Sam Graves

What is the Web Accessibility Initiative? What’s Its Purpose, & What Does It Do?

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a W3C initiative that develops standards and other support materials to help people better understand and implement accessibility. The WAI was launched by the W3C, with help from the White House, in 1997. 

The WAI is made up of people from disability organizations, governments, and research labs throughout the world. The WAI’s goal is “to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities,” including users with auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and visual impairments.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are some of the most notable guidelines published by the WAI. The WCAG guidelines help form the foundation of driving digital accessibility, including much of our work for clients here at Allyant. 

Our digital accessibility auditing team audits websites and mobile apps based on the WCAG 2.1 guideline success criteria to determine how these deficiencies can be resolved to provide an equitable user experience.

The WCAG is divided into four sections: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. 

Perceivable refers to whether multiple senses can process digital content. For example, whether a video has captions would fall into the Perceivable category of the WCAG since people can either listen to what is being said or read the captions to understand what is happening in the video. 

Operable refers to whether users can access content through multiple devices, such as the ability to navigate a website using only a keyboard (rather than having to use a mouse).

Understandable means that users need to be able to comprehend digital content. An example of this would be whether a website specifies the language. This is especially important when multiple languages are used on a webpage or throughout a website. 

The last WCAG category, Robust, refers to whether various technologies, such as screen readers, can access websites and mobile apps.

Accessible Rich Internet Applications

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) is another significant WAI guideline. ARIA is a set of roles and attributes that define ways to make the Internet more accessible to people with disabilities. In particular, ARIA benefits visually impaired and blind users. 

ARIA is used with HTML to provide assistive technologies, such as screen readers, information that is not otherwise available. For instance, ARIA can be used to ensure that screen readers can read error messages on a contact form.

However, ARIA should only be used when absolutely necessary. 

Developers should always use native HTML elements rather than ARIA whenever possible. Native HTML elements have built-in accessibility features that are more straightforward than ARIA elements. 

A WebAIM survey of more than one million home pages found that pages with ARIA averaged 41% more errors than home pages with no ARIA. 

Even though ARIA generally makes Web content more accessible, it can decrease accessibility if misused. Because of this, ARIA should only be used when there is no other alternative. 

Also, native HTML elements generally work better with various types of assistive technology and are more easily maintained by development teams.

The WAI and Allyant

As a digital accessibility vendor, Allyant constantly deals with the WAI and standards or guidelines published under this initiative. Our digital accessibility auditing team is particularly familiar with the WAI and the real-world impacts of not complying for businesses.

The WAI (and WCAG in particular) provides standards and guidelines we use daily to educate the public on how to drive a more inclusive digital environment through audits of websites and mobile applications, technical design and development articles in our Knowledge Base, and Client Training we offer to design and development teams.

Alternatively, and perhaps inadvertently, the WAI has also empowered consumers to file digital accessibility lawsuits (which have become increasingly more common), as it provides clear definitions of what is and is not accessible to users with disabilities. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about the WAI or W3C, as we work together to create a more equitable and inclusive world for all.