Most businesses rely on third-parties for at least some of their website needs — the website may have been designed by a vendor, it may live on a vendor's platform or use their components and templates, or the content could even be managed entirely or partially by a vendor on an ongoing basis.
The benefits are many and it makes sense to leverage existing platforms and specialties rather than doing everything from scratch and keeping it all in-house. But what happens if the host or agency involved in your website has shortcomings in accessibility? The responsibility (and liability in the event of a lawsuit) can still be yours, so be sure to ask the right questions.
7 questions to ask your vendors about accessibility
1. Is your platform (or design, etc.) accessible?
This to-the-point question is so important because it can't be assumed that everyone is familiar with the basics and importance of accessibility, or that everyone believes their tools or concepts need to be accessible.
2. What accessibility standards do you follow?
It's easy enough to do an online search and realize the answer to the first question should be "yes," or to lean over to a developer or a designer and ask the question — require that your vendor shares what accessibility guidelines they follow, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
3. How do you know you meet those standards?
Do you have dedicated accessibility expertise in-house? Who performs accessibility testing, and how? How often is accessibility testing performed? How are accessibility issues tracked and fixed?
4. Do you have an accessibility statement?
The goal behind this question is find out if the organization has formally committed to prioritizing accessibility. They may not have a publicly-available statement, but do they have an accessibility policy? Many vendors may not have a direct or prepared answer for this question, but what you really want to know is where questions 1 – 3 fit into their overall approach and whether accessibility is something they truly require of themselves or simply a buzz word or hopeful selling point.
5. Who is responsible for the accessibility of our website?
Does accessibility ownership fall to content creators on one side or the other? Who performs accessibility testing on new content and new pages? How is that testing performed, how are issues tracked, who specifically makes the fixes and when, and do the people involved have the accessibility expertise required to do so thoroughly and compliantly?
6. What is the process if we require improvements not required by other clients?
As an organization that prioritizes equal access to information for your customers, you might notice improvements needed on your site that the vendor's other clients haven't requested. Find out what options for customization are available and what the process is for handling that situation should it arise.
7. How do you ensure ongoing accessibility compliance?
Accessibility isn't a one-time fix. There isn't an accessibility switch that gets flipped on or off, and past accessibility is no guarantee of future accessibility. Find out from your vendor how they manage their own accessibility and monitor the accessibility of your website on an ongoing basis.
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