Accessibility Principles for ICT (WCAG)

Accessibility is the successful access that people with disabilities have to content and spaces. As I mentioned at the end of Accommodation versus Inclusive Design, I concluded that accessibility is a mismatch between the design and a user’s needs. On the web (or with ICT – information and communication technology) we can create that match by starting with W3C’s web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). The 4 principles of WCAG are:

  • perceivable: broadening the sensory experiences to include sight, sound, and touch,
  • operable: all interactive components and navigation are navigable and usable,
  • understandable: content, component functionality, and design are easy to understand, and
  • robust: content & functionality is compatible with a variety of browsers, devices, and assistive technologies.

Challenges on the web

I won’t go into further detail about all its success criteria just because I’ve written quite a bit about them while studying for the WAS exam. However, I do want to mention some common challenges that people face when on the web, and how accessible design can help designers and developers be aware of how to address these barriers.

Problem area
  • Use alternative text or a visible caption/description
  • Supplement color-coding with other coding information (shapes, texture, etc.)
  • Foreground color should stand out (high contrast) against the background color
Video & audio
  • Include captions and transcripts with video and audio files
  • Include audio description with video
  • Use understandable text with intent, functionality, or destination of the hyperlink
  • Create a logical outline with the headings to make it well-structured and navigable
Keyboard access
  • Make each interactive component on the page reachable by the keyboard
  • All interactive components should create a logical tabbing order
  • Focus should be visible on interactive components
  • Assign headers to columns or rows
  • Explicitly assign a label to every form input
Dynamic JavaScript
  • Explicitly assign a name, role, state and/or properties
  • Assign point of focus when widgets are created
PDF documents
  • Create tags for all structures in a PDF

Universal design can help

Universal design creates products and environments that the vast majority of people can use, taking into account the natural physical diversity among people. Universal design doesn’t just think about people with disabilities, it thinks about a lot of people. By expanding our view from accessible design to universal design, we can make a more usable experience for a lot more people.

Stay tuned for my next post that will go further into universal design, its origins, and its solutions in the context of the physical world.

Additional reading

Day 69: How to Fail the Bare Minimum of Understandable and Robust

Today I’m concluding Level A conformance evaluation, looking at the Understandable and Robust principles of WCAG.

Things I accomplished

  • Read Understandable and Robust success criteria (Level A) failure techniques on How to Meet WCAG 2 site.
  • Mapped success criteria to failures of those criteria that I’ve encountered or read about.

What I learned today

There are 5 bare minimum (Level A) success criteria recommended by W3C in order for websites to be understandable (readable, predictable). These success criteria are, as follows:

  • 3.1.1 Language of Page
  • 3.2.1 On focus
  • 3.2.2 On input
  • 3.3.1 Error identification
  • 3.3.2 Labels or instructions

There are 2 bare minimum (Level A) success criteria recommended by W3C in order for websites to be robust (compatible for assistive tech and adaptive strategies). These success criteria are, as follows:

  • 4.1.1 Parsing
  • 4.1.2 Name, role, value

When these seven success criteria are met, it enables people of different abilities, no matter what aids they use, to understand and continue using your online content and services.

Examples that fail base conformance

SC 3.1.1 Fail:  A lang attribute is not present on the html element. The language of the web document needs to be explicitly defined for screen readers and browsers.

SC 3.2.1 Fail: Link opens a new tab. This should be avoided if not critical for the user because it can be disorienting to people of all abilities. I still see this a LOT for links, in particular, where no alternative of additional warning text is provided.

SC 3.2.2 Fail:  Form submitted ‘onchange’ rather than allowing the user to submit the form when they were actually done. This impairs people from completing forms accurately and at their own pace.

SC 3.3.1 Fail: No descriptive error text was provided for required fields to help user know why their form was unable to submit.

SC 3.3.2 Fail: No label was associated with an input control by using ‘for’ and ‘id’.

SC 4.1.1 Fail: I’ve recently run across a few of these failures! They usually come down to typos. For instance, if quotes or brackets aren’t closed, or no space is left between attributes, it can create an incomplete picture for assistive technologies and browsers.

