Think Twice Before Writing Your Own Accessibility Statement

September 13, 2021

An accessibility statement describes goals, policies, and accomplishments related to digital accessibility. It’s an important resource for people with disabilities, and a well-written statement can showcase your organization’s commitment to providing a better experience for real-world users. 

Some public websites are legally required to post accessibility statements under laws like the European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive, but even if you have no legal obligation, publishing an accessibility statement can have a profoundly positive impact on your audience. Many people with disabilities look for an accessibility statement before interacting with the website in any other way. If the site doesn’t have a statement — or if the statement is inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete — the user might move on. 

At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, our position is that all websites need an accessibility statement. However, while accessibility statements aren’t strictly regulated in most countries, they need to follow a certain format and provide key information to your users. Writing your own accessibility statement can cause issues, particularly if you don’t have a background in digital accessibility.

Accessibility statements need to be useful resources

When content creators write their own accessibility statements, they often make key mistakes that can damage a website’s reputation. Accessibility statements should clearly explain a website’s goals and provide information about known issues (where applicable). A vague statement like “we prioritize accessibility" isn’t helpful without additional details.

Common mistakes that organizations make with their accessibility statements:

The statement doesn’t reference WCAG accessibility standards.

It’s important to define your goals using independent standards. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the world’s most-used set of digital accessibility standards. 

Currently, WCAG success criteria are organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (lowest), Level AA, and Level AAA (highest). An accessibility statement should declare whether the site meets a certain level of conformance and explain whether the organization intends to earn a higher level of conformance in the future. 

The statement is written in technical jargon instead of clear, concise language.

This is an especially common mistake for webmasters who develop their own accessibility statements without expert input. Wherever possible, use clear and concise language. Try to think of ways to simplify complex concepts to help your audience understand your website.

For example, writing something like “We are aware of our failure to pass WCAG SC 1.1.1 and will address the issue" seems impressive, but most users won’t understand what that means. Writing “some of our images are missing descriptions, and we plan on adding descriptions by September of this year" is much clearer. 

The statement makes misleading claims about current accessibility features.

If your site doesn’t meet WCAG’s Level A guidelines, don’t claim conformance. Your audience will notice, particularly if they’re visiting your accessibility statement after encountering a barrier. False claims of conformance don’t prevent legal liabilities, and they can cause frustration.

Of course, many site owners are unaware that their content is inaccessible. Independent accessibility audits can be instrumental in addressing issues and maintaining an accessible website.

The statement might encourage visitors to report accessibility issues, but no contact information is available. 

Users should be able to access contact information easily. Providing an email address, phone number, or contact form can address this issue; however, contact forms should be thoroughly tested for accessibility.

Organizations should also have a process in place for addressing web accessibility concerns. The accessibility statement may explain that process, which can help the audience understand the next steps. 

When websites make these mistakes, visitors might conclude that the site doesn’t treat accessibility as a priority. Some people might feel confused, particularly if the statement is misleading or outdated. In short, the accessibility statement won’t accomplish its purpose. 

Independent verification adds credibility to accessibility statements

Any website can develop and publish an accessibility statement, but if the statement isn’t well written, it’s not particularly helpful. Your site’s accessibility statement gives you an opportunity to convey your commitment to users with disabilities, and it’s an immensely important resource for those people.

When you’re able to support your statement with accurate information, it’s a valuable tool. If your website already conforms with WCAG standards, the Web Accessibility Initiative offers a detailed guide for writing an effective accessibility statement along with an automated statement generator. However, make sure your site is actually accessible before creating your statement.

Finally, support your accessibility statement with clear actions. To show your commitment to your audience effectively, include any evaluations you’ve received from third-party accessibility experts. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers detailed WCAG audits, and we can help you meet and maintain an appropriate level of conformance. 

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