Dog and cat

This is a real question asked everyday by Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Business Analysts, Managers Instructors creating course content, and yes, Disability Services Providers. It is a fair question when time and money are both in short supply. However, Accessibility Specialists understand that this question is not necessary when accessibility is included in every step from planning to delivery. Becoming accessibility aware will help every content creator become better at delivering the best quality information.


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:

  1. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  2. Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act

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:

  1. Level A
  2. Level AA
  3. 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

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.

In summary

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!

Roman forum

Learning about web accessibility can be hard and quite lonely. Fortunately, there are some great people working in the sector, who are more than happy to help out when you need it. Today, I’m sharing some of my favourite forums for developers wanting to find out more.


The WebAIM Email Discussion List has been going a long time (since 1999!) and it’s a great resource for developers looking for answers and anyone with knowledge to share. Subscribers are helpful and friendly, so there’s no reason not to take part.

Top tip: Have a look through the archives to get a flavour of the discussions.

Accessify Forum

The Accessify Forum is a great introductory forum for developers new to accessibility. Questions can get very advanced, but I find it very welcoming for beginners.

The Forum is also a great place to stay up-to-date with the latest web accessibility news and announcements.

Stack Overflow

Did you know Stack Overflow has its own accessibility tag?

This is great for asking (or answering) specific accessibility questions. There’s a wealth of information already, but if you’re stuck, this is a perfect place to ask for help.

LinkedIn Groups

I’m a member and contributor to many LinkedIn accessibility groups, but here are three of my favourites. These are good for sharing resources and asking for feedback from peers on new projects.


This has been by no means an exhaustive list of forums, but I hope it gives you a few new places to go looking for advice. Of course, if you’re really stuck, you can always email me…

Where do you go to get answers to your web accessibility questions? Share your tips in the comments below and I’ll keep this blog updated with the very best forums, groups and resources for developers.


I was recently asked to explain the difference between web accessibility and usability. I struggled to come up with a clear answer, so took some time to research how others had answered the question. While there are some good explanations out there, there wasn’t one I was happy forwarding to the questioner.

Taking bits from a few sources and adding my take, here’s how I replied:

Web accessibility and usability are closely linked, it’s no surprise you could do with some help defining the two concepts. I wasn’t sure at first if I could do it justice, but I’m pleased with what I have written – hope it helps.

Web accessibility

Web accessibility is what I deal in, so let’s start there. It’s all about helping people with disabilities have an equivalent experience to everyone else when browsing the web. I’ve avoided saying “the same experience” as users with disabilities often see, hear or feel the world differently. To me “equivalent” means that they get the same information, options and enjoyment – it may just be presented differently.  

Things like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines aim to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities.

Accessible websites benefit people with disabilities in particular.


Usability, on the other hand, is more to do with designing a user-friendly approach. It’s concerned with how people interact with a website’s interface – is it easy to do the things people want to do? Can people quickly find what they want without help? Do people make lots of mistakes using a website? Do people enjoy using the website?

Usable websites benefit everyone.

In summary

A useful way to think about the distinction is this:

A website must be accessible to be usable, but it doesn’t need to be usable to be accessible.

To do list

Someone asked me a brilliant and all-to-common question today: why do so many projects run through all their requirements and then tag on at the end “and it needs to be accessible”?

That’s like asking someone to plan a round-the-world holiday and then, just as you’re about to buy the ticket, asking if you can get everywhere by boat. You’ve just changed a core feature of your trip, now you need to start again and plan which countries have a coastline.

Yet, so often, people think accessibility is something you build on at the very end. As if you just need to make a few tweaks to what you’ve probably spend months planning and building.

But, I’ll tell you something – it’s not their fault.

Nope, you can’t blame someone who just wants to plan a new website for their business. You can’t blame a project manager tasked with delivering a flashy landing page for a new product. In fact, there are only two people you can blame: me and you.

We’re at fault because we haven’t educated enough people outside the accessibility community. We’re at fault because we don’t say in the first meeting, “lets build this website so as many people as possible can use it.” We wait until someone asks and that needs to change.

I’m not suggesting we become accessibility rioters, just good role models. Let’s make sure we talk openly about accessibility right off the bat. With the right attitude, we can help educate more and more people about the benefits of accessibility.

When you start talking (either because you we asked or because you volunteered), set your sights high. Work to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Start with WCAG Level A if you need to, but have a plan to get to Level AA. Tell people that these international standards are used to make a better and fairer internet and they can be part of that movement.

How do you make accessibility part of your work?

Google on MacBook

Placeholder text is often seen inside form fields as a hint to users how to complete the field or explaining what the field does. For example, placeholder text in an ’email’ field might demonstrate the required format for an email address. Often, the idea is to help users complete forms and increase conversion rates.

So what’s the problem? People seem to set placeholder text with the right intention, but there are better ways to achieve the same result. Plus, in some circumstances, placeholder text can be bad for accessibility.

