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According to the CDC, about one in four American adults has some type of disability. Some of these disabilities can affect vision, motor skills, and cognitive function – limitations that can fundamentally change the way someone uses the web. When organizations consider and address accessibility needs not only are they being intentionally inclusive, they are also able to welcome a wider audience. The road to increasing the accessibility of your site starts with understanding. Understanding what web accessibility means. In this article, we detail key terminology and the ecosystem involved in improving your site’s accessibility.

Web Accessibility Defined

Microsoft defines accessibility as, “the qualities that make an experience open to all.” Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with all levels of abilities can use them. More specifically, people can, perceive, understand, navigate, interact with the Web and contribute to the Web (W3C, 2021).

Who benefits from accessibility efforts?


Web accessibility encompasses all ability situations that affect access to the Web, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual. But also benefits people without disabilities, for example:

  • People using small screens like mobile phones and smart watches
  • People trying to watch a video in a loud environment
  • People with slow internet connections
  • People with changing abilities due to age

The simple fact is that these improvements benefit everyone. It’s a known phenomenon called The Curb Cut Effect. Curb cuts are the parts of a street curb that are level with the ground so wheelchairs can move easily from sidewalk to street.

The first curb cuts in the United States were introduced in Michigan in 1945 to help disabled veterans navigate street crossings. However, curb cuts also aid people with strollers, luggage, or bicycles (and any number of other scenarios). Thus the “The Curb Cut Effect” was born, describing when a feature designed for disabled people ends up helping everyone. Accessibility features are similar in that people might not even realizing they are using them.

Key Terminology


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the legal backbone of accessibility arguments in the United States. The Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in any context, including the web. Contrary to the way some people use it, the ADA is not interchangeable with the term “accessibility”. The ADA is only applicable in legal contexts, and only in the US.


Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (pronounced “Wuh-cag”) or WCAG is the standard used to test whether web content meets requirements for accessibility. The WCAG is constantly being revised to reflect current technologies and is currently on version 2.1. It’s used as the accessibility standard in many countries, not just the US. There are three levels of compliance for most rules: single-A for the minimum, double A for recommended or triple-A for the most complex requirements. You might say that something is “WCAG double-A compliant” to describe a site that has reached the double-A standard for most of the guidelines.


“a11y” stands for “accessibility.” It is a numeronym, with 11 representing the count of letters between the letter a and the letter y. Other numeronyms you may be familiar with include: i18n (internationalization), P2P (peer to peer), WWII (World War 2), etc (, 2021). The word accessibility has different meanings in different contexts. On the internet, the use of the term a11y helps to identify content related specifically to digital accessibility.

Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology or AT is a blanket term for technology and tools that people can use to aid computer and internet access. This includes input devices like keyboards, output devices like braille displays, and assistive software like screen readers.

Web Accessibility Principles

There are four web accessibility principles laid out by WCAG. These include perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, or P.O.U.R.


Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive


User interface components and navigation must be operable


Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable


Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technology.

Web Accessibility Ecosystem

When increasing your website’s level of accessibility there is much to consider. You’ll need buy-in from your organization’s stakeholders, a web design and development partner that is knowledgeable in accessible design and dev, and a third-party partner for project oversight and auditing. 

Adage’s web design and development experience includes launching verified AA compliant sites and building all our sites with accessibility in mind. The level of website accessibility is your organization’s choice and depends on your budget, resources, and requirements. 

Adage is happy to talk through your organization’s needs to determine a suitable level of accessibility. Remember, the best time to consider your website’s level of accessibility is BEFORE a project begins

Want to learn how you can make accessibility improvements to your site?

Download our recent whitepaper that covers four of the most common web accessibility errors, how to find them, and how to fix them.