Even on a well-designed website, people occasionally need help. Businesses have a responsibility to make their help resources accessible, and recent updates to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide useful guidance for fulfilling that responsibility.
The WCAG 2.2 Working Draft includes a new Success Criterion 3.2.6, which applies to websites and web apps that offer help resources for users. That applies to most websites, of course — if your site has contact information or a FAQ, conformance with SC 3.2.6 will make your content more accessible.
To conform with the new criterion, sites will need to offer consistent help resources through at least one of these methods:
- Human contact details
- A human contact mechanism (such as onsite chat)
- A self-help option (such as a searchable FAQ)
- A fully automated contact mechanism (such as a chatbot)
The key factor is consistency. Imagine browsing a website and realizing that you need assistance; you’d expect the resources to be available on the page. If you have to click the “back" button several times to find contact details or an online chat option, you might feel frustrated or confused.
This can create serious usability issues on some sites. If a website has an online chat, but the option disappears when the user begins filling out the form, the user will need to open another window or navigate off of the form page to get help. Frustrated users may simply leave the website (and as we’ve discussed in other blogs, accessibility issues cost brands billions of dollars per year).
Fortunately, most developers can fix this problem easily. Here’s what you need to know to provide more accessible help options on your site — and improve functionality for all of your users, including people with disabilities.
Provide help resources on every page
Help resources should be available throughout your site, not just the pages where people are most likely to need help. Linking to these resources is acceptable, so if your template has a “contact" or “help” page, make sure it’s accessible throughout the site.
Generally, help resources should be available with a limited number of user interactions. Your site’s visitors won’t want to click through a half-dozen links to find customer service info or to start a web chat — they’ll expect quick help, and it’s in your best interest to meet their expectations.
Many websites use fully automated “chatbots” to provide basic support. If you decide to use software to provide customer service, make sure it’s accessible. In our article “Five Key Accessibility Considerations for Chatbots,” we explain some basic considerations that can help webmasters choose appropriate software. In short, your chatbot should be able to recognize misspelled words, and users should be able to navigate the chat with a keyboard or assistive tools like screen readers. Interactive software can’t always provide the assistance that users need, and WCAG recommends providing human contact details if the chatbot is unable to provide a satisfactory response after three attempts.
Self-help options like FAQs and “How Do I…" pages can be helpful resources, and some users prefer self-help to human assistance. Make sure your support pages are up to date and accurate. Remember, a wide variety of users will access your site, so provide as many options as possible to help them get the best experience.
Make sure your help resources are in the same relative order on each page
Users will expect help resources to be consistent from page to page. If your site offers a chat option, a FAQ, and contact details, the links to those resources should appear in the same relative order on every page. Here’s additional guidance from WCAG:
The location in a smaller viewport may be different than in a larger viewport but the mechanism or link will remain in the same location throughout the size. The location should remain consistent both visually and programmatically.
Consistency is crucial to accessible design, since users rely on their familiarity with the function of your website. By repeating contact information in a logical order, you’ll help people avoid unnecessary searching or clicking when they need assistance.
When help resources are consistent and useful, people who use assistive technologies will be able to navigate more effectively. That also applies to people with neurocognitive differences, low vision, and other conditions — and to every other user of your site.