What are WCAG accessibility standards?

WCAG is an abbreviation for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Introduction to Web Accessibility and W3C Standards (Source: YouTube & WC3. Accessed on 06 Nov 2020)

These guidelines were originally published by the World Wide Web Consortium (known as W3C), in order to get more web developers to focus on accessibility for people with disabilities and limited devices (for example, screen readers, mobile phones and tablets).

Whilst the publication of WCAG 2.0 was in December 2008, WCAG 2.0 only became a recognised ISO standard (for ISO/IEC 40500) in October 2012.

Versions of WCAG accessibility standards

Oftentimes, you might notice that WCAG accessibility standards come in multiple versions, starting from WCAG 1.0. As with any guidelines, they must be updated to accommodate technological progress and changes in legislation.

Major differences within versioning between WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 accessibility standards

Between WCAG 1.0 and WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, the major difference has been the way the guidelines have been organised.

Within WCAG 1.0 accessibility standards, there was more of a checklist approach to guidelines in the form of priorities; 1, 2 and 3. However, WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards focus on the four design principles of web accessibility, giving them different levels of standards instead of priorities.

Standards of WCAG 2.* accessibility standards

Within WCAG 2.* accessibility standards, there are not only multiple versions, but also multiple levels of standards.

According to WC3, there are three levels of accessibility standards, which are outlined below:

Standard levelCriteria
Level AFor Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
Level AAFor Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
Level AAAFor Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.
Levels of WCAG 2.* accessibility standards (Source: Understanding WCAG 2.0, W3C. Accessed on 06 Nov 2020)

Testing for WCAG 2.* accessibility standards

Can the testing of WCAG 2.* accessibility standards be automated?

With the release of WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, WC3 stated that testing guidelines can be more automated (in comparison to WCAG 1.0 accessibility standards); however, they also stated that it requires human evaluation.

Looking at things manually can actually be a good thing because it focuses on a human user experience. For example, we can consider a web page that uses media queries and viewports: from a robot’s perspective, the web page is perfectly mobile-friendly. However, from a human’s perspective, the text could be overlapping, it could have elements missing, and the whole page could appear distorted to the human eye.

Unless there is an automatic test that can successfully test and interact with the web page, human evaluation is necessary for optimal accessibility to be reached.

The four design principles of web accessibility for WCAG 2.* accessibility standards

As stated briefly above, according to WC3, there are four design principles of web accessibility.

Design principleCriteriaGuideline link
PerceivableInformation and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.View guidelines
OperableUser interface components and navigation must be operable.View guidelines
UnderstandableInformation and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.View guidelines
RobustContent must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.View guidelines
Design principles of WCAG 2.* accessibility standards (Source: How to Meet WCAG 2.1, WC3. Accessed on 06 Nov 2020)

When to consider implementing WCAG 2.* accessibility standards

Depending on the level of WCAG 2.* accessibility standards you’re seeking to implement (A, AA or AAA), it can really cause a strain on resources. For instance, you have to allocate budgets to consider extra development, manual testing, and even multiple re-testing.

It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.

WC3

If your website is part of the UK public sector

On the 23rd of December, 2018, the UK government enforced a new legal requirement for the public sector. Specifically, this accessibility regulation is called the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

“People may not have a choice when using a public sector website or mobile app, so it’s important they work for everyone. The people who need them the most are often the people who find them hardest to use.”

“At least 1 in 5 people in the UK have a long term illness, impairment or disability. Many more have a temporary disability.”

UK Government Digital Service team

The UK Government Digital Service team states that if your website is a part of the public sector, then you must comply with WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standards; however, there are exemptions to this.

Please note, RKWO Ltd (the company behind www.rkwo.com) is not a government-affiliated body or website. Accessibility standards and regulations change and are updated from time to time, therefore, if you are considering implementing WCAG accessibility standards, please consult with your government for their advice.

If you’re considering better SEO

As part of Google Chrome’s developer tools, Google offers a reporting system called Google Lighthouse, which covers website performance, accessibility, best practices and SEO.

Google Lighthouse test results for RKWO
Google Lighthouse test results for RKWO (Source: Google Chrome & RKWO. Accessed on 06 Nov 2020)

SEOs believe that Google has essentially given developers a tool that allows website developers to build better websites — allowing websites to perform better within Google’s search engine.

With that said, a lot of Google’s Lighthouse report checks overlap with WCAG 2.* accessibility standards. Therefore, taking the effort to ensure your website is compliant with WCAG 2.* accessibility standards will likely improve your Google Lighthouse score, which could indirectly improve your SEO score, too.

Websites using machine learning are becoming more and more popular as artificial intelligence libraries develop.

If you’re considering your next website to utilise machine learning, or perhaps just wanting to know some general AI use cases or best approaches for websites, then consider taking notes on the below.

