The 3 Levels of Website Accessibility

Sep 26, 2019 | Web Design

Navigating the world of website accessibility can be a confusing one. Take a look as we explain the various guidelines your website needs to hit in order to be considered accessible for all users.

Person Typing On A Computer Keyboard

In our previous website accessibility blogs, we've discussed what your business needs to know about website accessibility and how to find and choose a website accessibility tool. But how do you know what guidelines your website needs to follow in order to improve accessibility? And who creates these? In order to answer this, we must first learn a little history.

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) put together the first set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This international code had 14 guidelines that were divided into 3 priority levels. While a huge first leap, these guidelines soon became outdated. In 2008, they came out with a second version. This is the version that we still use today. Designed around principles, not technology, these can remain relevant and useful even as computers continue to advance.

These new principles are known as POUR.

  • Perceivable - Focusing on sight, sound, and touch, this principle works to make sure all users can find and process the information and content found on a website. 
  • Operable - This ensures that site visitors are always able to easily browse your website. Some might have impairments that require them to use a keyboard, rather than a mouse. Can your website accommodate this?
  • Understandable - A website that's perceivable and operable means nothing if people can't understand it. This principle makes it easy for all users to comprehend the content on your website. It includes using straightforward terms, having simple instructions, and clearly explaining any complex ideas.
  • Robust - A robust website is one that third-party technology can rely on and process correctly. It's one that can adapt and evolve to meet ever changing needs.

Similar to the three priority levels that the first set of guidelines were divided into, this second version is organized into three levels of conformance.

  1. Level A - Provides the most basic features (beginner)
  2. Level AA - Deals with the largest and most common barriers (intermediate)
  3. Level AAA - The highest and most complex level (advanced)

Each level contains their own set of requirements that a website must hit in order to fall under that level. Here are just a few:

Level A:

  • Non-Text Content: Provide text alternatives for non-text content, such as audio and video
  • Meaningful Sequence: Present content in a meaningful order
  • Use of Color: Don't use a format that relies heavily on color
  • Audio Control: Don't play audio automatically
  • Page Titles: Use helpful and clear page titles

Level AA:

  • Audio Description: Provide users access to audio description for video content
  • Resize Text: Text can be resized to 200% without loss of content or function
  • Multiple Ways: Offer several ways a user can find pages
  • Consistent Navigation: Use menus consistently
  • Error Suggestion: Suggest fixes when users make errors

Level AAA:

  • Sign Language: Provide sign language translations for videos
  • Visual Presentation: Offer users a range of presentation options
  • Section Headings: Break up content with headings
  • Unusual words: Explain any strange words
  • Reading Level: Users with nine years of school can read your content

Most websites will want to shoot for Level AA with some Level AAA added. But, beginning with Level A and working to check items off is a great way to start making your website accessible for all users. There are many online checklists available that list out every guideline you need to hit in order to get to the next level. These are not only a helpful reference but can help you see how far your website has come while also creating goals to hit for the future.

If you still have questions about website accessibility or you're not sure where to start, contact the experts at Informatics. A member of our knowledgeable team would love to speak with you.