At first blush, it’s certainly easy to answer enthusiastically and in the affirmative to the question “Do you want your website to be accessible to as many people as possible?”
The internet itself has an inherent feeling of being “for everyone”, a place where anyone can connect with anyone and where information is free and available to anyone connected to it.
Unfortunately, simply having a website in and of itself doesn’t make your information accessible to everyone. The number of people who have some sort of disability or impairment that makes it difficult to access web pages is pretty staggering (check out some interesting stats on Interactive Accessibility). It’s easy for most of us to miss the things that make a website less accessible; if you don’t regularly use a screen reader, if you don’t go through life with color blindness, if you don’t already use assistive technology, it might never occur to you to look for accessibility in your website.
Didn’t my developer handle making my website accessible and compliant with the law?
Most people assume that their web developer considered this during the build. After all, you don’t even know what an aria-role attribute is, much less how to implement it. That’s what you hired the developer for! The reality of the situation, however, is that most developers haven’t thought about it, either.
First of all, doing accessibility work is largely invisible (in the same way that it’s invisible to most website visitors). It’s hard for a developer to justify adding an additional charge on top of an already expensive website when most people never notice that the work was done. Second of all, up until this point, many folks justified a lack of website accessibility by pointing to the lack of specific legislation or rules surrounding the topic. If you don’t have to spend the money, why do it?
We can no longer ignore the accessibility elephant
A recent court ruling has brought website accessibility to the attention of many in the industry who had previously been able to ignore it. This ruling establishes websites as a public accommodation; that means it is subject to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that such accommodations must be available for use by both those with and without disabilities. This is huge, in that it clearly treats websites as public accommodations, independent from the presence of a brick-and-mortar location. Just like making sure your coffee shop has accessible parking and an appropriately graded ramp to the entrance, your website is now considered a space open to the public.
The frustrating part, for website developers and owners alike, is that there are no formally established laws regarding website accessibility when it comes to non-government websites. The courts are now interpreting the ADA to apply to websites… even while there are no official guidelines or rules.
Luckily, there are well-established guidelines for making your website accessible. In 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium released the WCAG. Now in version 2.0, the guidelines provide an almost exhaustive list of recommendations for improving your website’s accessibility. Although they’re not mandated by law, the WCAG has become the gold standard for assessing and improving website accessibility.
Never fear – website accessibility is achievable
The good news here is that, because there are still no official rules, you’re not clearly in violation of them! What truly matters at this point in time is your attempt to make your site accessible and your ongoing attention to keeping it accessible.
Your first step should be to have an accessibility audit performed on your site. There are lots of free and paid tools out there, and plenty of people billing themselves as experts. It’s important to note here that no one it truly an expert… there are just people with more experience in the area than others. The audit is more about a development team spending time looking with a trained eye at automated scan reports and at the website files. Using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and an understanding of website functionality, the audit will identify potential barriers to accessibility. This will essentially “take the temperature” of your website’s accessibility so that you can assess how urgent the need to remediate is.
Next, you’ll want to have a trusted development partner to help implement the recommendations generated during the audit. This can be your original developer, a new developer excited about making the web more accessible, or an accessibility remediation specialist (yep! They exist!). Sometimes, it can be a combination of all three!
Finally, and most importantly, you (and your team) will need to be involved in the remediation process. Developers can spend hours and hours working to implement the recommendations listed by an audit, but once they complete their work, you still have to use and update your own website. Many accessibility concerns have to do with things you can control – adding alt text to images, making sure infographics use colors that have enough contrast, and including transcripts with audio or video.
Accessibility means inclusivity – let’s be hospitable!
You don’t have to be scared of this topic. The bottom line is that you can do small things that will have a big impact, even if you’re constrained by budget or time constraints. As long as you are making an effort, keeping good records of that effort, and continually working to improve on what you’ve done before, you will be positioned to make sure that you are as protected as possible from potential litigation while also being confident that your website accommodates as many people as possible.
Aside from avoiding litigation, making your website more accessible will lead to more potential leads, create better relationships with clients & customers, and ultimately be a point of pride for you and your business.
We’ve got plenty of experience when it comes to improving the accessibility of existing sites as well as building new sites that are as accessible as possible from launch. If you have concerns about your web properties, give us a shout. We’ll help you figure out how to proceed, no matter your current situation.