Web content accessibility principles: understandable & robust

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blind man uses voice controls on phoneDisclaimer: 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.

We've dedicated this week of our blog to talk about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and how they apply to our clients' websites. So far, we've covered the two largest principles: Perceivable and Operable. Today we're going to talk about the last two principles, Understandable and Robust.

The WCAG 2.0 guidelines help developers and content creators craft a web experience that is accessible for people with disabilities and beneficial for everyone else. In many ways, WCAG 2.0 follows the common-sense best practices we already see employed across the web. In others, it helps make us more aware of aspects we've overlooked.

Let's take a look at how we can ensure our websites are more Understandable and Robust.

How do we build Understandable & Robust websites?

W3.org has compiled the WCAG guidelines and continues to update the site has changes occur. In addition to defining and explaining each of the guidelines, W3.org includes reference links that explain each guideline in greater detail and provides examples of how and when it is applied. By using these guidelines as a starting point when planning and a check-point after development, we create better websites.

View the full WCAG 2.0 guidelines here.

What does Understandable mean?

W3.org defines Understandable as, "Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable." Basically, the content you put out there needs to be readable and predictable so people can understand the information they are consuming.

There are many scenarios in which the Understandable principle is necessary, including:

  • A person who relies on a screen reader that phonetically pronounces uncommon abbreviations
  • A visually impaired person who needs a consistent navigation
  • A person with cognitive disabilities who feels overwhelmed by inconsistencies

What does Understandable mean for REW sites?

It's fairly simple to keep your REW site Understandable. A lot of the Understandable guidelines rely on the way information is coded, which is something that is handled behind the scenes. You can help keep your website compliant from a content perspective by following some simple guidelines:

Consistent navigation

Keeping a consistent navigation throughout the site is important for people with visual impairments and cognitive disabilities, as these people shouldn't have to read through a new set of navigation features on every single page. Ensure that your menus are always in the same order and that you're using the same navigation structures across the site.

Use common language

Although this is rarely a problem, it's also important to realize that people expect to read language that is familiar. Try not to get too creative with the English language (or the language your site is in), and avoid jargon and abbreviations where ever possible.

Consistent functionality

When you're applying jump links, buttons, or other similar features on your site, ensure that they always do the same thing. For example, a set of jump links shouldn't include a single external link. Likewise, if you use a button or tools, those buttons and tools should always do the same thing when clicked. If you have a button called Contact that goes to the contact page, you shouldn't have a button elsewhere that says Contact and goes to your Facebook.

What does Robust mean?

The Robust principle is fairly simple, and W3.org defines it as, "The Robust principle is defined as, "Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies."

There are common technologies out there, including keyboard controls and screen readers, that are used by people with a wide range of conditions and disabilities. When developing websites, it's critical that they are created in a way that standard technologies can understand and absorb.

What does Robust mean for REW sites?

From a client perspective, there isn't much you need to do to make your site Robust. Instead, the robustness of a site is determined by its programming, and we meet the guidelines by taking steps that ensure:

  • Code elements have clear start and end tags
  • Attributes within code elements aren't duplicated
  • IDs within the code are unique
  • Form fields can be read and understood
  • And so forth

As long as you are using the WYSIWYG editor or following standard HTML, your site should remain Robust.

What else is there to know?

We've covered a lot of information in this week's WCAG series, but it all boils down to one thing: creating a great web experience. It's no coincidence that the best web experiences in general often overlap with the recommendations for disabilities because much of the web has been created following a series of standards and logic. The HTML and many programming languages are built for the optimal user experience, providing a strong default foundation.

By understanding the intention behind the Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust principles, we're able to create superior websites that anybody can use. This is going to become more important in the coming years, as additional laws are created and the guidelines evolve. By getting a head start now, you can future-proof your site and simultaneously create the ideal user experience.

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