Accessibility is a major focus at Cantilever. Sometimes clients ask us if we can share our knowledge and practices on the subject so that they can elevate their game on other projects. We are excited to help. We are nowhere near perfect at achieving accessibility in our work, but we have learned a thing or two over the years.
This guide explains our general philosophy around accessibility and is a good primer on the subject if you are just getting started:
- The WCAG are the best practices rules for web accessibility. The WCAG 2.1 AA spec is the commonly-accepted definition of “accessible”.
- Accessibility is not just for code! The design of a site is make-or-break for its accessibility.
- Ensuring a site is accessible requires continual attention throughout the design and development process. It is very hard to “make something accessible” at the end.
- Many people have a permanent or temporary disability that affects how they use computers. Over a billion people live with some sort of disability. Further, a disability can occur at any time to anyone: “we are all pre-disabled”.
- Yes, accessibility is important for legal protection, but the most important reason to make a site accessible is to provide an excellent user experience to anyone.
Checklists & Audits
These checklists are a plain-english summary of the WCAG 2.1 AA criteria, sort of a “shorthand” for achieving the spec. They also include some particular things we like to do to improve the user experience for people with assistive technologies.
It is important to also understand the actual WCAG criteria instead of just one company’s interpretation, but our checklists should help give a big-picture view that is less verbose than the WCAG itself.
To ensure a site is accessible, we have a process for utilizing these checklists in an Audit. These procedures outline the basics of how to use automated and manual testing to assess a website’s accessibility.
This question has multiple points and is actually a bit complex. Let’s break it down:
First, the term “ADA compliance” - the ADA does not specifically discuss websites, because it was written before the World Wide Web existed. Consequently, there is no such thing as ADA compliance for websites because the ADA offers no instruction for websites to comply to.
However, on March 18, 2022, the US Department of Justice posted Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA. This article, while only on the beta version of the new ADA website, is the closest explicit support regarding websites and the ADA, although ultimately it is still somewhat relegated to case law. Case law that often points to WCAG 2.1 Level AA as a requirement for an accessible website place of public accommodation.
What this question might actually mean is if our websites are lawsuit-proof. In that case or if we guarantee complete WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance. In those cases, refer to those questions.
For further reading, we recommend ADA Web Site Compliance Still Not A Thing, by Adrian Roselli.
We employ as thorough testing as possible to ensure this, but we cannot guarantee we missed something, in the same way we can’t guarantee something is free of bugs or errors: there is always a chance we missed something. That being said, we are proud of our thoroughness and our multiple tests throughout a project reliably catch most issues and, generally, only minor issues might remain.
That being said, while we do our best - and we believe we do more than many web design companies - we are not top experts in the field and it is not a core focus or specialty. If a complete and thorough WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance is essential to your project with zero compromise, we recommend working with a professional digital accessibility auditing service for the most complete assessments possible.
We can’t guarantee that you won’t get sued even if the site is fully WCAG AA compliant - anyone can sue even if not merited - but it should be much less likely. A site that is pretty accessible, but does not strictly meet the WCAG AA standard, is much less likely to get sued. The more severe and egregious the accessibility barriers, the greater the chance and merit of such a suit.
Cantilever does not recommend the use of accessibility overlays such as AccessiBe or UserWay. Our own research into the subject has found multiple points that give us no confidence in such overlays as a solution to accessibility issues:
- The disability community seems to have consensus that this software does not substantially improve their ability to use websites which are fundamentally not accessible.
- Case law thus far has shown that websites using accessibility overlays will still get sued, and these lawsuits have in many cases been successful. In fact, the overlay itself is often used as a considered point for the site’s inaccessibility!
- Many major issues cannot be handled by an overlay. Alternative text for images simply cannot be handled by a script - while AI might make a good effort to describe an image, images can mean different things depending on their context, and no script or AI can create an equivalent of that meaning. The only way to ensure an equivalent experience is by manually viewing the image, the context it’s in, and composing an appropriate alternative text for what meaning is being conveyed.
- Performance wise, an overlay is a script that runs after the page has already loaded. This means the entire page loads, the script loads, and then the page changes again. This mean the page ultimately loads twice, which is a slower and janky experience.
For further reading, we recommend two different pages: First is the Overlay Fact Sheet, which attempts to provide an impartial look at the benefits and drawbacks of automated repair. The second is AccessiBe Will Get You Sued by Adrian Roselli, which looks into and covers AccessiBe, its shortcomings, and its instances in court.
Outside of our own design and development work, we offer consultative services to help companies improve the accessibility of their design and development. This can include accessibility auditing and some light informational sessions to help teach you our approach. Please note that we do not guarantee any kind of legal protection as a result of our consultative work.
Some external resources we recommend:
- WebAIM's Introduction to Web Accessibility: A high-level tackling of the subject.
- WebAIM’s article on color contrast: Color contrast is one of the most common accessibility issues and is a major factor in assessing designs. Understanding contrast and how it works is important to a conforming design.
- A Checklist by Deque: Discusses various things to test, and the specific WCAG Criteria they’re related with.
- Overlay Fact Sheet: An overview of accessibility overlays, their impact, and the benefits and limitations of automated accessibility repair.