general.

How do we build a website that's Operable?

By following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, we can create a website that is reasonably accessible for all people. W3.org has created a comprehensive set of guidelines that web developers and content creators can read and reference. Here's a quick example of what's included in the Operable guidelines:

Guideline 1.1 Keyboard Accessible

Make all functionality available from a keyboard.

Success Criterion 2.1.1 Keyboard

(Level A) All functionality of the content is operable through a keyboard interface without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes, except where the underlying function requires input that depends on the path of the user's movement and not just the endpoints.

Success Criterion 2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap

(Level A) If keyboard focus can be moved to a component of the page using a keyboard interface, then focus can be moved away from that component using only a keyboard interface, and, if it requires more than unmodified arrow or tab keys or other standard exit methods, the user is advised of the method for moving focus away.

Continued... View the full set of Operable guidelines here.

In addition to definitions that explain the requirements, most sections also include examples and additional help resources to assist webmasters with understanding the Operable guidelines.

What does this mean for REW sites?

REW is frequently reviewing and updating our sites to make them more accessible for everybody. However, the guidelines are only an overview of what is expected and required. As web developers, we are striving to apply each guideline to the best of our ability, but in some instances, the guidelines leave room for personal interpretation. When this occurs, we try to balance the need for gorgeous and innovative sites with our interpretation of the guideline's intention.

There are also a few things REW clients can do on their sites to improve (or impede) accessibility. Let's talk about some of the things you can do to make your own website more compliant with the Operable portion of the recommended guidelines.

Page titles & headings

One of the simplest and most effective ways to organize content and information on your site is using proper titles and headings.

Each page of the site should take advantage of the title tag, using page descriptors that are simple and explanatory. Title tags are also important for SEO, so it's a win-win to fill these in properly.

Headings within the page content also help people and assistive devices understand a page. Use headings in their correct order, starting with an H1 for your main heading, H2 for your subheadings, and H3 when you need to break down those H2s even further.

For additional reading on page structure and layout from an SEO perspective, which also coincides well with WCAG guidelines, take a look at this guide to optimizing your pages.

Multiple ways to find pages

People may have limitations in the way they can reach a page on your site. In addition, people value speed and efficiency in finding information. For these reasons, it's recommended that there are multiple ways to access any given page on a site. Navigation bars, search mechanisms, and links on content pages are all different ways people can navigate throughout a site. Try to employ at least two of them to ensure an optimal user experience.

Link purpose

When linking to another section, page or website, it's important that the purpose of the link is clear from the text alone. Rather than linking the text "click here", link text that will explain to the user what they can expect when they click the link. You can see a few examples of how that's done throughout this post.

Three flash rule

Flashing imagery can trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, resulting in a sudden and instant medical emergency. For the people who have the condition, every venture onto the World Wide Web puts them at risk of encountering dangerous GIFs or videos that could send them to the hospital (or worse).

To avoid this issue, the WCAG includes a three flash rule, which simply states that no video or media should flash or change more than 3 times in a single second. If this applies to your site, consider editing or replacing the media.

What else is there to know?

The guidelines within the Operable principle help us create websites that are more accessible and user-friendly, and include base functionalities that most people simply expect to work (like keyboard navigation). We've covered a few examples of what you can do to make your site more Operable for your users.

That said, even the guidelines can't predict all experiences and circumstances where Operable plays a role. Our clients have a tendency to be creative and innovative, often crafting brand new experiences that haven't been seen before. It would be impossible to share every scenario where it may apply. Instead, think of the Operable principle as a governing set of ideas you should keep in mind throughout all your website work.

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