The Why and What of Web Privacy and Accessibility Guidelines

In the recent times when we developed web properties, it has become standard for us to adhere to "Privacy and Accessibility" guidelines. In some cases, the customers have their own set of privacy and accessibility guidelines, and in other cases the customers expect the implementation agencies to follow the latest standard. In either case the core of these guidelines are laid out of by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Let us explore the accessibility guidelines a little more, and ask, why and how it is relevant?

Why Accessibility?

It is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities

Accessibility supports social inclusion for people with disabilities as well as others, such as older people, people in rural areas, and people in developing countries. (Source: W3C)

There is also a strong business case for accessibility. Accessibility overlaps with other best practices such as mobile web design, device independence, multi-modal interaction, usability, design for older users, and search engine optimization (SEO). Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits. (Source: W3C)

Some of these following examples will probably give much better view on the practical usage of these Accessibility guidelines.

1) Alternative Text for Images

Images should include equivalent alternative text in the markup example

This Alt text is useful in following scenarios,

    • If alt text isn't provided for images, the image information is inaccessible, to people who cannot see and use a screen reader that reads aloud the information on a page, including the alt text for the visual image.
    • For people who turned off images on their mobile phone to lower bandwidth charges, people in a rural      area with low bandwidth who turned off images to speed download, Alt text will display the information contained in "Alt text".
    • It's also available to technologies that cannot see the image, such as search engines.

2) Transcripts for Pod Casts

Just as images aren't available to people who can't see, audio files aren't available to people who can't hear. Providing a text transcript makes the audio information accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as to search engines and other technologies that can't hear.

It's easy and relatively inexpensive for website developers to provide transcripts for podcasts and audio files.

How do I ensure the web properties are better accessible?

Making a Web site accessible can be simple or complex, depending on many factors such as the type of content, the size and complexity of the site, and the development tools and environment.

Many accessibility features are easily implemented if they are planned from the beginning of Web site development. Fixing inaccessible Web sites can require significant effort, especially sites that were not originally "coded" properly with standard XHTML markup, and sites with certain types of content such as multimedia.

The detailed list of guidelines to be followed can be found here

How do we evaluate the accessibility of a Web property?

When developing or redesigning a site, evaluating accessibility early and throughout the development process can identify accessibility problems early when it is easier to address them. Some of these can be tested in the browser itself. For example turn-off image download and verify Alt Text has been applied on all images

Other than this there is an exhaustive list of free and commercial version of evaluation tools are available. HiSoftware is one of leading organization in this, and in one of our leading Customer HiSoftware tools are used to evaluate the Accessibility checks.

Challenges in following Accessibility standards

During some of our implementation, the most commonly failed accessibility checks are on the visual side like font color, background color etc. rather than the markup issues like ALT Text which is more under the developer control. Best way to handle these visual issues will be to scan the Visual Design (PSD files) itself for accessibility issues before the start of the technical development and ensure that all visual issues are resolved during the Visual Design Phase. This will avoid significant remediation effort that might be required to perform these visual fixes during the later stage of the development.

Why Privacy

Protecting customer privacy is critically important. In many areas of the world, privacy is considered a fundamental human right. Additionally, protecting customer privacy can increase loyalty and be a market differentiator

Like accessibility, there are tools available to you to check on the privacy guidelines.

Following are some key Privacy Guidelines:

  • Collection of personal information should be limited to the minimum amount of information necessary to meet the needs of the program.
  • Collection of personal information should be limited to what is planned for use within a reasonable time period. Do not collect information if there is no plan in place to use the information. This is necessary to reduce the likelihood of future contact being perceived as SPAM or a non-value added communication to the individual.
  • Personal information is to be used only for the purpose that was specified at the time of collection.
  • A privacy notice should be provided for all channels when collecting personal information. This notice should tell individuals what information we collect, how it is used, whether it may be temporarily transferred to others to provide the products or services requested
  • Privacy notice should be provided whenever an individual is contacted.
  • Cookies, files or other technologies stored on an individual computer must never contain personal information

Other than this there will also be country and region specific privacy regulations that would need to be followed. For example:

  • In UK, before storing the cookie can be stored in user computer / device only after user consent.
  • In Europe, as per the recent ePrivacy law, all sites should have "About Cookie" Page with details on what is the purpose of the cookies and how it will be used in the site.

Hence the customer privacy guidelines should be constantly modified / keep up-to-date to comply with new privacy laws in various regions.

In Summary it is essential to follow good privacy and accessibility guidelines such as those found in this article. A lack of follow-up of these could lead to usability issues as well as risk in terms of legal compliance, with potential for costly fines (potential for multi-millions) and regulatory orders.