SC 4.1.2 Fail: No role, name, or state were provided on a custom component control with a div or span.

In conclusion

Though this evaluation was shorter, I recognized several things I knew to cause accessibility problems, but I didn’t realize how bare minimum they were in this specification and how long they’ve been around (none are new in 2.1). I would be bold enough to say that all of these are easy failures to avoid and come at no real cost to the developer who knows what she’s doing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few bare minimum things to fix in my code this week…

Tomorrow I’ll start looking at the next level up, which is a common goal for many organizations, including my own. I’ll find out if we’re meeting that goal or not!

Day 11: Diving into ARIA

I’ve finished studying WCAG! Now onto ARIA, the next item in the checklist from the WAS Body of Knowledge. WCAG’s Robust principle segues into this. As SC 4.1.2 states:

“For all user interface components (including but not limited to: form elements, links and components generated by scripts), the name and role can be programmatically determined; states, properties, and values that can be set by the user can be programmatically set; and notification of changes to these items is available to user agents, including assistive technologies.”

The WAI-ARIA specification says that it exists to provide:

“an ontology of roles, states, and properties that define accessible user interface elements and can be used to improve the accessibility and interoperability of web content and applications.”

And so the twain shall meet when development of custom components occurs.

Things I accomplished

I got a slower start on these docs, as I just wasn’t as familiar with them. WCAG had a straightforward POUR outline. ARIA docs didn’t have as easy an access point for me, so I had to spend some time trying to create an approachable framework for myself to navigate the less familiar territory. I did manage to:

What I learned today

So many things!

Always Remember

“WAI-ARIA is intended to be used as a supplement for native language semantics, not a replacement.” -and- “It is not appropriate to create objects with style and script when the host language provides a semantic element for that type of object.”

It’s tempting to use ARIA, since it’s a bit more mysterious and, therefore, appealing to master, but it can’t be stated enough: don’t use ARIA if you don’t have to. I’ve heard this before, seen it stated in different documentation, and completely agree. Use semantic HTML first.

An Overview of WCAG’s Fourth Principle: Robust

1 guideline. 3 success criteria (including 2 Level A conformance. 1 Level AA conformance). And a few ever-changing techniques that are sufficient, advisory, or a failure. As I pointed out in my Perceivable principle, Operable principle, and Understandable principle reviews, these stats are just one way the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) “Robust” principle within the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  2.1 recommendation can be broken down.


On that note, I’ll introduce you to WCAG’s fourth and shortest principle: Robust. This short, and likely understated, principle boils down to creating flexible content and interfaces so that everyone can access your website now, and in the future, in ways and methods you can’t plan for. Technology gets updated, outdated, and revived quickly in the 21st century. We, as developers, can’t plan for everything, but we can make strides to be forward-thinking with our code.

The fourth Web Content Accessibility Guideline‘s says: “Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.” 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 flexible and more inclusive, inviting more people to interact with it in a way that maybe different than our own. “Robust” 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 use your website with very few hurdles.


To dig a little deeper, how can we ensure that everyone can understand the services and information we have to offer? Step down a level, from subjective to objective, via its guideline and success criteria. The one Robust guideline says that your entire webpage should be:

  • compatible

Success Criteria

Digging deeper, we find this guideline offers its own goals (success criteria) to target common accessibility problems. To sum up the 3 goals that the criteria are aiming for:

  • markup should be parsable (valid and complete)
  • a name, role, and value should be assigned (to custom elements)
  • status messages about changes or alerts should be announced, even without focus on that element

I encourage you to check out all the success criteria, now that you are more confident in understanding the guideline within the fourth principle. Additionally, read How to Meet WCAG, which is add value to your understanding and clear techniques that help you visualize how to meaningfully apply what you’ve learned.


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

This is Day 10 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 Robust principle. I’ve only read through his first form pattern about registration forms, but it reinforces the importance of semantic markup. Clear markup benefits all users.