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What Are W3C Accessibility Standards & Why Do They Matter?

A variety of obstacles prevent users from making the most of websites and applications. Web accessibility guidelines aim to make pages easier to navigate for all users, including those with vision and hearing impairments. The fewer constraints, the more enjoyable websites are to navigate — and the more engagement you’ll find from all types of clients and customers.

True accessibility is impossible without considering the many obstacles that might keep website visitors from consuming content as desired. Often, well-meaning businesses and individuals fail to think about the diverse audiences their websites attract, as well as the myriad of ways that seemingly accessible content may be letting these visitors down.

Thankfully an excellent resource is available for organizations struggling to maintain an inclusive, user-friendly web presence: the W3C accessibility standards. Keep reading to learn the basics behind these standards — including why they were developed and what they can help your website accomplish.

What Is W3C? What Do Accessibility Standards Involve?

What Is W3C? What Do Its Accessibility Standards Involve?

Rather than leave webmasters and developers to their own devices for achieving greater accessibility, the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) offers extensive guidance on the various web design and coding practices that promote accessibility. Known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), this resource provides a shared standard that meets the diverse needs of individuals and organizations on an international level. These standards are updated regularly to take emerging concerns and solutions into account.

Under the W3C system, new concepts and technologies are implemented through community groups and working groups. These serve different functions but ultimately come together to develop and refine standards that can be verified as W3C Recommendations.

Throughout the process, extensive research, discussion, and experimentation ensure that every standard is perfected before being released on a broad scale. As such, developers can take confidence in knowing that experts have considered the full range of implications related to these standards, which truly represent best practices for modern web accessibility.

While W3C provides a comprehensive array of solutions, its  HTML and CSS coding standards are among the most influential. A process is known as W3C validation checks code to determine whether it measures up based on current formatting standards.

Currently, W3C categorizes its many guidelines within the following main groups, as highlighted in the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI):

  • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG). This references the systems and services developers, designers, and other “authors” use to create web content. Under ATAG, the authoring solutions themselves must be accessible. Additionally, these should help authors create accessible content.
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines aim to make text, images, sounds, and other types of content accessible to all kinds of users, including those with disabilities.
  • User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG). Meant for media players, browsers, and other “user agents,” these guidelines reference best practices for making the many applications that render content more accessible.

Why Are the W3C’s Accessibility Standards So Important?

Why Are the W3C's Accessibility Standards So Important?

The long-term process of building a more inclusive web begins with education and awareness. Accessibility standards developed and implemented by W3C promote such understanding while also providing actionable insights that help businesses take critical steps to make their online offerings more accessible. Many of these suggestions can be implemented almost immediately to promote a more intuitive, user-friendly digital environment.

Critical advantages of adhering to the accessibility standards developed by W3C include the following:

 Excellent User Experience

The primary goal of complying with the W3C accessibility standards should promote a better experience for all users. A properly configured website based on W3C standards will always be easier to view, navigate, and interact with than sites that fail to take accessibility standards into account. This is true for website visitors with disabilities and all users with a desire for straightforward, streamlined content.

Better Search Engine Optimization

W3C-compliant websites promote the efficient “crawling” of web content via search engine robots. Likewise, W3C validation errors are best kept to a minimum. Experts disagree on the extent to which validation issues can harm SEO. Still, many believe that a poor crawl rate prompted by unsupported content could have a discernible impact on Googlebot — a crucial element of technical SEO. While errors are shared among the most popular websites, a high error rate may indicate that the website in question is not sufficiently readable.

In a more general sense, W3C compliance promotes a better experience for the end-user, which ultimately translates to better SEO through reduced bounce rates and numerous other metrics. When a website is more user-friendly, it’s more likely to keep visitors happy — and this makes a huge difference given the Google algorithm’s current emphasis on user experience.

Improved Browser Compatibility

Websites should function properly on multiple browsers. Cross-browser compatibility is a core emphasis of the W3C standards, so a compliant website will be easy to navigate no matter where or how it’s accessed.

While this concept may bring browsers such as Chrome or Safari to mind, it’s also crucial for voice browsers (designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing users) and Braille solutions meant for those with significant vision impairments. Without W3C standards, the process of making sites compatible with these and other browser systems would be complicated and time-consuming.

Backward compatibility is also a core consideration, as new websites will ideally be accessible from older browsers. At a minimum, the content displayed on old browsers should be structured to make it possible to read and understand.

Web Accessibility: Obligation And Opportunity

Web Accessibility - obligation and opportunity

The process of developing an accessible website can feel overwhelming. But while W3C’s standards may, at first glance, seem to complicate matters, they provide a helpful tool for improving everything from user experience to search engine optimization. Don’t neglect this opportunity to develop a web presence that benefits all types of users.

At Vinci Digital, we strongly believe in the power of website accessibility to build a more inclusive and equitable online environment. To that end, we are committed to adhering to W3C’s accessibility standards. Our accessibility interface makes it possible to adapt the user interface to meet specific needs. We’ve implemented a variety of valuable readability adjustments, which address everything from font to cursor color.

In addition to making our website as accessible as possible, we want to help small businesses comply with W3C’s standards. We build user-friendly websites that draw in visitors and keep them around by streamlining navigation and making every function as intuitive as possible. Contact us today to learn more about our web design and development services. We’d love to chat about your digital marketing goals during an exclusive consultation.

PS: How do you plan to make your online presence more accessible? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”