100 Days of A11y

Day 9: An Overview of WCAG's Third Principle: Understandable

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3 guidelines. 17 success criteria (including 5 Level A conformance. 5 Level AA conformance. 7 Level AAA conformance). And several ever-changing techniques that are sufficient, advisory, or a failure. As I pointed out in my Perceivable principle and Operable principle reviews, these stats are just one way the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) “Understandable” principle within the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  2.1 recommendation can be broken down.


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On that note, I’ll introduce you to WCAG’s third principle: Understandable. As stated earlier, it has several components, so to speak, but it all boils down to giving everyone the opportunity to successfully understand the content and interfaces on your website. No matter a person's education, native tongue, or prior experiences, your website should be relatively easy to understand when they read text, interact with form controls, or perform an interactive task.

The third Web Content Accessibility Guideline‘s says: “Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.” Of course, 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. “Understandable” 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 understand your website with very few hurdles.


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To dig a little deeper, how can we ensure that everyone can understand the 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 Understandable guidelines say that your entire webpage should:

Success Criteria

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Digging even deeper into those 3 guidelines, we find each guideline offers its own goals (success criteria) to target common accessibility problems. Rather than writing out all 17 criteria, which could be blog posts in and of themselves, I’ll sum up a few of 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 third principle. If that page still looks too intimidating, try reading How to Meet WCAG, which is more approachable and provides clear 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're 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 9 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.

As an aside resource that I’m currently reading, Form Design Patterns by Adam Silver (Smashing Magazine) is reinforcing my assimilation of the Understandable principle. I've only read through his first form pattern about registration forms, but it reinforces the importance of input controls being predictable and reinforced with clear labels, help text, and error prevention. In the end, it benefits all users to make forms better!

As an aside code experiment to reinforce "Understandable", and a chance try some code new to me, I put into action W3C's H62 technique: Using the ruby element to assist with pronunciation.

See the Pen A11y: Use ruby for pronunciation by Amy (@digilou) on CodePen.

If the embed doesn't work, you can go directly to this CodePen