Accessibility Best Practice – Part I: What it is

Introduction

While providing feedback to clients following an accessibility evaluation, it is generally a good idea to include best practice recommendations in the report. It is important therefore to describe the term best practice in the context of accessibility so that clients’ expectations are in line with what accessibility consultants regard as best practice; this may also minimize loose references to the term. My perspective of what constitutes a best practice outlined below is based on the following two premises, namely:

  1. Reliable accessibility guidance is available to content authors covering:
    • Accessibility features available via browsers and platforms
    • The role of assistive technologies
    • Accessibility techniques

As advocates of digital equality, accessibility consultants play a significant role in educating content authors and developers on the above; more specifically on:

  • How individuals with disabilities employ features provided by assistive technologies / browsers while accessing digital content
  • Identifying the accessibility technique that is most appropriate in a particular circumstance. The Techniques for WCAG 2.0 generally grouped techniques for individual success criteria by situations they apply to. In other words, some techniques are better than others in a specific context. I believe it is incumbent on accessibility advocates to point these nuances to clients.
  1. An enterprise wishing to make digital or Web content accessible to individuals with disabilities and users of assistive technologies surely does not want to do so in a manner that:
    • renders ineffective the ability of users to employ a feature of their assistive technology , and / or
    • makes it more inconvenient for them to access content

The current Section 508 regulations contain an almost identical requirement. Para (b) of Section 1194.21 for software application states:

  • Applications shall not disrupt or disable activated features of other products that are identified as accessibility features, where those features are developed and documented according to industry standards.
  • Applications also shall not disrupt or disable activated features of any operating system that are identified as accessibility features where the application programming interface for those accessibility features has been documented by the manufacturer of the operating system and is available to the product developer.

What constitutes a best practice

A "best practice" recommendation strictly from an accessibility standpoint is one that requires the content author / developer to do something over and above what is required to correct an accessibility failure in order to enhance the experience for individuals with disabilities or a subset of such users. Sometimes a recommendation may better enable a person with a disability to exploit a feature of the user agent or adaptive technology and may help users navigate or perform online tasks efficiently.

These recommendations typically do not involve a noticeable change to the visual user interface or content; else they move into the realm of usability that are likely to provide a better user experience for everyone, not just people with disabilities or users of assistive technologies. However, if the recommendation helps to meet a Level AAA success criteria it can be regarded as an accessibility-best practice even when the aim is Level AA conformance.

Examples of best practice recommendations

  • Use h1 or h2 consistently at start of main content
  • Do not skip heading levels.
  • Explicitly associate form controls with their visible labels using for-id method
  • Use WAI-ARIA landmarks consistently even when headings are present
  • Place a skip to content link even if proper headings are present. (This helps sighted keyboard users not using adaptive software or browser plugin).
  • Use role="presentation" only for certain layout tables that are represented as data tables to screen readers
  • Place an access key on the toolbar to enable quick keyboard navigation. Also ensure its presence is documented so users are aware of the feature.
  • Indicate that a link opens a new window (e.g. via alt for image link or title for text link). This is an example of meeting a Level AAA SC even if goal is Level AA)

Part II of this article discusses what should not be represented as best practices in a report of accessibility evaluation