Different types of machine learning technologies

There are various machine learning technologies that developers are working on, these are often referred to as libraries of code. Depending on how much usage or data sets your web application is looking to handle, different code libraries.

Based on the Google Trends data, Python seems to be the most popular. This is because Python is easy to learn, intuitive and human-friendly when it comes to reading code.

For machine learning processes that only require small data sets and little usage, PHP libraries are also an option. These PHP libraries are usually the fastest to implement on standard web servers too.

Machine learning uses within websites

Throughout the development of machine learning libraries, lots of machine learning use cases are now more readily available to implement within websites. Below is a list of the most popular use cases you can use AI for within websites.

Forecasts

As you can imagine within the financial industry, forecasting predictions is one of the most popular uses of machine learning — by far. You can usually see the use of these first-hand within stock market websites.

Forecast predictions within machine learning usually work by having previous data (referred to as data sets). For example, you might collate data into days ranging from 1–13, which will allow you to forecast day-14.

Data filtering (spam filters)

If you have an email account, the likelihood is that your email’s server already has machine learning capabilities built-in. For instance, if John Doe sends an email across all of the email addresses on the same server, the software can often learn and detect it as spam, so that the next time it happens, John will automatically be in the spam folder.

Personalised recommendations

Top e-commerce websites often use this machine learning approach to generate more sales through their related product suggestions. The way this usually works is that the website analyses the key metrics of the products you’ve recently viewed or purchased, and displays them as suggestions. The more people that purchase the exact same things, the more relevant the suggestions become.

Security detection

Larger digital organisations which handle large amounts of personal data (social media companies and banks, for example) often use machine learning to detect fraudulent activities.

There are multiple ways to detect fraudulent activities, however, one method is to constantly monitor your recent login history. For example, if you logged in ten times from London, but then logged in once from the US, machine learning processes can usually detect the anomaly and prompt the US login with more authentication requirements.

Q&A chatbots

Whenever you use a chatbot, notice that it’ll nearly always ask you if you found the automatic answer-response helpful. This is another method of machine learning.

The way chatbot machine learning processes work is that the next time someone asks a question, the chatbot will compare it to previously asked questions, and finally provide the same answer based on the previously provided feedback left by others. The more data it has, the more relevant answers it can supply.

Quality assurance (QA) is important now more than ever. If a web application has bugs or glitches, the user may take no time at all to leave and switch to another.

Often QA is only considered as a check, to see if there are any bugs in the web application — however, this is not the case.

QA is also to make sure that the web application is fast, seamless, secure and user friendly too, with different testing techniques which are used to test different software scenarios.

Why QA is a must for web applications

QA acts as a bridge between software developers and users. Developers often miss what the user is expecting from a specific functionality. QA allows test-users to test those scenarios and inform the development team, so appropriate action can be taken.

This makes the QA role essential and here are a few significant factors that explain why QA is necessary for web applications.

To enhance the user experience

User experience matters the most.

Making it seamless, easy access to the next steps and helping the user instead of making them work more is one of the prime examples of a good web application.

QA testers keep that in mind and test the whole flow of the web application in order to make their suggestions.

To test out unknown scenarios

The development team always try to cover all scenarios. However, most of the time there are unknown scenarios that wreak havoc when the web application goes live.

Take Samsung Galaxy Fold by example:

  • It was a perfect blend of optimal performance and the future of mobile phones. However, there was an unknown scenario.
  • Little did Samsung know people would try to peel off the screen’s topmost layer as it looked like a screen protector.
  • Low and behold, because of this unknown/untested QA issue, the Samsung Galaxy Fold became a poor product. The same can apply to untested/poor web applications too.

QA makes sure to look for unknown scenarios (often known as border scenarios) and find as many as possible before a web application goes live.

To avoid hacks and vulnerabilities

The internet is a vulnerable place for data, but also hackers.

Perhaps one of the most important risk factors in a consumer’s mind is their data’s privacy. As then, what’s the point of a data-driven web application when a user’s data is not safe?

Fact: Juniper Research predicted a 2-trillion US dollars loss to companies because of cybercrimes in 2019. They predict it will increase to 150-million US dollars more by the end of 2020.

This is where security and penetration testing come into play.

QA users of all backgrounds (including developers) try to hack into their own system, in order to find any vulnerabilities that can lead to the output of sensitive customer data. 

Regular security testing is necessary for all web applications (at all times, before and even after the web application has been made live). This is because software attacks and viruses keep evolving.

Fact: Deloitte Advisory analysed that the impact of the cyberattacks can be seen long after the attack, almost after two years. Their analyses also mention that 90% of the impact is not even quantifiable.

To test if any new development has a bad impact on an already running web application

To keep up with today’s fast-paced IT world, regular updates are a part of all web applications. However, that often leaves room for harmful impacts on already running software features.

For example:

  • Imagine if a development team has added a postcode field to a student registration form within a web application.
  • Little did the development team know this would mess up a search feature for searching students by their ID number.
  • Now, the web application starts to bring up sensitive information, such as the student’s home postcode for the public to see.

