WCAG Vocabulary Explained

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WCAG is broken up into four sections that outline important accessibility considerations. But the language used to define these sections is a bit abstract.  And the items contained within these sections use some very technical language.  If you’re not a developer, it can be challenging to figure out just what these guidelines are talking about.  Let’s break these sections down one by one. 

Section 1: Perceivable

To perceive is to become aware of or interpret something.  So can any user who is accessing your content perceive it?  If your content is an image and a user is unable to see, will they be made aware of its presence through the use of an alt-tag?  If it is a video and they are unable to hear it, will the audio be presented in the form of captions or a transcript

Section 2: Operable

Is your site easy for anyone to use?  Can a user navigate your site using only keyboard inputs?  Is your site easy to navigate, with clearly labeled controls?  Are your inputs properly and clearly labeled, so that someone using your site knows what information to put in and why? 

Section 3:  Understandable 

This one is a little bit more abstract.  It covers three topics:  Readable, Predictable, and Input Assistance.  If your site is Readable, at minimum, your text can be read programmatically (or by software).  At the upper levels of readable (AA and AAA), your site provides assistance with defining unusual words and pronunciation, and provides aid if your content exceeds a lower secondary reading level.   

If your site is Predictable, it basically works like websites on the internet.  For example, think about most websites you visit. There are navigation controls—and those controls generally stay in the same spot even as you move to different pages.    

Input Assistance refers to the practice of making it easy to work with inputs on your site.  If you have a contact form, for example, and a user does not fill it out correctly, letting them know that the form did not go through properly and helping them understand what inputs they need to change would be an example of Input Assistance.

Section 4: Robust 

This last section is fairly straightforward.  If your content is Robust, it is easily accessed across a variety of assistive devices.  One example of such a device would be a screen reader.  Assistive devices require additional developmental considerations in order to function smoothly.  This section mostly assesses the success of those considerations. 

Content Accessibility is a large and nuanced topic. These considerations make up just one set of guidelines.  It’s a good idea to consult with an accessibility expert as early as possible within your content’s creation. 

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