Website Accessibility for Beginners

Laptop on bright green grass.

(Updated for 2024)

Website accessibility means making your website (and its content) accessible to people with disabilities.

One essential aspect of accessibility is coding your website so screen readers can interpret it for people who are blind or have low vision.

As another example, it’s crucial to include closed captioning for videos for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

It may be helpful to view accessibility as we’re opening up our website so that everyone can have equal access to the content and functions. The means of access might be different, but, if so, it’s the functional equivalent.

For example, someone with a vision impairment may not be able to see an image but as long as descriptive alternative text is provided for that image, the meaning of the image can still be effectively conveyed.

How To Make a Website Accessible

The best way to approach accessibility is to follow the guidelines put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) under their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

These guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and version 2.0 conformance level AA is a good baseline to strive to meet first.

WCAG 2.0 AA has 38 success criteria. Think of success criteria as bullet points you take care of to make your website accessible.

Some of these are fairly easy to understand and implement while others are more complex and require a developer.

Three important accessibility to-dos are:

  • Adding alt attributes to all of your images (and including alt text values for all of the meaningful images)
  • Making sure your website is navigable by keyboard only (you can unplug your mouse and still fully use your website)
  • Programmatically adding labels to all of your form fields and controls (e.g., your contact form fields have programmatic labels)

WCAG 2.1 AA is an updated version of WCAG that includes 2.0 but adds 12 new success criteria.

Think of 2.1 AA in terms of 38 + 12 = 50.

This math formula helps illustrate the difference between the two WCAG versions.

With 2.1 AA, nothing has been undone in 2.0, all that’s happened is we’ve added 12 new things.

The WCAG documentation can be hard to understand but my WCAG 2.1 AA checklist and guide are written in plain English.

Legal Side of Accessibility

In several countries across the world, digital accessibility is mandatory.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is being interpreted by the majority of federal courts to apply to websites of private entities (from small businesses to non-profits to corporations).

The result is that if a website isn’t accessible, it can be viewed as discriminatory against persons with disabilities and therefore in violation of the ADA.

Although no formal regulation has been issued yet (it is coming), we do know that both the Department of Justice (DOJ) commonly references WCAG for website accessibility.


There are a handful of companies who specialize in web accessibility.

The process of fixing (referred to as remediation) your website begins with a manual audit (unless you know a developer who can identify and instantly repair issues).

An audit is conducted by an accessibility expert who evaluates a website against WCAG success criteria. The expert then lists all of the accessibility issues in a report that is delivered to the client.

Once an audit has been completed, the next step is to remediate or fix your website by resolving all of the issues contained in the report.

There are several vendors who promote and sell an overlay widget as a solution to website accessibility. Sometimes you’ll see the widget referred to as a plugin.

While there can be some nominal benefit, overlays are not a solution to accessibility — not even close.

Do not buy anything that sells itself as an instant fix.

In a Nutshell

Website accessibility is critical in making your website accessible and compliant with the law.

There are technical standards you can use to guide your efforts and, remember, everything ultimately comes down to finding and fixing issues.

If you need services or consulting, feel free to contact me at

I also offer on-demand training at

Learn about the ADA website compliance legal landscape and services marketplace.

Would you like to certify your website’s accessibility? Read my guide to ADA compliance certification for websites.

Working on WCAG 2.2 conformance? Study the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines with my WCAG 2.2 checklist.

WCAG 2.2 is the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but it’s important to understand WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1.

Researching VPATs? Read why you should know what an ACR or accessibility conformance report is. My VPAT guide is essential for procurement teams.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is just one of the laws that concerns website accessibility. Read my 504 compliance website and 508 compliance website guides. Companies with employees in Ontario may also be interested in my AODA website compliance requirements explainer.

What exactly is a website accessibility audit? My write-up on audits will help you understand what goes into an ADA website audit.