100 Days of A11y

Day 67: How to Fail the Bare Minimum of WCAG Perceivable

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The next few days are going to feel like review. And, yet, the next few days should bring satisfaction of putting some of this knowledge to use.

Today I landed on looking over WCAG's perceivable principle again in order to focus on the success criteria at the base conformance level, and dug into sufficient and failure techniques. My intention at this point in my journey was to approach this with another person's perspective, and better understand how content and components might inadvertently be "invisible" to anyone who has a visual or auditory impairment or makes use of assistive technology.

Things I accomplished

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What I learned today

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There are 9 bare minimum (Level A) success criteria recommended by W3C in order for websites to be perceivable (seen, heard, touched). These success criteria are, as follows:

When these nine perceivable success criteria are met, it enables people with visual impairments and hearing impairments to enjoy your content and interactive components.

Examples that fail base conformance

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SC 1.1.1 Fail: Customized radio buttons in a survey were invisible to me when I was using Windows High Contrast Mode. That's because they used a background-image to replace the actual radio button, which was also set to opacity="0". This failure results in excluding people with visual or cognitive impairments who use HCM or custom stylesheets.

SC 1.2.1 Fail: Audio files of a recorded meeting do not have a transcript or long description that provides equivalent information in text format for people who have a hearing impairment.

SC 1.2.2 Fail: So often do I see recorded video with sound, but no captions are provided. As a note, YouTube does provide auto captioning which can be sufficient to meet SC 1.2.2, but could result as a failure if the captioning is not accurate and could leave out important information. A manual check may be necessary. This failure excludes people with hearing impairments.

SC 1.2.3 Fail: Also, another common fail. People don't realize this is not a nice to have feature. Leaving out audio description in a video that has a lot of undescribed actions within the video is a fail at WCAG's most basic level. This can exclude people with visual impairments.

SC 1.3.1 Fail: Another recent fail I found in an ongoing accessibility audit was the discovery of tables with out row or column headings identified. The relationship of the data isn't explicit and may exclude people with visual impairments.

SC 1.3.2 Fail: Related to the prior fail of SC 1.3.1, I also found tables that were used for layout rather than relational data. This can confuse people who use screen readers (visual and cognitive impairments) when a table is read aloud, but the content's relationship is meant to convey something else.

SC 1.3.3 Fail: I see this failure a lot in content I receive to post online. Within the content, a spatial location is inserted (e.g. "the photo to the right"). This is not only meaningless to people with visual impairments. It also is meaningless to mobile users who see a different layout on their smaller screen, but that isn't an accessibility issue.

SC 1.4.1 Fail: Surprisingly, I still run across input error messages that stand out in red, but don't offer any other indicator that the user has made an error. This can exclude people with visual disabilities from submitting forms.

SC 1.4.2 Fail: The days of inserting background music on a webpage seem far behind us, but what about those ads that autoplay on a webpage? If the autoplay doesn't have a pause or close button, the page fails SC 1.4.2. I haven't run across this fail personally, but it would interfere with a screen reader users interaction with the page due to the uncontrollable interruptions. Not to mention, how annoying that would be to everyone else visiting the site.

In conclusion

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I'm horrified that many of the most basic success criteria still fail on a regular basis across the web. None of these are even new in WCAG 2.1. What really astounds me is how easy and inexpensive most of these techniques are to follow. Captions and audio descriptions aside, since those are usually outsourced and need to be budgeted, the other seven leave no excuses, in my mind. We need to do better to make the bare minimum part of business (development) as usual, and not even consider them an accessibility issue, but rather as best practice in content creation, design, and development.