I once worked with a small business who wanted to make their website accessible to as many users as possible. The business owner approached me directly, after reading my book and this blog, to help her reach more customers. She was an ideal client, well-informed and attacking web accessibility both because it made business sense and because it was the right thing to do.
Earlier in our discussions, I asked what level of accessibility was important for her. She told me that she wanted Level A to begin with and Level AA a little further down the line.
“Wonderful!” I said, delighted with her approach. “And what about Level AAA?”
“Why do we need that?” she asked.
It’s a question I’ve heard many times since. Very few people are interested in achieving Level AAA compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). One of the main problems I’ve found is that I often have to admit that although we can comply with some really useful Level AAA guidelines, we won’t actually get Level AAA compliance across the whole website.
Level AAA websites are rare because of a few guidelines that rule out a large number of websites. Unfortunately this creates a cultural problem where Level AAA isn’t considered a worthwhile investment. That’s a shame, there are some very useful Level AAA guidelines, but you have to sympathise with a business that must balance costs against benefits.
The impact of this is a sort of two-tier system, where Level A and Level AA are seen as the two important levels and Level AAA is for fanatics and government departments. This is further enforced by many laws that govern accessibility using Level AA as their benchmark.
How should we approach Level AAA?
My philosophy for complying with WCAG is always the same – aim for Level AA plus all Level AAA guidelines you can reasonably meet. Really, claiming a certain level is meaningless. What matters is your website is the best it can be for all your users.
The Level AAA guidelines are a mixture of essential elements and rare species. Here, I’ve ranked them in groups and described their impact
Achievable with impact
- 1.2.8 – Media Alternative (Pre-recorded)
- 1.4.6 – Contrast (Enhanced)
- 1.4.7 – Low or no Background Audio
- 1.4.8 – Visual Presentation
- 1.4.9 – Images of Text (No Exception)
- 2.2.3 – No Timing
- 2.3.2 – Three flashes
- 2.4.8 – Location
- 2.4.9 – Link Purpose (Link Only)
- 3.2.5 – Change on Request
- 3.3.5 – Help
- 3.3.6 – Error Prevention (All)
May not be realistic
- 1.2.7 – Extended Audio Description (Pre-recorded)
- 2.1.3 – Keyboard (No Exception)
- 2.2.4 – Interruptions
- 2.2.5 – Re-authenticating
- 2.4.10 – Section headings
- 3.1.3 – Unusual Words
- 3.1.4 – Abbreviations
- 3.1.5 – Reading Level
- 3.1.6 – Pronunciation
Unlikely to be possible
- 1.2.6 – Sign Language (Pre-recorded)
- 1.2.9 – Audio Only (Live)
As you can see, most Level AAA guidelines are achievable and provide a clear benefit to users. Some may not be realistic depending on budget and technology. Only two are rarely achieved.
There have been huge strides in educating business owners, developers and project managers about web accessibility over the past decade. What we need to do now is knock down this artificial barrier that has crept into people’s minds over Level AAA. Yes, few websites can claim Level AAA compliance at the moment, but many Level AAA guidelines are realistic targets which help people.
Next week, I’d love to share a list of the best Level AAA websites out there – share your favourites in the comments.