Good intentions about accessibility can sometimes make WCAG look more difficult than it really is

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Sometimes best practices are passed as WCAG requirements and that can make accessibility more difficult for some people to implement. We need to understand what WCAG actually requires and what it does not before we try to impact other people.

This post is just a brief reflection on how partial knowledge can be dangerous. When we want to make things accessible but possibly lack the whole understanding of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines we risk making false statements referring to WCAG that doesn’t exits. That can be potentially dangerous as it may cause accessibility efforts appearing more difficult than they really are.

An example is simple links in HTML. It has come to my attention some day when somebody insisted that all links must be underlined. It makes sense at first glance that that would indeed be a WCAG requirement. But it actually isn’t. WCAG doesn’t require links to be underlined as an absolute rule. Even if underlined links when a part of larger text are more obvious to people that can see, the underline isn’t required when link text has enough contrast. It is simpler to make the links underlined, that’s absolutely true, but it’s not the only correct way according to WCAG. And claiming so can do more harm than good for accessibility efforts. If all links needed to be underlined it would make designs for sure heavier. Imagine all navigation items underlined and so on.

And always underlined links are not the only example. Demanding strong contrasts on icons that come in pairs with texts is another example that can make designs look too harsh but are not required according to WCAG.

What does WCAG require for conformance and what does it not?

We need to be aware what is required for conformance before we make statements around WCAG requirements. We need to understand which parts of WCAG are normative and which informative. Only normative parts must be used for claims of conformance, that is the principles, guidelines and success criteria. Unfortunately sometimes people claim specific techniques or parts from understanding documents are required to be followed for WCAG conformance. That is not always correct. Only the main parts of WCAG are important for conformance, this is key to understanding the normative part of WCAG.

Additional resources

What does actually fail WCAG 1.4.11 Non-text Contrast, by TPGi (opens in new window) can come as a surprise for some people. Similar surprises can be expected after reading yet another article from TPGi – When do headings fail WCAG? (opens in new window).

Hidde de Vries post on normative vs. informative parts of WCAG (opens in new window) is also offering some potential surprises.

And if you really don’t like underlines please make sure your links are at least following the WCAG contrast requirements. WebAIMs link contrast checker tool (opens in new window) makes it easier to check against background and rest of text.

Author: Bogdan Cerovac

I am IAAP certified Web Accessibility Specialist (from 2020) and was Google certified Mobile Web Specialist.

Work as digital agency co-owner web developer and accessibility lead.

Sole entrepreneur behind IDEA-lab Cerovac (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility lab) after work. Check out my Accessibility Services if you want me to help your with digital accessibility.

Also head of the expert council at Institute for Digital Accessibility A11Y.si (in Slovenian).

Living and working in Norway (🇳🇴), originally from Slovenia (🇸🇮), loves exploring the globe (🌐).

Nurturing the web from 1999, this blog from 2019.

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