Glossary

Our glossary on accessibility

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Term Definition
A, AA, AAA These are levels of conformance. You should aim for your website to conform to AA as a minimum. More information under WCAG (q.v.)
AAC This stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and is an umbrella term for a huge gamut of devices that help very often severely disabled people to communicate, often those who are paralysed or have had a brain injury. If your website is complicated to navigate, it is a nightmare for people with severe physical disabilities. Remember: not everyone can use a mouse!
ALT text This is a textual explanation of what is in a picture. You want blind people to have the same experience as your sighted users, surely. Occasionally, if the image is purely decorative, eg a flourish, then you would not give an ALT text, but you would still define the image with some code that says ALT="" or else the screen reader (q.v.) will start to read out the filename, which you really don't want to happen. ALT text is particularly important if you have any text that is being shown in an image file. But you should never really be doing that anyway!
Assistive technology This is a term that encompasses anything that helps disabled people use, well, anything. In the world of accessible websites, it could be a text-to-speech screen reader, or a device to help physically impaired people operate a keyboard.
Braille display This is a device that turns your website (or any other document for that matter) into a line of Braille that refreshes itself, via pins that refresh themselves. Most blind users prefer screen readers (q.v.) but Braille displays are particularly invaluable to the Deafblind community. As long as the website is coded correctly, of course.
CAPTCHA Stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. You know those horrible bits at the end of forms where you have to read a distorted word, or click on streetsigns? They're to protect websites from bots. However, they are terrible for people with disabilities. Those who can only use a keyboard cannot easily use the picture ones, and blind people cannot use them at all. They are often very difficult for people with poor vision also, and dyslexia. Fortunately, some CAPTCHAs also include "audio versions", but next time you come across one, try it for yourself. If you thought the visual CAPTCHA was hard, the audio ones are even harder, often a string of words with loud background noise. Deafblind users cannot use them at all, for obvious reasons. Really decide whether your site needs one. And make sure you choose one that has an audio alternative. Even the simple Google "I am not a Robot" reCAPTCHA, which was meant to be an easy solution, is a nightmare for blind users, as seen on this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0NfBYcbe3I
Colour contrast People with poor eyesight, or those with colourblindness (q.v.), find reading certain combinations of colour quite difficult. You see the blue links on this page? The colour contrast ratio with the grey background is 4.8:1, which means that it passes AA as the threshold for small text is 4.5:1.
Colourblindness There are different types of colourblindness, namely protanopia, deuteranopia and tritanopia, and it affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women. Some people cannot see any colour at all, and see the world as though it were on a black and white television, though this is thankfully extremely rare (1 in 33,000). They have achromatopsia (ie. they have monochromatic vision). I test all the colours on your website to ensure that there is no text anywhere that would cause problems to anyone with any of these different disabilities.
DDA An obsolete term that is still in common parlance. It stands for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, but that was superceded by the Equality Act 2010 (q.v.). Because the DDA was around for so many years, since the birth of the World Wide Web, people still talk about "DDA testing" (for accessibility testing) and I suspect you will continue to hear the term, even though the Act itself is no longer in use. Accessibility testers smile when we hear this quaint term bandied around, but generally don't mind, as it rolls off the tongue quite nicely. NB: the Act is still in force in Northern Ireland.
Equality Act 2010 This is the UK Law that means that you need to provide an equal service to all your customers. It's the same law that makes sure you have wheelchair access and ensures you are not discriminating on grounds of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or age. Because your website is a service. So it's really important. If anyone sues you because your website is not accessible enough, you will hear a lot more about this particular piece of legislature. NB: Does not apply to Northern Ireland, who use their own legislation.
EU directive 2016/2012 It's not just the Equality Act (q.v.) that you need to worry about. There is an EU-wide act that was approved in October 2016, and will require initially all public sector websites to conform with WCAG (q.v.) AA (q.v.). All new public websites must comply from 23 September 2019, and old websites must be retrospectively fixed from 23 September 2020. On 23 June 2021 the directive will also apply to mobile applications. EU directives are very much adhered to. You know that warning about cookies that you had to agree to when you came to this website? That was because of an EU directive. This is fantastic news for accessibility auditors like me, as most public sector websites currently fail dismally so there should be loads of work for me. Yes, I know Brexit is meant to be coming in March 2019, but this directive was approved last year meaning that the UK will adopt it after Brexit. They may choose to repeal it, but that would not be very nice, so my guess is that this is one of the things they won't try to get rid of. Financial websites are next, so look out Banks and Building Societies, they're coming to get you!
Focus box If you are not a mouse user, you need to navigate a website using the keyboard (TAB, SHIFT TAB, cursor keys, return). Try it. On this website you will know exactly where you are because it has been well designed. You will see a box showing where you are on the site. You would be amazed at how many websites fail this simple test, and it is so simple to fix. But if you are using a keyboard and you don't know where you are, then how do you know what part of the page you are actively engaging with!
Forms We all know what a form is, but they are often where your site will fail. There are bits of code in the form that I would be checking to ensure that it has been labelled correctly (too technical to go into detail here), plus you want to make sure that everything can be opened and closed and selected using keyboard controls. Disabled people can take a lot longer than you or I to fill out a form, so the amount of time it takes before it times out is important too. I test all of this so you don't have to.
JAWS This is one of the most popular screen readers (q.v.) out there, developed by Freedom Scientific.
