Tips for Identifying Web Accessibility Gaps at Your Company
What is the nature of web accessibility at your organization?
Do you feel confident that users with disabilities can use your IT and web services?
The best way to answer these questions is by reassessing web accessibility at your company. Auditing and then improving upon overall user experience helps your organization avoid potential lawsuits, as explained by web accessibility auditor Mike Paciello in his presentation, Are You at Risk? Identifying Web Accessibility Gaps at Your Organization.
We got the sense from Mike that, in general, many companies he’s worked with take a reactive approach to web accessibility. In other words, they find themselves scrambling to bring their content up to date and comply with the laws after an audit. (For instance, not realizing that images need to contain alt text in HTML is a common problem.)
He stresses:[Y]ou want to break with the norm. Don’t be reactionary. Be proactive and integrate accessibility into your best practices.
Foundation Stones of Risk: Understand the Laws First
The presentation began with Mike invoking the current laws and standards for web accessibility. This is the first place one should go in order to learn the best practices and identify holes in compliance.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is the international standard for producing accessible web content. If you want to ensure your content is not only compliant but also easy for people with disabilities to use, WCAG 2.0 is the standard to follow. As mentioned in the recording, Mike was recognized by President Bill Clinton for his contribution to MIT’s W3C Web Accessibility Initiative, which produced the WCAG.
WCAG 2.0 is presently the most current and comprehensive documentation on web content accessibility policy out there. It will also be the basis for the “Section 508 Refresh” reportedly coming this fall, meaning that soon, any organization implicated under Section 508 will need to update their web accessibility measures to conform to the referenced Level AA WCAG 2.0 standards.
In terms of compliance, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is the law of the land in the US. Essentially, it mandates federal agencies and organizations.
However, even private entities (although not legally obligated) benefit from adhering to Section 508 compliance. One great point Mike brought up is that if you are trying to attract business from federal entities, then your products should also follow those regulations. That way, federal buyers won’t need to do as much work to convert or rework the digital wares they buy from your organization.
As he puts it:[Section 508] actually mandates federal agencies and organizations. By default, though, because it’s a procurement standard, if you are a seller of services, wares, or products to the federal government, then you’re pretty much going to have to fall into line and meet those requirements as well.
Integrate Accessibility into Your Company Culture
If you want to avoid legal pitfalls and ensure that as many people as possible can use your organization’s information and communications technology (ICT), then accessibility should never be an afterthought. And the best way to ensure it’s not, as Mike mentions in the video, is to cultivate “an internal culture of accessibility” at your company.
A lot of the time, after a company has been approached by an individual or an accessibility advocacy group about making changes, it becomes clear they don’t realize that accessibility is all about designing and developing for all people. That is, it makes more sense to include accessibility in the design of websites so that users both with and without disabilities can benefit from that content.
Amazon Video Direct
YouTube’s new competitor, Amazon Video Direct (or AVD) is a great case study in accessibility integration. The new video service recently launched with high standards for accessibility by requiring closed captions on its videos.
This is partly a proactive reaction to the National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) lawsuit against Netflix for not the lack of captions in their video content. But by committing to closed captions and integrating this policy into their video streaming requirements from the start, AVD demonstrates how accessibility is an integral part of their company culture.
The Maturity Continuum
Incorporating accessibility into your organization’s culture doesn’t happen overnight; it is a process. And along that process are different levels of maturity about accessibility. The accessibility maturity continuum outlines that process in the following way:
- Identify: This is the first step in taking accessibility seriously at your organization. Identifying gaps in your compliance could be as simple as putting together an accommodations report (or audit) and sampling or testing sites, webpages and applications.
- Prioritize: Once you’ve done an audit of your IT and content, you can determine the major areas that need immediate improvement and the minor ones you can table. To help make these decisions, sometimes it helps to partner with user groups or organizations like the National Federation for the Blind, the National Association for the Deaf and the United Cerebral Palsy organization.
- Inject: After you know what improvements need to be made, you decide how to include accessible design into the development lifecycle so that it becomes second nature. For example, at this point you might decide to commit to screen-reader-compatible HTML practices or implement a quality assurance plan.
- Integrate: This is the ultimate goal, and as Mike explains, it looks like this:
[Y]ou’ve got an organization now that makes a visible commitment to providing accessible IT services. You have an organization that embarks on an initiative to address shortcomings in their existing services. And you have an organization that can establish policy processes that support accessibility in its services.
The benefits of embracing accessibility at your organization are far-reaching. Being proactive in this area sets you up for successfully navigating a future where the laws and lawsuit outcomes continually favor disabled populations and regulation of web accessibility.
Avoiding lawsuits is usually incentive enough to reassess ICT and accessibility. On the other hand, taking action before it’s necessary can help build a positive reputation around your organization. You will also encounter the inherent benefits of accessibility implementation like search engine optimization, content comprehension, and an overall better user-experience.
For more tips and advice on formulating and identifying web accessibility gaps at your company, check out our wrap-up of Mike Paciello’s Q & A session, or watch his presentation below:More: a11y, accessibility law, accessible design, best practices, caption regulations, captioning, closed captioning, digital inclusion, government, inclusive design, Mike Paciello, Online Video, quality standards, Section 508, The Paciello Group, TPG, video transcription tool, WCAG, web accessibility, webinar