Growing trends in advanced website functionality are establishing 2021 as a characteristic year for open site development. New standards for transparency are clarified and enforced on a worldwide scale to manage both open and private websites. To succeed in the coming years, web engineers clearly need to take an increasingly committed and informed approach to develop websites and web applications that are accessible to all.
Web accessibility affects web developers in every possible way. In order to ensure an internet that is accessible to all, developers have to review and learn on an ongoing basis to maintain up to date knowledge of any new accessibility requirements and an account for realistic use cases in the disabled community.
In addition, web developers have to adhere to the best practices with regards to programming and use caution when implementing new programmatic technologies. As last year brought about several web accessibility changes that included compliance guidelines from the ADA, the growth of open websites, and web application development in 2022 and beyond will be heavily impacted.
With recent legislative changes, we may see big changes in web development accessibility going forward
Public sector conformance guidelines
Web accessibility is a major societal issue that is constantly gaining importance when it comes to website design. It should be one of your top priorities when building a website, along with responsiveness, site structure, and security.
For those with severe disabilities in particular, web and website accessibility is a major challenge as online services may be their only chance to engage in social activities.
Currently, only public sector websites in some of the largest global markets, such as the United States and the European Union, are subject to specific internet accessibility regulations, each of which updated its standards last year to reflect Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.0 criteria. Section 508 of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs compliance with accessibility for all public sector websites in the United States.
The equivalent standard in the E.U. is known as EN 301 549. When it comes to websites, the fact of a lengthy implementation process makes new laws more difficult, with changing timelines that stretch the date of a fully open internet even further into the future.
Private sector conformance guidelines may soon become a reality
Regulating the accessibility of websites for the private sector has been a more complicated problem for policymakers. However, 2019 saw two significant developments signaling a move towards greater regulation for the private sector and legal clarification of accessibility requirements.
One case, in particular, is pushing developers to view and plan around website accessibility with new eyes. This was the notorious Robles v. Domino case, where a blind man sued a Domino’s pizza restaurant because he was unable to use their website or mobile application to order a pizza.
The case has led to an increasing pattern of litigation attempting to hold private-sector businesses responsible for inaccessible digital resources that do not meet ADA physical environment requirements. The reluctance of the Supreme Court to hear the case was generally regarded as not only a blow to Domino’s, but also a notice to all companies and a reference to an ultimate settlement that benefited the claimant.
Meanwhile, in the European Union, the adoption of a comprehensive European Accessibility Act (EAA) has mandated a future state of digital accessibility for all websites within Member States that are expected to be legally aligned with the Act by 2022 (though effective enforcement of accessibility will not be required until 2025).
Website accessibility will also become a reality in the smaller Canadian market. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the private sector to comply with the AODA public sector compliance by the end of 2020.
It’s also important to remain compliant with the PCI DSS, or Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, in order to ensure that any customer personal or financial data you collect via your website is properly encrypted. Utilizing PCI compliant hosting is an excellent strategy to ensure this. This means that a firewall will protect cardholder data, access to customer data will be restricted on a need-to-know basis amongst employees and contractors of your company, and all communication between your customers and your site will be kept encrypted as well.
Although protracted implementation adds to the complexity of different requirements for the public and private sectors, it is clear that regulations typically implemented against public sector websites are coming soon for private entities too.
In 2019, ADA cases regarding inaccessible websites showed that U.S. courts would appear to support the cause of online accessibility
The standards for accessibility are continuously evolving
Regardless of the various web standards globally, websites still need to be developed and projects still require developers’ full attention. Machine learning has yielded numerous benefits for developers when it comes to coding timewise.
However, today’s savvy customers require results that have grown to include not only faster loading websites at more affordable prices that comply with accessibility standards where applicable. Despite changing standards, web development practice needs a consistent and up-to-date set of internal requirements of accessibility.
Always use valid and appropriate code
Often, the most serious accessibility errors are directly linked to an invalid website code structure or development ideas that stray from best-practice coding. Considered to be one of seven deadly sins of web design, this has proven to be true time and again when sites are audited and HTML elements get discovered that were used outside of proper techniques.
The most popular misuse comes in the form of the use of custom elements for emulating links or button features, rather than using the HTML elements intended for these use-cases. This is one of the most growing, and easily solved, problems that web usability auditing teams frequently find. This is an easy-to-avoid, easy-to-fix accessibility issue once the development team learns and commits to best practice when building site features.
It is easier to meet accessibility standards when coding conservatively
Browser support usually determines the amount of effort web developers need in order to meet functional standards. Although browser support carries important styling and design implications, it also carries true accessibility implications. If the basic components are non-functional, a website can not be considered available.
Although the new releases of coding languages and frameworks move the internet development boundaries, many consumers keep their older browsers for many years to come and that can influence both styling and website functionality.
CSS filters are designed to make the image coloring and overlay effects simple to control. Knowledge of CSS is important when it comes to designing a website, and most individuals can learn it in under two months with the aid of online course bootcamps.
Internet Explorer, on the other hand, does not support any of these. The same applies to the variety of screen readers used by blind or low-vision website users; like browsers, older screen readers would not be able to logically or comprehensively read all modern coding elements.
Developers must ensure that their use cases are consistent with browsers and the various assistive devices widely used by their users to promote a good user experience going forward.
Always keep accessibility in mind
Since digital accessibility affects the layout of all the components of a website, it needs to be a core goal and discipline that guides the process of designing the website. Most of the older websites today were designed without giving sufficient thought to considerations of accessibility.
Even high-profile websites have failed to consider accessibility, as last year news broke that America’s 2020 presidential candidates had built and launched websites that were digitally inaccessible. That story not only showed an ongoing willingness to disregard the very real threat of litigation and legislation on accessibility but also exposed a continuing failure of (supposedly) modern digital technologies and website creation processes that still struggle to account for all users.
Accessibility should, as far as possible, be incorporated into the website code from the very beginning, instead of being put on top of the weak code structure as a mere afterthought to address an open legal liability. Put another way: Accessibility should not be based on inaccessibility.
Managing accessibility as a software developer involves thinking ahead of time. Although WCAG 2.0 standards formed the basis for accessibility legislation in 2019, the newer WCAG 2.1 requirements (released mid-2018) will likely be implemented in the very near future. With that in mind, web developers setting new requirements for 2021 would be wise to integrate the WCAG 2.1 criteria for web usability into their development process.
Development teams and their leaders have to be prepared to produce more open products that remain ahead of these emerging developments and accept web usability as a vital discipline. Maintaining a dedication to lifelong learning of best practices in accessibility would help web developers understand the current digital environment better, and bring our society closer to the larger objective of making all websites accessible.