Making the web more inclusive with WCAG 2.1
- Web standards enable a more inclusive place, enabling all users to get their work done equally
- The updated WCAG 2.1 guidelines benefit people with cognitive disabilities and take into consideration the vast range of mobile devices with various screen sizes
Web accessibility standards are often seen as accommodations for people who are disabled, but in actuality, they benefit everyone. These standards exist so that people can use the web regardless of their disability or situation. Recently, the Web Content Accessibility Group (WCAG) updated their standards to include even more people. To illustrate some of these new guidelines, meet Henry.
Henry is a student preparing for registration. He has a two-hour commute to and from campus, and he takes the bus and subway to get to school. Henry is on the bus when he sees a notification on his phone:
Your registration period opens today at 8:15 a.m.
A wave of panic passes over Henry as he looks at his watch: 8:11 a.m. With another hour left of his commute, he realises that in order to get the classes he needs, he will have to register using his mobile device. He is anxious because he will be fighting thousands of other students for a few key classes. His speed and accuracy will be critical to his success.
Henry unlocks his phone, navigates to his university registration system, and signs in just as the bus hits a pothole. He continues as best as he can. If I were sitting at my laptop in the library, I would be done by now, he thinks. On his laptop, he could easily register for his planned schedule, but on the bus, it is a delicate operation.
Fifteen stressful, bumpy minutes pass, and he believes he is ready to checkout. He can see the checkout button, but its small size makes it difficult to activate. He finally succeeds after his third attempt as the application gives him a relieving message:
Registration was successful.
Although Henry does not have a permanent disability, he could benefit from the updated web accessibility standards in WCAG 2.1. The bumpy ride impairs his mobility, making input difficult. If the software complied with WCAG 2.1 standards, it would ensure that all buttons are at least 44 by 44 pixels in size. This standard specifically benefits users with mobility impairments but is a good example of an accessibility practice that benefits all.
At Ellucian, we have long recognised the need to consider all users, at all touch points, with our software. The new standards echo this philosophy and provide a structure to make it easier to execute.
Evolving accessibility standards
Accessibility guidelines, known as WCAG 2.0, were first introduced in 2008. At that time, most mobile phones had flip-out keyboards and multi-touch interfaces were in their infancy. Amazon had just released their first e-reader and tablets were not yet ubiquitous.
The landscape has changed dramatically since then. Students consider their mobile phones their primary device, demanding anything that can be done on a desktop be available on a mobile phone. Faculty and staff are virtually meeting with students, and social media has changed expectations of connectivity in higher ed. The way we consume and interact with content has evolved, bringing new accessibility considerations.
In 2018, WCAG 2.1 was released, providing a much-needed update. It extends the accessibility requirements to include support for cognitive disabilities and the vast range of mobile devices.
WCAG 2.1 provides a stronger level of accessibility for people with permanent and temporary disabilities, and in situations that can simulate a disability, such as:
Motor and speech disabilities
- Users with tremors
- Users needing assistive pointing devices
- Users with devices that are mounted (fixed and fluid)
- Users needing to use Augmented and Alternative Communication (AAC) as input
- Users with repetitive stress injuries from switching between different input types
- Users with limited attention span
- Users who are easily distracted
- Users with limited vocabulary
- Users sensitive to motion
- Users with low vision
- Users needing screen magnification
People with temporary disabilities or in situations that can simulate a disability also benefit from accessibility considerations. The graphic below outlines some of the improvements from WCAG 2.1 and which permanent and temporary disabilities the guidelines benefit. For example, the updated text spacing guideline benefits people with dyslexia as well as people with strained vision.
|WCAG 2.1 guideline||Who benefits? (permanent disability)||Who benefits? (temporary disability)|
|1.3.5: Identify Input Purpose||People with motor issues or dyslexia having difficulty completing long forms||People under situational stress, needing to quickly complete a long form|
|1.4.11: No-text Contrast||People with low vision or color blindness||People reading text on a screen in bright sunlight|
|1.4.12: Text Spacing||People with dyslexia or low vision having trouble discerning lines of text||People with tired or strained vision|
|2.5.1: Pointer Gestures||People with hand tremors, cerebral palsy, or those having difficulty remembering complex gestures||People with broken fingers, or those accessing a UI while commuting|
In addition to ensuring these standards are addressed, Ellucian is working to include more users with disabilities in the process of design, development, and deployment of our software. We encourage any users with disabilities or those using assistive technology to join Development Partner Groups (DPG’s) and offer your perspective ([email protected]). As designs evolve, we will continue to communicate with users who need accommodations, and those using assistive technology—in our research, we found that six percent of users use assistive technology such as screen magnifiers.
By updating our standards and continually listening to user feedback through research, we can help Henry and other students get their tasks done with comfort and ease, regardless of their disability or situation. Solving problems with an empathetic mindset helps us to conform to the law and leave fewer users behind, enabling everyone to be successful.