Every finding on the platform has a severity level based on the accessibility rule that it violates. This article describes the different severity levels and how they can influence your remediation strategy.
On this page:
- What is severity?
- Severity levels in the platform: Critical, high, low, and info
- How can I use severity levels to remediate my digital properties?
What is severity?
On the platform, severity refers to how much an accessibility finding impacts someone with a disability. While some findings completely block users from content or functionality, others make tasks difficult to complete or content hard to understand.
The severity levels are guidelines set by the accessibility experts at Level Access based on their experience using and testing digital products with assistive technologies. Rules with critical, high, and low severity levels correspond to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) success criteria. You need to fix findings under those rules for a digital property to be WCAG conformant.
Severity levels in the platform: Critical, high, low, and info
Findings with a critical severity level block someone with a disability from accessing content or completing a task.
- A Checkout button that isn’t keyboard accessible blocks keyboard-only users from completing a purchase.
- An instructional video without a transcript or captions blocks deaf or hard of hearing users from receiving the information.
Findings with a high severity level make it very difficult for someone with a disability to access content or complete a task. They may have to take several more steps than users without disabilities or find a different way to do the same action.
- A website with a large menu structure requires keyboard-only users to make many keystrokes to reach the main content.
- Link text that’s too generic (“Click here”) gives screen reader users no information about where the link will take them, making them follow multiple links to find the right one.
- A toolbar that’s accessible by mouse only requires keyboard-only users to find a different way to access that content.
Findings with a low severity level introduce some difficulties for people with disabilities. In some cases, low severity findings don’t add any difficulties, but they do fail a WCAG success criterion.
- An unclear or inaccurate heading misleads users who rely on heading structure to navigate or understand content.
- When the written language of a webpage isn’t specified in the HTML, screen reader users have to manually switch the language on their device.
- Two buttons with the same functionality that have different names (“Back” and “Previous Page”) create confusion.
Findings with the info severity level align with accessibility best practices that aren’t reflected in WCAG. Fixing these issues will increase user experience, but it isn’t required for WCAG conformance.
How can I use severity levels to remediate my websites and apps?
Prioritize by severity
Fixing findings in order of severity is one of many ways to remediate a website or app, and it’s a good place to start. In most cases, critical severity findings need immediate attention, while low severity findings can wait to be fixed.
To fix findings in order of severity, fix critical findings first, then move on to highs and lows. Prioritizing by severity level is often the fastest way to make your product accessible to the most people.
Can I fix findings “out of order”?
Yes. In some cases, fixing findings out of order will help you create more accessible products faster.
Don’t be afraid to work out of order, especially if:
You’re focusing on high-traffic pages or key user flows first. Fixing a high severity finding in a key user flow has a much greater impact than fixing a critical finding on a page with low traffic. Working on your most popular pages or flows is a great reason to fix findings out of order.
You don’t have the resources to fix certain findings. If you don’t have developers on staff but you do have a content team, fix content findings first, even if they have a lower severity level. Working with the resources you do have keeps your remediation process moving.
You determine that a critical finding isn’t actually blocking users. A Checkout button that isn’t keyboard accessible will always be marked as a critical finding. But if keyboard-only users can complete their purchase another way (from a different page, for instance), they’re not blocked from that functionality.
Severity levels help us understand how findings affect users with disabilities, but they’re determined outside of your product and might not reflect the experience of your users. If you determine that a critical finding isn’t actually a blocker, put it lower on your list of priorities.
Do I have to fix everything?
To be WCAG conformant, all critical, high, and low findings must be fixed.