It’s important to note at this point that placeholder text is different to a label, which sets up what a form field is for. However, some websites dispense with labels and use only placeholder text to signal the purpose of the field.

Bad colour contrast

Placeholder text is often a very light grey, which fails rules on colour contrast. It’s also difficult for users to change this as the text may not be styled with CSS or put under user control.


Placeholder text is most confusing when it is used to replace a field label. Users can easily miss the purpose of the field if they quickly click or tab into it. There’s often no way to get the placeholder text back either.

Users with cognitive disabilities can be under extra pressure if placeholder text disappears as they may struggle with memory and recall.

Placeholder text can also look as if a field is already filled in, causing users to miss out fields entirely.

Error identification

Placeholder text often makes error prevention and identification much harder for users as they cannot easily see what mistake they have made. This is compounded when websites remove labels in favour of placeholder text. Checking a submission is near impossible without labels on fields.

When users do make an error, a lack of field labels makes it extremely difficult to fix errors as no detail is available on the nature of the mistake.

When you’re designing forms, it’s best to keep away from using placeholder text. Label fields with good descriptions and add help text around a field, rather than inside it. That way, users can read and understand your form, as well as correct any mistakes they make.

Do you use placeholder text? How do you make it accessible? Let me know in the comments.


Last week, I talked about the thinking behind Level AAA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and why it is important for users. The blog post sparked a lot of conversations on Twitter, many of which wanted firm examples of what Level AAA can look like.

Many people seem worried that a Level AAA website is, by definition, an ugly or boring website.

I’d like to use this blog post to highlight some great examples of Level AAA websites out in the wild, used by real visitors every single day. If you know of a Level AAA website, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list.

I’ll update this list over time, so check back for inspiration whenever you need to.

Level AAA websites

Add yours in the comments!


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.

Toronto skyline

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law aimed at making the Canadian province of Ontario fully accessible by 2025. The act is a framework for standards to make the Canadian province accessible to all.

The Act wants to create an Ontario of full participation. This means that every Ontario citizen has the right to take part in all aspects of life. No one should be prevented from joining public, economic or social life. It’s a world-leading Act and one that I hope spreads across the globe as it deserves.

AODA includes duties on some Ontario organisations to make their websites accessible. Organisations with 50 or more employees must make their websites conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG).

AODA applies to all Ontario organisations that provide goods, services or facilities to the public or to other organisations and have at least one employee.

If you run an organisation Ontario, your compliance is part of a timeline. This is based on the type of organisation you run.

When does the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act impact you?

Government of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly


New public and internal websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA other than criteria 1.2.4 (captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions).


All public websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA other than criteria 1.2.4 (captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions).


All public and internal websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

Public sector organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations (50+ staff)


New public websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level A.


All public websites and web content posted after January 1, 2012, must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA other than criteria 1.2.4 (captions) and 1.2.5 (pre-recorded audio descriptions).

Find out more

May 15th is this year’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day. A day about promoting web accessibility to people who’ve never heard of it before. It’s a day when people like me do everything we can to spread the good word of web accessibility.

Here’s the introduction the official website gives:

The target audience of GAAD is the design, development, usability, and related communities who build, shape, fund and influence technology and its use. While people may be interested in the topic of making technology accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, the reality is that they often do not know how or where to start. Awareness comes first.

Wuhcag works a little differently as you know. While I work with developers and designers, I also love talking to content creators and business owners. That’s why I try to blog about accessibility from the ground up. If you create content for the web (any content at all!) or you own a website and someone else does it for you, you need to know about web accessibility. When better to start than Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2014?

Are you a Dude or a Douche?

To celebrate the official Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2014 hashtag (#GAAD), we’re going to have a little fun on May 15th.

You can be a #GAADude or a #GAADouche on the day.


#GAADudes and Dudettes are people trying to help with web accessibility. Not just the industry leaders, but anyone making even one element on their website more accessible on May 15th. If you’re taking part in Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2014, let me know by telling me what you’re doing via Twitter and using the hashtag #GAADude.

For example:

Just added alt text to images on my site. I’m a total #GAADude


Just for fun, I want you to let me know how you’re disrupting web accessibility too. Why not go in to work early and steal all the mice? Pull the plug on everyone’s speakers or tape newspaper over monitors? Find something fun to do, that helps everyone else learn a little about the issues people with disabilities can face using the internet.

Don’t forget to share:

Just wrote my boss a memo in the smallest lettering I could manage. Hope she’s got a magnifying glass! #GAADouche

My Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2014 sale

How to Meet the WCAG 2.0
This beautiful book for $1? It’s GAAD madness!

Just like last year, I’m running a limited sale on my book, How to Meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. The sale runs from May 13th to May 16th UK time – so wherever in the world you are, you can get it on GAAD.

What’s the deal? Pay what you want for it! Instead of my usual price, I’ll set the price at $1 and you can pay just that (or whatever you want over $1).

So get going, buy the book for as little as $1 – with free updates for life!

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2014!