Keyboard trap Some websites are so poorly designed, that when non-mouse users are using a keyboard to navigate, they can suddenly get trapped and can no longer proceed. This happens particularly on forms. Let's hope your website is not one of them.
NVDA Stands for NonVisual Desktop Access, this is a free screen reader (q.v.) that is an excellent alternative for those who cannot afford JAWS (q.v.)
Page zooming Browsers these days have an option whereby you can magnify where you are on a page, allowing you to see larger letters. The ability to have text scaling (q.v.) is still a preferred option as page zooming requires horizontal scrolling which is a pain. Since your website really needs to be responsive (q.v.) these days, this is slowly becoming less of an issue.
PDF accessibility This will send shivers down your spine. Your PDFs need to be accessible as well! You can retrospectively make a PDF accessible, if you have the right software, but it's far easier if the original document you have converted to PDF is accessible in the first place.
POUR Stands for Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust. These are the principles that the WCAG (q.v) 2.1 guidelines are based on. For example, good colour contrast is an example of a Perceivable principle, ensuring a website can be navigated with a keyboard instead of a mouse is an Operable principle, explaining why a form cannot be submitted is an example of an Understandable principle, and ensuring that a website will work properly with a screen reader (q.v.) would be an example of it being Robust. In all, these four principles are divided up into twelve guidelines, and each guideline has a number of success criteria totalling 61. When auditing your website, every part of your site will be tested against all these criteria and if it passes in flying colours it is an AAA (q.v.). Though AA is good enough for most.
Priority 1, 2, 3 An obsolete term, as this is what A, AA and AAA was called when you had the original WCAG 1.0 back in 1999. However, some people refer to it out of habit, so you need to know what it means. But you don't want to conform to it any more, it's outdated.
Responsive If you look at this website, or any responsive website for that matter, on different sized screens (eg a smartphone), you will see that it adapts to the screen. Try it now. Make this window smaller, and see how the text lays itself out in such a way that there is no need to scroll horizontally. Now try a few other websites. You will see that many do not do that. They are soooo last century!
Screen reader Also referred to a "text-to-speech software", this is a piece of software that will read out your website. But will it read all of it, and in the right order? That's where we come in, to make sure that there is nothing that you are hiding from blind users. Not that you'd do it on purpose, of course. But you would be amazed at what a mess some sites are in!
Section 508 This only refers to websites in the States. It's an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that Federal agencies make their websites and applications accessible among other things.
SEO Search Engine Optimisation. Basically, improving your website so that it ranks higher when searching for a site using a search engine such as Google. Making your website accessible will not just benefit people with disabilities, but is likely to help your pageranking also! Search engines reward well-designed sites.
Sitemap If your website is complicated, and has quite a few submenus in its navigation, then you should provide a sitemap. I even provide one on this website, though it's not really necessary as it's such a small site. But I do it because it's good practice. It also helps with your SEO (q.v.) too!
If you are using a screen reader (q.v.), imagine how tedious it would be to have to listen to the navigation menu each time you open a new page of the same website. This is why all good websites (such as this one) have an option to skip the navigation and go straight to the body text of the page. If you scroll to the top of the page and hit TAB you will see an option that says "Skip navigation". Hit return and see what happens. This is one of the first things that gets read out for peope using screen readers, so they can easily skip the menu.
Text scaling People with bad eyesight need letters to be larger. However, some websites do not allow you to make the letters larger. This is not as big a problem as it used to be as browsers these days also have a Page zooming (q.v.) option, but this requires users to have to scroll horizontally all the time, which isn't much fun. So most users with poor eyesight still prefer text scaling, when it is available. Make sure your website is fully responsive (q.v.) and this won't be a problem.
Timed captions Or subtitles. It's not enough for your videos to have a transcript (do they even have that, I wonder!). They should have captions too. This is a single A (q.v.) requirement, or else deaf people will not be able to know what your video is about and they will feel really hard done by. And no, don't rely on YouTube's automatic rendering of the audio, it's really not very good. It's very simple to add captions to video and I'd be more than happy to help you or show you how.
VoiceOver This is a screen reader (q.v.) that is included on iPhones, iPads and iPods.
W3C Stands for the World Wide Web Consortium. Started in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee, who you may remember took centre stage at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. He invented the World Wide Web. The Consortium sets all the standards for the Internet as you know it.
WAI This is the Web Accessibility Initiative, They are a team of specialists who, in 1997, got together to start to write the WCAG (q.v.) guidelines, which they have updated ever since. They are part of the W3C (q.v.)
WAI-ARIA Stands for Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications. This is a bit technical, but basically it is code that gives extra information to, for instance, a screen reader (q.v.) that otherwise wouldn't be given. It's especially useful on widgets and in forms.
WCAG These are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, produced by the WAI (q.v.) of the W3C (q.v.). You will generally see it termed "WCAG 2.1" which refers to the updated guidelines produced in 2018, though older websites will still refer to "WCAG 2.0" which were the guidelines produced in 2008 (the original ones were written in 1999). It is the bible that accessible web designers abide by. There are twelve guidelines which are organised under four principles that every accessible website must adhere to, known as POUR (q.v.). Accessibility audits will check that every page of your website ticks each box. There are three levels of conformance, depending on how accessible your site is: A, AA, and AAA (q.v.). The industry standard is to achieve AA as a minimum. Anything more is a bonus, and will make your website even more inclusive. Anything less than AA and you are not offering disabled visitors the same level of service as other people. In which case, you need to fix this pretty quickly.



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