An Overview of WCAG’s First Principle: Perceivable

4 guidelines. 29 success criteria (including 9 Level A conformance. 11 Level AA conformance. 9 Level AAA conformance). And so many more sufficient, advisory, and failure techniques that are ever changing. This is just one way the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) “Perceivable” principle within the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommendation can be broken down. But, wait, there’s so much more documentation to follow! However, looking at it that way can suddenly leave one feeling intimidated, exhausted, and uninspired to learn even just this small segment of the golden standard of web accessibility.

Sadly, I get the impression that many web developers, such as myself, feel this way when referring to this documentation. We go in, quickly find what we need, and get out as quick as possible before the abyss of text and jargon overwhelm us. Or, we find a non-normative siteto help us understand the documentation and never once visit the normative documentation (there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way).

I’m not here to judge you, but rather I am on a long road to better understand the whys and hows of web accessibility, so that I can become a better developer, designer, and person. On that journey, I can only hope to impart some of what I’ve gained and inspire you to take your own journey, no matter the length.

Introduction

On that note, let me introduce you to the principle labelled as Perceivable. As stated earlier, it appears to have a ton of components, so to speak, but it all boils down to giving everyone the opportunity to access your application and content by the sense that is dominant for them. For instance, ironically, I rely heavily on my vision to pull in information around me (though I’m visually impaired), but supplement with hearing and touch to fill in the gaps. Lucky me, in such a visually dominant world we live in. Virtually, I have to enlarge print, zoom into pages, and minimize business on the page (yay, for Reader View!). However, I recognize that not everyone is like me. There are people who rely heavily on hearing or touch to interact with their environment. Additionally, there are others who can see much better than I can. And, yet, we all live in the same world, trying to access the same Internet.

The first Web Content Accessibility Guideline‘s says: “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.” Take note, this is just the general idea with goals that is more objectively defined in the success criteria and techniques.

To me, this principle offers us some low hanging fruit to successfully make our websites more inclusive, inviting more people in, who arrive with a different means to interact than our own. Whether someone sees (visual, screen), hears (audio, screen reader), or feels (Braille output) in order to read a blog, buy a plane ticket, or learn a new skill, it shouldn’t matter. They should still be able to partake in all those things.

Guidelines

To dig a little deeper, how can we ensure that everyone can access the variety of services and information on the web? Trail down through the levels within the principle, from subjective to objective, via their guidelines and success criteria. The Perceivable guidelines say that content and components should:

  • provide text alternatives
  • have specific considerations for time-based media (audio and video)
  • be adaptable through structure and formatting
  • be distinguishable in various contexts

Success Criteria

Digging down further into these 4 guidelines, we find each guideline offering it’s own criteria to target potential accessibility issues. Rather than writing out all 29 criteria, which could be several blog posts in themselves, I’ll expand upon the guidelines to include what some of the key criteria are aiming for or why:

  • provide text alternatives to items that aren’t text already (non-text), therefore, giving your users the ability to access information through their chosen medium or format
  • couple video and audio, whether live or pre-recorded, with text (captions, transcript) or audio (audio description)
  • allow for diverse user choices that may affect your design and define clear connections between content on the page; this includes flexible screen orientation, defined input types, and using semantic HTML
  • ensure all content is “visible”, whether it’s providing good color contrast, appropriate foreground and background audio contrast, or creating more white space between text and elements on a page.

I encourage you to check out all the success criteria, now that you are more confident in understanding the guidelines within the first principle. If that page still looks too intimidating, try reading How to Meet WCAG, which is more approachable and provides clearer techniques that help you visualize how to meaningfully apply what you’ve learned.

Conclusion

Regardless of how you take your next steps, I hope you are less afraid to dive into WCAG documentation and its supplemental materials and guides to help you understand web accessibility. Despite all the technical specs, take a moment to sit back and empathize with people who have different levels of abilities than your own. Ask yourself, “How could my website prevent a person with a visual, hearing, physical, or cognitive impairment from entering in and walking away with what they came for?” In the end, it’s the empathizing and relating to your wider audience that will make your accessibility efforts a success, rather than all the vast technical memorization and compliance, in which you devoted your time.

An aside

This is Day 5 of my 100 Days of Accessibility journey to learn all things web accessibility. The best way I keep information in my brain is to share with others, so I spent my “study” time today writing this post, so that I could better assimilate the information in a more permanent way, while offering you a step forward into understanding web accessibility a little better.

If you’re trying to learn more about web accessibility, you don’t have to do anything as extravagant or dramatic as I’m doing. Today I just discovered Learning A11y, which provides a list of resources to help you get started learning. We’re all headed for the same destination here, but our learning styles and journey may vary.

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