Getting Feedback From Users to Improve Accessibility

August 7, 2021

When building accessible content, feedback from actual people can be tremendously valuable. About 26 percent of U.S. adults have at least one disability, and disabilities affect web browsing behavior in a variety of ways. Customer feedback can help developers learn about accessibility issues that affect real-world users. Fixing those issues can make your site more appealing and useful. 

Of course, no website can become accessible by following a single user’s recommendations — and even if you’re able to source feedback from a larger group of users, you’ll still need to adopt the right mindset to build for accessibility.

Consider accessibility complaints in context.

Review visitor feedback regularly, but recognize that your users will provide feedback about issues that directly affect their experience. Most users are not accessibility experts, and they may use tools or technologies that other users don’t have. One person’s recommendation for a “fix" might break the site for another user.

In other words, never assume that a single user’s experience applies to all people with a certain ability. If the user requests a specific fix, determine whether that fix could create other barriers. An effective approach to accessibility will consider user feedback, expert recommendations, and established standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

That doesn’t mean that you can ignore accessibility complaints that you don’t understand. Try to determine how the complaint affects the on-site experience for real users, and don’t be surprised by accessibility complaints that highlight issues that you didn’t consider when planning your site. 

Finally, don’t ignore complaints that aren’t covered under WCAG. While the guidelines provide an excellent framework, no set of accessibility standards can cover every type of user. Your goal is to create a better website, so be prepared to address issues that don’t directly impact WCAG conformance.

Make sure visitors can submit feedback easily.

Users should be able to easily submit accessibility complaints without combing through your sitemap to find your feedback page. Remember, if your users can’t submit feedback easily via a single attempt, they won’t keep trying.

If your site has an accessibility statement, add your feedback form to that page or provide a link (and if your site doesn’t have an accessibility statement, consider creating one — an accessibility statement serves numerous important purposes). Make sure the page is linked in your site’s footer or another prominent location. 

You can also solicit more feedback by providing form alternatives. Some users may prefer to send email or call your company directly, so offer these options if possible.

Make sure that your accessibility feedback forms are actually accessible.

Form accessibility is crucial for numerous reasons, but it’s particularly important when the purpose of the form is to submit information about accessibility barriers. Avoid making mistakes that prevent users from providing feedback. Some basic tips: 

  • Be careful when setting time limits. Ensure users can complete the form without feeling rushed; turn off time limits where possible, and if time limits are necessary, give users the option to turn off or extend the time limit.
  • Use HTML. Assistive technologies can effectively interpret forms with well-written semantic HTML, which contains plenty of elements and attributes for improving accessibility. While ARIA attributes can be useful for adding clarification, HTML is foundational for creating an accessible site.
  • Give accurate guidance. Label form fields, provide instructions, and note mandatory fields. Error messages should clearly indicate why the error occurred. Users should be made aware if a form submits successfully.
  • Make sure forms are navigable with a keyboard or with assistive technologies. Test your feedback forms thoroughly.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)’s Form Concepts page provides detailed guidance for labeling controls, providing form instructions, validating input, and other essentials.  

Don’t rely on users to find every accessibility issue.

Soliciting feedback can be extremely helpful for understanding your customers. It’s typically more useful than automated data collection (for example, tracking user behavior flows with tools like Google Analytics), as feedback will provide key information about how the barrier prevents people from using your site. For a developer, addressing accessibility concerns is much easier when the problem is clearly explained.

However, you can’t expect users to report every issue they find — they won’t, since filling out feedback forms takes time and effort. Even if you don’t receive any customer complaints, your site may still have accessibility issues

Developers shouldn’t depend on users as their sole means of testing. Take complaints seriously, but build an approach that takes feedback into consideration without putting the full burden of accessibility testing on users. 

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