What is an accessibility statement — and does your website really need one?
The purpose of an accessibility statement is to provide people with information about known issues, allow them to submit feedback, and to demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity. A well-written accessibility statement can be an important resource for users, and many people with disabilities look for that resource when visiting websites for the first time.
In some cases, accessibility statements are legally necessary. The European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive, for instance, requires a statement for government websites and other digital content published by public bodies.
In the United States, federal agencies must follow Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While Section 508 doesn’t explicitly list accessibility statements as a requirement, the General Services Administration (GSA) highlights accessibility statements as a component of compliance.
If you operate a private business, there is no specific law requiring you to publish an accessibility statement. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide one. Here’s an overview of why accessibility statements are a crucial feature.
Accessibility statements show your commitment to users
Creating an accessible website requires dedication. A public statement helps you demonstrate that dedication by showing the actions you’ve taken, along with your long-term goals.
Some features of a typical accessibility statement include:
- The website’s accessibility goal. This is usually a certain level of conformance with current WCAG standards (currently, WCAG 2.1 is the latest official recommendation). Most websites set a goal for WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance. Read more about WCAG levels.
- The website’s conformance status. Websites may be fully conformant, partially conformant, non conformant, or not assessed (the content hasn’t been tested).
- A list of known accessibility barriers. This might include compatibility issues with certain assistive technologies or web browsers.
- Alternative options for accessing certain content.
- Contact information for submitting feedback about accessibility issues. Some websites also include complaints escalation procedures.
A statement that includes all of this information can be extremely useful. If your statement contains a clear objective — for example, conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards — users will know what to expect. By providing a list of known issues, you show your users that you’re committed to resolving those problems, and by providing alternatives for certain content, you provide people with more options for enjoying your website.
For many people with disabilities, an accessibility statement sends a strong message: “We know that accessibility is important, we know why it’s important, and it’s a priority for us.” Given that one billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, your statement can be a powerful tool for demonstrating your brand’s values.
Make sure to back up your accessibility statement with real actions
Any website can publish an accessibility statement. However, if the statement is inaccurate — or if it doesn’t reflect the actual priorities of the content creator — it’s not especially useful.
By publishing your accessibility policies, you’re making a commitment to find and remediate barriers that affect users with disabilities. That’s an achievable goal, and the benefits of an accessible approach greatly outweigh the costs.
With that said, you’ll want to make sure you’re providing users with accurate information. Some quick tips:
- Write your accessibility statement with simple language. Clearly define any terms that your users might not understand. For example, many people are unfamiliar with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, so explain why you’re using WCAG to evaluate accessibility.
- Provide clear timelines for remediation. Instead of saying, “we’re working on it,” tell users when they can expect to see improvements.
- Give users several options for submitting feedback. Feedback can help you identify barriers and find ways to fix them — but if users can’t contact you, they can’t provide their insight. Consider offering a phone number, a dedicated email address, and a feedback form.
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we believe that every website should have an accessibility statement. We recommend working with an experienced accessibility partner to create an effective statement for your users and to establish a long-term plan for WCAG conformance.
To learn more, contact us to speak with a subject matter expert or download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.