QA makes sure that even newly developed web application features have no bad impacts on the previously developed features.

QA makes brands more professional

Imagine a user is visiting an e-commerce store. They’re wanting to buy a wristwatch and this e-commerce store is the number-1 seller through Google:

  1. The user clicks on the website and in the search bar, they type the product’s name.
  2. Instead of returning results with the available watches, the website crashes due to too many products loading at once within the one page.
  3. With that crash, the customer has left the website.
  4. They’re now not going to buy any products from that website, as the brand is now not considered to be reliable, nor professional.

That’s all it takes — a single crash and all the marketing, development and hard work is then wasted.

With a web application that has passed QA testing, scenarios like the one mentioned above are avoided, therefore, establishing the brand as a professional one.

This scenario could have been easily avoided by adding pagination to the search results page, however, was overlooked by the developers due to poor QA testing.

In today’s fast-paced world, businesses are constantly looking to offer more and more. The goal is to make the customer’s journey on a website as easy as possible and build upon the website’s already-offered services.

To quickly and constantly, build a better service, APIs play an important role in this.

“APIs have the potential to bring the world closer together. The real potential of APIs is to represent the business of a company.” 

Mehdi Medjaoui

Most business owners have heard about APIs and API integration, however, they’re not clear in what it is, nor understand the benefits of API integrations.

What is an API? 

“API (Application Programming Interface) is  a piece of code that is used for interaction between multiple software platforms.”

Wikipedia

There are 1000s of software platforms, each using different coding techniques, different programming languages and overall different approaches for their software. It becomes difficult for other platforms/programmers to understand another and integrate with.

In comes API integration. In simple terms, consider two software applications which talk different languages. An API can help the software applications talk to each other (authentication), understand each other (authorisation) and exchange information between each other (request).

How does an API work?

Let’s explain how APIs work with a simple analogy:

Planning an application programming interface
Planning an API (Source: Image by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels)
  1. Consider walking into a restaurant. You don’t talk directly to the chef, as they’re busy doing their own tasks.
  2. You call the waiter and specify your order.
  3. The waiter notes your order and delivers it to the chef.
  4. Once the order’s ready, the chef calls the waiter back.
  5. The waiter takes the order and brings it to you.
  6. You eat your food, pay your bill and you’re ready to leave.

In this scenario, the waiter is working as the API. Whereas the customer and the chef are the two different software applications.

You get one software’s request, explain it to the other, get the relevant information packaged and finally have it handed over.

In reality, the role of an API is to act as the mediator.

Examples of an API

Google Maps application programming interface in use
Google Maps API in use (Source: Image by Ingo Joseph from Pexels)

You’re likely to already be using APIs within your daily routine.

For example, let’s take everyday transportation as a scenario: Have you called in Uber recently? Uber uses Google Maps API to track and show you the positing of your ride.

Another example, signing up to a website using your Facebook login: This again uses an API integration provided by Facebook, which helps to pass your Facebook data to the website, in order to help create an account/grant access.

Types of APIs

  • XML – This is relatively a simple API that uses a specific XML format to transfer data. It also uses minimum bandwidth, which comes in useful for larger requests.
  • SOAP – This is a standardised protocol that uses proprietary XML format to transfer data. It can send more data, therefore, can be more complex and secure. SOAP is more suitable for enterprise software applications.
  • JSON – Similar to XML, however, it uses JSON markup to transfer data instead.
  • REST – This is an architectural style of API, which is more data-driven and is extremely popular. It follows certain architectural rules and principles, which helps to standardise APIs so that software developers can make sense of them more easily.

Fact: REST API represents 70% of public APIs.

Ways API integrations can help websites

Stay up to date

APIs help websites stay up to date, which is a very important factor in today’s fast-paced world.

For example, websites showing stock exchange share rates, currency rates, property listings, etc. all use API integration to stay up to date with the most relevant information.

Help inter-app connectivity

This is the age of data. The world now has become a global village, where APIs are now used in order to help exchange useful information throughout.

Air ticket availability and booking websites are prime examples of inter-app connectivity: Almost all airlines have their APIs available for providing booking companies with reliable ticketing information.

These APIs can be used to help to check for available flights, seat availability and comparisons across all other airlines too if used collectively.

No need to build giant custom web applications

APIs can also help reduce overall website development costs.

Instead of developing giant custom web applications altogether, pre-made and already quality assured APIs can be integrated within websites for the same required purpose.

Make admin tasks easy

Menial repetitive tasks, which involve clicking between different applications, copy-pasting data or monitoring changes in data daily can take up valuable time and resources — using APIs can help to automate these tasks accordingly.

Website administrators don’t have to worry about inputting or monitoring tons of data manually, as it’s mostly managed and quality assured by third parties instead.

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