Website Accessibility: Taking A Pragmatic Approach To Compliance
When it comes to website accessibility there is an enormous elephant in the room. Gaining AA compliance based on the WCAG 2.0 guidelines is so difficult that most websites simply fail.
To make matters worse, most teams are not taking any action to make improvements to move towards compliance. Either the scale of the changes needed is perceived as too difficult, too costly or is not regarded as a priority area. Some teams don’t know where to start, so they simply don’t start. Others are caught in the paradox of wanting to move towards compliance, but are unable to declare internally or publicly they are not compliant, and find it easier to brush the issue under the carpet.
This situation can’t continue. We believe there has to be a shift from achieving compliance to moving towards compliance, and that being OK.
This pragmatic approach benefits everybody. More websites move closer towards compliance and groups of users directly benefit. We want to shift accessibility from being a tick-the-box exercise to being about improving the user experience for everybody. By placing the emphasis on the journey rather than the destination, we also make accessibility compliance more achievable for digital teams.
Naturally this is far easier said than done! Here’s our view on some of the practical steps which digital teams need to undertake to make this happen.
Change the mindset
Fundamentally, digital teams and site managers need to change their mindset about accessibility. It no longer should be viewed as just being about compliance and legislation. We agree compliance is extremely important, but accessibility is also about improving the experience of a significant group of users and opening your website up to everybody.
For B2C companies, it’s also a straightforward commercial decision. The government suggests that over 10 million households in the UK have one or more disabled person. These households have a total household income approaching £250bn.
A shift in mindset should lead to a shift in prioritisation to accessibility. Realistically teams may need to examine the issue with fresh eyes and get this on the agenda with senior stakeholders. Ironically, currently making a business case for any extra resource to tackle accessibility, the need to be compliant is likely to be the most powerful call to action.
Work towards compliance
Many businesses are proud to label how they are working towards reducing their carbon footprint, and are very comfortable declaring that they not achieving that overnight. It’s harder to make that sort of statement around accessibility, but it can be a mission statement within your team.
Firstly, be realistic about where you are with accessibility and compliance and work out very specifically where you need to get to and what you need to do. Then set a realistic time span for when you want to reach compliance and work towards that. This makes reaching compliance far more achievable.
A year long programme of training and changes, leading to a more sustainable approach to website accessibility, has far more impact in the long run than making rapid changes which can’t be maintained.
Make, smaller incremental steps
Achieving compliance is not about making a few adjustments to your content or altering a setting in your CMS. It’s about changing the way you do things and training your site manager and publisher community to work in new ways. To make changes more sustainable and manageable, work in smaller, incremental steps to build up towards the goal of compliance.
Work on priority areas
In working in smaller steps, prioritise actions and areas which are going to have the most positive impact on the user experience. Last year we produced a list of ten priority areas to get working on which can make a real difference to the results of our automated accessibility testing. Of course, there are other priority areas, and it may be that the function of your site or target audience will also influence what you tackle first.
Use measurement to track progress
You’ll need to measure your progress not only to confirm you’re moving forward, but also to keep up momentum and track success. Realistically you’ll need automated and manual testing to achieve this. Both are key.
An automated approach is both a realistic and affordable solution to measure accessibility compliance. However, automation doesn’t fix some of the root causes of any issues which arise. Education is essential to ensure that site managers know how to avoid these errors.
Document processes and train content managers
If there are new practices and processes to follow, then make sure these are clearly documented and communicated. Train your site and content manager community accordingly. Formalising your approach to accessibility helps make it stick. Informality and ad hoc are often the enemies of making things happen.
Package this up with other improvements
Creating a programme of training for site managers around improving website accessibility is a great opportunity to also educate them about other improvements such as SEO, content readability, quality and general usability.
It also means accessibility is given parity with other website improvements which are traditionally regarded by some as more of a priority.
Involve users with accessibility issues
For a deeper understanding of accessibility issues, involve the very users who will benefit from these changes. Speak to people within your organisation, or to customers to appreciate how they actually experience your website. Ask them to feedback on the improvements you make or involve them in more formal testing.
Getting their input will not only provide very valuable information but also supports a positive shift in mindset among the digital team and stakeholders around accessibility.
Don’t beat yourself up
Many other organisations are in the same boat as you despite good intentions. Meeting the accessibility standard is hard. The important thing is to do something about it!
By taking some practical steps and changing the mindset of those involved you can make improvements to your site and achieve compliance in a way which is sustainable, while making a real difference to users with accessibility issues.
Let’s be pragmatic and move forward on website accessibility. Let’s increase levels of compliance, but recognise that it takes time to achieve.