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11 February 2024 - 6 minutes

A Deep Dive into Accessibility-Driven Development Using JavaScript and ARIA Attributes

Dive into the intricacies of accessibility-driven development! 

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In the quickly evolving landscape of web development, creating digital experiences that are not only visually appealing, but also inclusive to all users has become a paramount concern. Web accessibility, as guided by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), is a fundamental aspect that ensures that individuals with varying abilities can easily navigate and interact with online content. 

As we talk through web accessibility, we’ll delve into the intricacies of the web accessibility guidelines, highlight the importance of using a web accessibility checker, and offer a number of popular web accessibility tools and services that can transform your digital products. If you’re curious about the world of accessibility-driven development, where JavaScript and ARIA attributes emerge as pivotal tools, then you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in. 

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility refers to the practice of designing and developing websites and applications in a way that ensures equal access and usability for all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. The aim is to create digital content and services that can be easily perceived, navigated, and interacted with by everyone, including those with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive impairments. 

Why does web accessibility matter?

Web accessibility is not only about compliance with guidelines, but also is crucial for organizations that value inclusivity, diversity, and providing optimal user experience for all users. Web accessibility matters for numerous reasons, including: 

  1. Inclusivity and equal opportunities: web accessibility is focused on providing equal opportunities for everyone to access and engage with online content. It ensures that people with disabilities can participate fully in the digital world, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive society. 

  2. Legal and regulatory compliance: many countries have enacted laws and regulations that mandate web accessibility. Non-compliance may result in legal consequences. 

  3. Expanding user base: creating accessible websites and applications expands the potential user base. By considering the diverse needs of users, businesses can reach a broader audience and enhance user engagement. 

  4. Enhances user experience: web accessibility goes hand-in-hand with providing a better overall user experience. Designing for accessibility often leads to cleaner, more intuitive interfaces and streamlined navigation, benefiting all users. 

  5. Search engine optimization (SEO): accessible websites tend to have better SEO. Search engines prioritize websites that provide a positive user experience, which aligns with the principles of web accessibility. 

  6. Technology and device diversity: with the proliferation of various devices and technologies, including screen readers, voice assistants, and mobile devices, ensuring web accessibility becomes crucial for seamless user experience across different platforms. 

  7. Corporate reputation and social responsibility: demonstrating a commitment to web accessibility contributes to a positive corporate image. It reflects social responsibility, fostering goodwill among users, customers, and the community. 

  8. Future-proofing: as technology advances, the importance of web accessibility is likely to increase. Designing with accessibility in mind today helps in future-proofing digital assets against evolving standards and user expectations. 

In short, web accessibility matters because it promotes equal access, improves user experience, ensures legal compliance, and aligns with the principles of diversity and inclusivity. Embracing web accessibility is not just a technical requirement, it is a commitment to creating a digital landscape that caters to the needs of all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. 

Web Accessibility Guidelines

The web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). WCAG provides a comprehensive framework for creating accessible web content, covering a wide range of user needs. The guidelines are organized around four core principles, often referred to as “POUR.” These include: 

  1. Perceivable: information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive. This includes text alternatives for non-text content, captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and adaptable content for different sensory experiences. 

  2. Operable: users should be able to interact with and navigate the interface. This involves keyboard accessibility, providing sufficient time for users to read and complete tasks, avoiding content that could cause seizures or physical discomfort, and designing navigation that is consistent and predictable. 

  3. Understandable: information and operation of the user interface must be clear and straightforward. This includes legible and understandable text, consistent navigation functionality, and input assistance to avoid and correct errors. 

  4. Robust: content must be robust enough to be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This involves using valid and well-formed coded and ensuring compatibility with current and future technologies. 

Further, WCAG is structured into three levels of conformance: A (the lowest), AA, and AAA (the highest). Achieving higher levels of conformance typically indicates a higher degree of accessibility, but may also involve more significant design and development efforts. 

