Web accessibility standards and the importance of website compliance

For many people, the Web offers multitudes of information, making it essential in their daily life. But what about those that have difficulty with accessing the web – how do we address this inclusive need?

Web accessibility is set out in UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which requires that appropriate measures are taken to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on equal basis with others, to information and communication technologies, including the Internet.

Whether at school, the office, home, or when travelling, the Internet provides us with the answers to our day-to-day questions at the press of a button. However, this process is not always as easy for every individual. In the EU, 1 in 4 people have a long-term disability. This means that they experience limitations in performing their everyday activities. Such conditions include:

  • Vision impairment – including low vision, colour blindness
  • Auditory disabilities – such as deafness or hard of hearing
  • Mobility difficulties – such as traumatic injuries or muscular dystrophy
  • Cognitive impairments or learning disabilities – such as autism, dyslexia, lack of linguistic and verbal comprehension.

The idea of web accessibility is to provide the means through which technology is made equally accessible for everyone. This means that any barriers which many individuals face when accessing the web are removed so that the process of accessing virtual platforms is made efficient for people with and without disabilities. Understanding the different ways people can interact with your product or service will not only increase your brand’s reach, but it will also aid in developing an inclusive virtual environment.

Web accessibility features will aid individuals suffering from difficulties to access the required information in an efficient manner. A screen reader, for example, will help persons with low vision by reading aloud the content on the screen. Web accessibility is also beneficial for individual with mobility difficulties, such as muscular dystrophy, as the person’s voice is used to control computer systems, while an eye-tracking software, or a mouth wand helps the user to interact with the keyboard. Captions and audio transcripts also assist people using a hearing aid to watch videos.

It is worth noting that web accessibility is not only aimed at persons with disability, but it also supports social inclusion and can benefit every individual, particularly:

  • Older people with age-related impairments
  • People in loud environments making use of video captions
  • People using mobile phones
  • People with limited or expensive Internet bandwidth

These web accessibility principles can be embraced through the use of universal design, inclusive product/service development, assistive technology software, and by following standards and guidelines.

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides internationally recognised technical specifications and standards which describe accessibility solutions. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines - WCAG refers to an international standard ISO/IEC 40500:2012 (WCAG 2.0). The European Harmonised Accessibility Standards EN 301 549 officially adopted the W3C’s WCAG 2.1 guidelines.

WCAG is built around four core principles:

  • Perceivable - people being able to see content or hear it
  • Operable - people can access your content using keyboard or voice command
  • Understandable - people can understand the content and how to use the service
  • Robust - people are able to use different assistive technologies (screen readers, text enlargement software, voice control solutions).

These principles shed light on the different ways people can interact with your service and make it easier to understand how you can apply the WCAG guidelines to your website.

There are two main frameworks governing today’s European disability policy strategy. One of them is The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that defines access to information and communications technologies and systems as a basic human right. In 2019, the European Accessibility Act also became a law. This act covers products and services which are considered as crucial for individuals with disabilities and aims at improving the functioning of the internal market by removing barriers across Member States.

Website compliance also has immense benefits for businesses:

  • Minimise legal risk – meet the accessibility standards often required by law
  • Unified rules leading to cost reduction
  • Improve user experience and customer satisfaction
  • Enhance the brand
  • Extend market reach – more opportunities for accessible products and services

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About the author

Justin Psaila is the UX/UI Team Lead at Deloitte Digital, Malta. For more information, please visit  

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