Demystifying Corporate Web Accessibility: Q&A with John Foliot of W3C
Updated: January 4, 2018
Curious about how to make your corporate web presence accessible?
Whether your company just has a public website or you’ve got a whole library of digital products and services, web accessibility should at top of mind when you hit ‘publish.’
John Foliot of the W3C and Deque presented The Road to Sustainable Corporate Accessibility to outline what you need to do to achieve web accessibility at your company.
Watch his full presentation below, or read on for highlights from the Q&A section:
You mentioned that leadership buy-in is key to a successful corporate accessibility strategy. How do you convince leadership that accessibility is worth the investment?
JOHN FOLIOT: Well, I’m not a huge fan of the stick. I’d much rather hand out carrots. But… I think most organizations today are beginning to realize that there is a legal liability risk that’s happening here. There’s been a lot of advocacy from organizations like the National Federation for the Blind or the National Association of the Deaf, which have become very active in demanding their rights.
The Department of Justice in the United States has started to also weigh in here, saying that it is their opinion that digital accessibility keeps with the spirit of the ADA, even though it’s not explicitly in the ADA. The ADA was written over 25 years ago, and the web is about 20-some odd years old. So when they wrote the ADA, they had no idea that the web was coming.
So why invest in corporate accessibility? The primary motivator for senior management is risk management, so they want to avoid the risk of an accessibility lawsuit.
But if you take this idea of digital accessibility and think about it as something that you want to do, and not something that you have to do, and you’ll see the benefits that flow from that activity.
For example, look at how Facebook is addressing alt text and image accessibility for the blind. Rather than try to hide the problem and say “Shh, we’re working on it, we’re working on it,” they stepped right into it.
They leaned into the problem.
They acknowledged they had the problem.
They took some proactive steps.
And then they had their marketing people announce those steps for a great PR story. And it worked. They got positive feedback.
So those are the types of things that I would bring forward to senior management, that not only do they have a legal responsibility, they have moral responsibility.
“Not only do they have a legal responsibility, they have moral responsibility.”
We’ve got indications that up to one in five people in North America is impacted by some form of disability, especially when you consider that disability is on a scale.
I mean, how many people today wear reading glasses? If you’re wearing reading glasses, that pair of glasses is, in fact, an assistive technology. And you are using that assistive technology, because you have a type of disability, right? You can’t see without the glasses.
So it really helps to think about accessibility in those positive terms. You’re open for business. There’s a 20% market share out there that maybe you’re not focused on that you should be looking at.
What needs to happen to make online training videos fully accessible?
JOHN FOLIOT:WCAG 2.0 AA requirement explicitly calls for captions, transcripts, and audio description. And so that’s really what is required, per WCAG 2.0.
I know that there are some organizations today that still struggle with that third part, described audio. That one has not been tested in the court of law. There are alternative solutions that have started to emerge.
For example, a transcript that is an interactive transcript, so the transcript is in sync with the video in the same way that the captions are in sync with the video. And so you can provide descriptive information in the transcript there.
It’s not an audio description, but it’s meeting the intent of what the requirement asks for.
Again, that’s not been tested in a court of law, but I would look at that and say, you’re making a best effort. And it’s better than no effort at all.
We’ve also seen a couple of proof of concepts where, instead of an audio file that’s describing the content onscreen, it’s provided as a text file. And non-sighted users can actually use their screen reading software to read that text. And there’s been some interesting experiments around that.
To summarize what is required by WCAG 2.0 AA: captions, transcripts, and described audio.
Are there examples for the web accessibility exception procedures?
JOHN FOLIOT: Yes, there are examples of those types of policies that you can find on the web.Here’s what exception procedures are really about:
“ We have to acknowledge that technology is not perfect yet. There are still some things that we cannot do.”
We have to acknowledge that technology is not perfect yet. There are still some things that we cannot do. And if that’s going to have an impact on your ability to make some of your content accessible, you need to be honest about that.
Have a policy in place that acknowledges that this is a problem, that you’ve looked at it, that you’ve tried to apply technology solutions, and that a solution does not exist.
Ergo, you’re exempt, right? In that case, there is no solution.
But you want to make sure that you’ve got that articulated as part of your larger collection of policies so that, if and when the lawyers come knocking at the door, at the very least, you can say,
“Yes, we’ve looked at it. Here’s where we are today: there is no technical solution. We went through the process. We did the evaluation. We did the research. We came to this conclusion. We got it vetted by a third-party. We can’t do better than that today.”
That’s really what your exception policy is looking to accomplish.
If our company doesn’t have any employees with disabilities, do we still need to make our content accessible?
“We all are somewhat temporarily abled, and that at some point, we may all be somewhat partially disabled.”
JOHN FOLIOT: Your company may not have any employees with disabilities today, but the person that’s sitting two rows down from you might fall and break their right arm. And their right arm is now in a cast for the next eight weeks, and they can’t use a mouse. Are they disabled?
We all are somewhat temporarily abled, and that at some point, we may all be somewhat partially disabled.
Also, if your organization is looking to grow, prospective employees are, in fact, protected by ADA legislation that says you can’t discriminate against them if they have a disability. Not having an accessibility policy or accessible internet content could be seen as discouraging or excluding disabled job applicants, which is illegal.
If money is tight, where should our accessibility budget go first?
JOHN FOLIOT: If your organization has got lawyers knocking at the door, go put out the fire first. If you’re in a situation where you want to avoid that, and you have a limited budget, start taking proactive steps.
“Empowering your people to avoid making mistakes in the first place is the most cost-effective way of avoiding accessibility problems down the road.”
Ensure that you have corporate accessibility policies in place. That’s usually a very cost-effective step, using just internal manpower.
To be very honest with you, I would probably spend the money on training.
Empowering your people to avoid making mistakes in the first place is the most cost-effective way of avoiding accessibility problems down the road.
Once you start teaching them this, a lot of web developers get really excited about it. When they’re learning something new about technology, it tends to resonate with them.
If accessibility training is done in a positive atmosphere, without the threat of a legal challenge over their heads, that’s going to empower them to be better developers.
I might add, inclusive design is a skill set that is portable and durable, something they’ll carry with them throughout their career.
Are there standards for non-web-based technologies, since WCAG 2.0 is for the web?
“WCAG is based on four principles: that your material is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. If you remain true to those four ideals, then you can apply them to other technologies.”
JOHN FOLIOT: Yes and no.
WCAG 2.0 was written in such a way as to be somewhat technology agnostic.
Some of the techniques associated with the WCAG standard apply to things like PDF and Flash.
Those of us who are actively involved at W3C recognize there are some gaps around mobile and especially native mobile apps. Work is happening on that right now. That will probably be rolled into the next generation of WCAG.
But the spirit of WCAG is based on four principles: that your material is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
If you remain true to those four ideals, then you can apply them to other technologies.
You can start to ask questions like, what does operable mean when you have no hands? Or when you are blind? Those are two different states, and yet they both could be impacted on operability.
Want to learn more about inclusive web design? Read up on the basics of WCAG 2.0 guidelines in our free white paper:
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