WCAG 2.0 Principles: Perceivable

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Perceivable – The scope of the challenge

When creating content for websites, accessibility experts recommend following four principles known as P.O.U.R.: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust

Perceivable – what does it mean and how does it work?

Achieving “perceivable” content in this instance includes using special coding techniques, allowing access to 3rd party code and re-coding legacy code. This inevitably leads to questions within organizations that must be answered to meet the needs of disabled users: Who in the organization is responsible for the 3rd party software code to make a website ‘perceivable?’ Who is responsible for the alternate version of the text that meets the needs of the disabled community? How do the content managers manage images, links, and files? These are both logistical and stylistic questions that must be addressed to better serve a targeted audience.

Even though styling tends to enhance user experience, the main message and information of a site should not depend on the mode of presentation. This is crucial because not all users will be able to perceive the “look and feel” (i.e. how a site looks to the user and how it feels when the user is interacting with it, which directly conveys an attitude to clients) aspects of web content. If a website is not coded with proper labeling (such as an image that writes “Click Here”) it will be of little use to someone using a screen reader if the image meta data does not specify the text, which is what screen readers work off of, and in some cases can even lead to legal ramifications.

Other questions developers must consider: Can the object on the screen be seen? Is the color contrast set to the recommended/necessary ratio for certain individuals? Can the font size easily be adjusted larger or smaller – without using a mouse (a possible concern for individuals with motor disabilities)? Are there alternative descriptions to each link and image? Does the video have closed captioning? These are only a small subset of questions that arise in attempting to achieve “Perceivable” web content.

Why are sites slow to adopt measures to reach Perceivable standards?

Today, Web 2.0 emphasizes user-generated content, where website owners can publish content instantly, automatically, and most importantly without the need for a dedicated web developer. The rise of Web 2.0 allows individuals and companies to focus on site traffic and analytics of content use, drawing focus away from accessibility standardization.

Accessible content hinges on three basic foundations:

  • Who is managing the content?
  • How to monitor new changes in the content?
  • How to fix the content if it is found to not meet the recommended standard?

For companies focusing on web accessibility, making their content “Perceivable” means engaging an estimated population of 285 millions people who have some form of visual impairment. To do that, other modes of communication are necessary. The audio format is a good example of this—assistive technologies can perform this conversion, but only if the written content is designed with accessibility in mind.

Another complication that arises for content producers is that making their content accessible typically requires multiple professionals to collaborate. It is quite common that these various professionals are not located at the main headquarters or even in the same country, which adds another element of complexity to the process.

Thus, it can be seen that the nature of Web 2.0 makes it difficult to achieve and maintain Perceivable standards, and even the process of reaching compliance is complex, and on-going.

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