Web accessibility standards

In addition to WCAG, various countries and regions have established their own web accessibility standards and laws to ensure that digital content is accessible to all users. These standards, along with the WCAG, form the backbone of web accessibility initiatives globally. Adhering to these guidelines and standards ensures that digital content is designed and developed with inclusivity in mind, making the web a more accessible place for everyone. 

JavaScript, ARIA, and Web Accessibility

The integration of JavaScript and ARIA (Accessible Right Internet Applications) attributes is a powerful strategy for organizations aiming to meet and exceed web accessibility standards. First, let’s break down these terms and then we’ll jump into how these tools can help aid accessibility-driven development. 

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript is a high-level, interpreted programming language primarily known for its role in developing dynamic and interactive content on the web. It’s widely used for both front-end and back-end web development. 

What is ARIA?

ARIA is a set of attributes that can be added to HTML to enhance the accessibility of dynamic content. ARIA provides additional information to assistive technologies, such as screen readers, about the roles, states, and properties of user interface components. 

JavaScript and ARIA in web accessibility

By integrating JavaScript and ARIA attributes, organizations can not only comply with accessibility standards like the WCAG, but also go beyond compliance to create digital experiences that are truly inclusive and user friendly for users with varying abilities. 

  1. Focus management: when dynamic changes occur in web design, managing focus becomes crucial for keyboard and screen reader users. JavaScript can be employed to programmatically set focus to relevant elements or manage focus traps, ensuring a logical and accessible navigation flow. 

  2. Enhanced forms: complex forms with dynamic updates may pose difficulties for users with disabilities. ARIA attributes can be used to associate form fields with descriptive information and indicate validation errors dynamically. 

  3. Single-page applications (SPAs): SPAs often involve dynamic content loading, making it challenging to maintain accessibility. ARIA attributes, combined with JavaScript, can be employed to communicate changes in the application’s state, making SPAs more navigable for users with disabilities. 

  4. Responsive design: adapting to different screen sizes and devices requires careful consideration for accessibility. JavaScript can be utilized to handle responsive design features and ARIA attributes can be applied to maintain accessibility across various platforms. 

  5. Testing and debugging: identifying and rectifying accessibility issues in dynamic web applications can be challenging. Integrating JavaScript and ARIA should be accompanied by thorough testing with accessibility tools and screen readers to detect and address potential issues during development. 

These are just a few of the many ways these tools can aid in the process of accessible development. They’ll assist in creating more accessible, future-proof web designs that ideally increase engagement and support your organization to connect to a broader range of users. 

Web Accessibility Checkers

Web accessibility checkers are tools designed to evaluate websites and web applications for compliance with accessibility standards. These tools help identify potential issues that may impact the usability of a website for individuals with disabilities. A few of these tools include: 

  • Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) is a suite of evaluation tools provided by WebAIM. It is utilized to identify many accessibility and WCAG errors, facilitating the evaluation of web content for people with disabilities. 

  • aXe accessibility checker is an open-source browser extension that can be integrated into various development environments. It identifies and reports accessibility issues in web applications. 

  • Lighthouse is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages. It has audits for performance, accessibility, progressive web apps, SEO, and more. 

  • Pa11y is a command-line interface that allows you to check web pages for accessibility issues from the terminal. It can be used programmatically in continuous integration workflows. 

Web accessibility is a critical aspect of digital development and using dedicated tools to assess and enhance accessibility can greatly contribute to creating inclusive and user-friendly web experiences

Your Future with Accessibility-Driven Development

If you’re interested in web development, then understanding accessibility-driven development will enhance your knowledge and make you a stronger candidate for web development positions. Not only are many companies looking to socially responsible initiatives to transform their brand, but you’ll also help ensure the organization’s compliance with legal regulations. 

If you’re looking to launch your career in web development or you simply want to brush up on your knowledge and skills as a web developer or UX/UI designer, then you’re in the right place. Ironhack offers bootcamps in both areas that will help you secure the skills to lock down a job as a tech professional

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