Organizations come to us confused on web accessibility for good reason: there is a lot of information out there and much of it is misleading and unclear. This begs the question of where an organization should start, a common question as most organizations do not have a good web accessibility compliance program, if even a process, in place. It is important for every organization, this day in our virtual age, to start their journey. Not doing so provides compliance risk, but also closes the door to significant online “capture” opportunities and the best user experience.
The understanding of web accessibility has not permeated the developer community as say ADA standards for physical accommodations. Most builders, even small independent contractors, understand or know by heart the measurements and protocols they have to follow. It is ingrained in their process, their conscious and understood that it should be followed. Yes, there are a number of exceptions and still inexcusable lack of physical accessibility in many public places, such as major city subway systems that shall not be named. But, by and large, physical accommodations are more understood and implemented.
Yet, let us examine what has happened over the past two decades and particularly and acutely the past eight months. Critical (no, not just convenient) services have moved online, and some entirely. If you take away the average American’s phone, computer and internet for a day and expect anything less than a revolution you have not really thought how dependent we are on these devices. Amusingly, this realization can be depicted by trying to get an attention of an adult on their phone who waxes poetic about concerns about kids and electronics. Your bills, your banking, your 401K, your human resources system at work, your healthcare, your entertainment, your transportation, your food and everything in between are all provided or facilitated online. This was a fait accompli before COVID, and now it has been pushed into warp speed. Online services have gone from convenient in the 90s, to necessary in the 00s, to critical in the 10s and, with COVID, to the safest.
Why does all this matter? Well, the question that is always on everyone’s mind and understandably is “why are web accessibility lawsuits going up?” Is it simply due to predatory lawyers (they are there) and not underlining causes mentioned above? If it is the former, then there is chance this compliance area will subside, but, if it is the latter or a combination of the two, the increases and demands will continue. It is obvious where we at User1st stand, but, if you’ve read this far, we would encourage some of your own objective research. Feel free to start with User1st’s The Essential Web Accessibility Guide or visit our Resources Page.
If you are convinced it makes sense to start an Accessibility Compliance Program, here are some wholehearted recommendations we discuss with our clients:
Then start to test. Automated testing is an easy start but only captures a portion (~30-40%) of international accessibility requirements (per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). If you use free tools, just be aware of their scope limitations—nearly all free scanners only scan a page at a time because it cost money to run servers and let any scan 10 million pages on Amazon for the fun of it. If you need a more robust platform, User1st offers a great enterprise grade scanning tool, Check1st, that is affordable and loaded with features that will make you understand how to get an ADA compliant website in no time.
As mentioned, those limitations of automated scanning tools necessitate manual testing by accessibility experts using assistive technologies, especially screen-readers. Completing a full audit, both manual and automated may be advisable for some. For others, automated scans may provide enough information to start to build a program that includes policy and fixing, or in web accessibility speak, “remediation.”
There are a few paths to fix: do nothing, do-it-yourself, do-it-yourself with some assistance or outsource it to a SaaS remediation solution. We are going to examine all those paths in another blog as they deserve more attention, but if you want to know about what option suits you the best, reach out to us and we can diagnose together the pros and cons of each approach.
Once you established your path, write a policy about it. If you’re a smaller organization with one web site, this is a simple web accessibility statement that can go on your website. At a high-level, it explains your commitment and steps your organization is taking to implement accessibility. If you’re a bigger organization, it may include internal policies as well or even different policies for different assets. The right Web Accessibility Compliance Program is custom to your organization.
Getting started with web accessibility does not have to be complicated but it should be deliberate. Start by understanding and making your own decisions as to when and how to pursue. Understand that the overall compliance pressure is very likely not going down. And, if you dare, think about the benefits, and there are many, of implementing accessibility. We’ll be writing a blog on how an accessibility initiative can be used as a Trojan Horse for digital transformation into an ADA compliant website. As always, feel free to reach out to the User1st team!
Written by Shawn Pike