Mobile devices and other technological advances and trends have completely changed how we access and interact with online content—and it’s no different for those of us with disabilities. Accordingly, it’s also changed what organizations need to do to ensure that their content is accessible for everyone.
Over the last decade, three big changes have swept the world of online content and its distribution. First is the emergence of the mobile smartphone. In 2014, a simple stat stunned content developers: 51 percent of online content at that time was being consumed from a mobile device. That number has only continued to increase.
The second big change was the rise of social media and how it completely altered how people interact and share content, as well as add their own opinions and expressions to the mix. The third disruption is the explosion in online video, made possible by improvements in broadband speed. Want a sense of the scale? YouTube says that currently 100 hours of video is uploaded to its servers every three minutes.
These advances in content development and distribution have been rapid, and unfortunately, accessibility changes and improvements haven’t kept pace. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are currently being rewritten, mainly to address the explosion in use of mobile devices to access online content. The new guidelines are slated to be released as a standard in 2018.
But you don’t have to wait until the new standards to make improvements to your content accessibility and enhance the experience of your customers, clients, employees, and students with disabilities. There are pretty clear indications of what specifications will be recommended.
The biggest new focus will be around online video. For the visually impaired, an equivalent audio-only version must be provided. And for the hearing impaired, each video must provide captioning. In addition, a pre-recorded audio description must be provided for each pre-recorded video. And sign language interpretation should be provided for pre-recorded audio content.
Although the WCAG guidelines covers all online content, including that accessed on mobile, mobile (phones and tablets) does present some unique challenges. Most center on the touch screen capabilities and mobile touch keyboards. WCAG has developed specialized recommendations to address these particular concerns for mobile, as well as more detailed info on how WCAG guidelines are to be applied to mobile. WCAG will have more mobile intensive guidelines in next year’s update.
Accessibility issues are often an afterthought in web design, and some of the most stunning website designs present some significant challenges for people with disabilities. The biggest offenders usually stumble on the use of color in conveying information, indicating an action, or prompting a response and not providing a suitable alternative.
Contrast ratio is also an important consideration in accessibility-friendly design. The visual presentation of text and imagery should have a contrast ratio of 4:5:1. Text should be resizable up to 200 percent without the aid of assistive technology. And of course, alternative, descriptive text needs to be provided for every image for use by screen reading technology. And all functionality of the online content must be keyboard operable/navigable.
With the breakneck speed of technology changes in hardware, software, and app development, you can very easily launch a new product or even make a simple design change and have negative consequences for the accessibility of your content. At uExamS, we recommend that you incorporate accessibility reviews into every product launch, every significant publication of new content, and any major website redesign. It will go a long way to ensure that your content can be accessed in an effective manner by everyone. And if incorporated as just a normal, integrated part of your publication and design process, online content accessibility doesn’t have to be onerous or expensive.