100 Days of A11y

Day 6: An Overview of WCAG's Second Principle: Operable

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5 guidelines. 29 success criteria (including 14 Level A conformance. 3 Level AA conformance. 12 Level AAA conformance). And many ever-changing techniques that are sufficient, advisory, or a failure. Just as I pointed out in my Perceivable principle review, this is just one way the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) "Operable" principle within the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  2.1 recommendation can be broken down. And yet, the documentation that follows is even more massive! Though, looking at it by the numbers can leave one feeling intimidated, exhausted, and uninspired to learn the golden standard of web accessibility, there are better ways to break down the docs into chunks.


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On that note, I'll introduce you to WCAG's second principle: Operable. As stated earlier, it has many components, so to speak, but it all boils down to giving everyone the opportunity to successfully navigate each part of your website via the technology of their choosing. For instance, I navigate the web mostly with my mouse, sometimes in unison with my keyboard, when skipping from page to page, link to link. Additionally, my fingers do the walking (nod to the old school yellow pages) when I'm on my smartphone and zipping through sites. However, there are many people who solely use their keyboard to navigate the web. Additionally, all of us rely on clear wayfinding to get from one place to another online.

The second Web Content Accessibility Guideline's says: "User interface components and navigation must be operable." This is a generally defined idea, leading up to more objective goals (success criteria) and techniques.

This principle offers us suggestions and insights to successfully make our websites more inclusive, inviting more people to interact with it in a way that maybe different than our own. "Operable" models a way for us to be considerate of people who think differently, move differently, and perceive differently than ourselves. No matter the physical and cognitive differences among us, everyone should still be able to navigate your website without hurdles.


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To dig a little deeper, how can we ensure that everyone can access the variety of services and information we have to offer? Trail down through the levels within this principle, from subjective to objective, via its guidelines and success criteria. The Operable guidelines say that your entire webpage should:

Success Criteria

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Digging even deeper into those 4 guidelines, we find each guideline offers its own goals (success criteria) to target common accessibility problems. Rather than writing out all 29 criteria, which could be several blog posts in and of themselves, I'll expand upon the guidelines to include some goals that the criteria are aiming for:

I encourage you to check out all the success criteria, now that you are more confident in understanding the guidelines within the second 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.


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Regardless of how you take your next steps, I hope you are becoming more confident to dive into WCAG documentation and its supplemental materials and guides to help you better understand web accessibility. I can't emphasize enough that, despite all the technical specs, taking a moment to empathize with people who have different levels of abilities than your own is so important. 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

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This is Day 6 of my 100 Days of Accessibility journey to learn all things web accessibility. The best way I retain information is to share with others, so I spent my "study" time today writing this post to advance my knowledge, and yours, too.

I'd also like to note another resource that I've recently tapped into. I've started reading Form Design Patterns by Adam Silver (Smashing Magazine) in the hopes of learning how to make accessible and usable forms on pages that I design and develop. As an added note, I'm reading it on my Kindle Paperwhite because it is more accessible to me in that format, which allows me to enlarge the print, control lighting (no glaring white background or overwhelming backlighting), and read without distractions. Flexible formats are a wonderful thing for everyone!