Working in web accessibility and helping developers with their websites, I’m often asked how a project gets certified as accessible. Few people know that there is no formal certification process that recognises the accessibility (or otherwise) of your website.
However, there are some optional steps you can take to make a claim about your website.
1. Choose your guidelines
Before you can think about certification, you need to decide which accessibility guidelines you will be judged against. There are two main standards:
WCAG are the most popular guidelines and the ones I work to, so I will cover them here. You may need to meet Section 508 if you operate in America under some circumstances, but WCAG overlaps with Section 508, so can be used to certify both.
2. Choose your conformance level
Under WCAG, there are three levels of conformance you can claim. These run from least to most accessible:
- Level A
- Level AA
- Level AAA
I always recommend aiming for at least Level AA.
3. Make a conformance claim
Whilst you cannot be officially certified as “accessible at Level AA of the WCAG”, you can make an optional “conformance claim.”
To ensure you are making a valid claim you must:
- Have fulfilled all the guidelines for the level you are claiming (including all of any lower level); and
- Make sure that all parts of your website conform (for example, you’re not ignoring your footer or a few pages); and
- Ensure that, if your website has a process (for example, buying a product), every page in that process conforms to the level you are claiming; and
- Be sure that you are claiming success based on accessible technologies.
If you fulfil these criteria, you can add a conformance badge to your website. The W3C provides a range of badges at w3.org/WAI/WCAG2-Conformance.
You can also contact the W3C to inform them of your claim, but this is optional too. The only notice you’ll get from the W3C is if they believe you to be making an incorrect or fraudulent claim.
If you’ve spent a long time making your website accessible, it can feel frustrating there’s no official certification available. However, it’s important to remember that accessibility isn’t about certificates – it’s about making your site work for everyone.
Feel free to add the official badges to your website and talk about your work on an accessibility page – but don’t waste your time notifying the W3C. And, don;t forget that ever change you make to your website need to confirm to the same standard or you’ll need to change the badge you display.
Have you added conformance badges to your website? Add links in the comments!
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