With the rising number of digital accessibility lawsuits, many organizations are adopting initiatives to improve their products — and provide all users with equivalent access to websites, mobile apps, and other online resources.
Digital accessibility has profound benefits for organizations of all sizes. However, it’s important to approach projects with the correct mindset: Accessibility is a set of priorities, not a one-time project, and there’s no “finish line.” Setting goals is an essential part of the process, but hard deadlines can be counterproductive.
Below, we’ll introduce a few concepts for establishing an accessibility initiative and getting your entire team on board. For more guidance, download our free eBook: Developing the Accessibility Mindset.
Establishing Digital Accessibility Goals
How much time will you need to create an accessible website? The quick answer: That depends — but the first step is establishing your goals.
While no website is 100% accessible for everyone, the world of digital accessibility has well-established guidelines for measuring outcomes. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are considered the international standard for accessibility, and WCAG has three levels of conformance. Most websites aim for Level AA conformance with the latest official version of the guidelines (currently, WCAG 2.1).
If your website follows all of the requirements of WCAG 2.1 Level AA, your content is generally considered accessible for most audiences and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), along with other disability non-discrimination laws.
However, depending on the content of your website, you may not be able to earn WCAG Level AA conformance for many months. If you’re improving a large e-commerce store or refining the features of a web app, WCAG conformance can take time.
Setting Priorities When Remediating Accessibility Issues
Most accessibility initiatives include several remediation phases. You’ll target major accessibility barriers immediately, then work towards full WCAG conformance by fixing the “smaller" issues that affect the user experience.
In reality, no accessibility issue should be considered “small" or “large" — every barrier can affect your users, so each one deserves attention — but certain issues can have an outsized effect on your audience.
WCAG’s Level A guidelines are considered crucial for accessibility, and generally, these barriers require immediate remediation. For example:
Keyboard accessibility issues can prevent some users from interacting with your website. “Keyboard traps,” for instance, prevent people from moving their focus away from a certain on-page component. Needless to say, this is a frustrating experience for the user.
Text Alternatives for Non-Text Content
Missing image alternative text (also called alt text) can ruin the experience for non-visual users. People with vision-related disabilities may use screen readers, which convert on-screen text to audio or braille. If your images don’t contain alt text, these users will miss out on important content.
Missing video captions can prevent some users from understanding multimedia. All pre-recorded videos should contain accurate captions, which accommodate Deaf users and people with hearing-related disabilities — not to mention users with cognitive disabilities, people who don’t speak the native language of the video, and people who simply prefer to browse without sound.
After addressing all Level A guidelines, your team will need to remediate Level AA issues (and wherever possible, Level AAA barriers, which provide additional accommodations for some people with disabilities).
By prioritizing your remediations, you can establish a timeline for WCAG conformance. However, remember that timelines can change — some issues may require more attention than others, and your ultimate goal is to improve the user experience, not to meet a certain level of compliance.
Every accessibility strategy should focus on long-term results
Earning WCAG Level AA conformance is an important step, but you’ll need to actively pay attention to accessibility in order to prevent new barriers from occurring. For example, if you add new images to your website, you’ll need accurate alt text for those images — and if you add complex features, you’ll need to follow all relevant WCAG guidelines to keep that content accessible.
Long-term maintenance is a crucial component of accessibility. Fortunately, WCAG is based on four principles that can make this process easier. Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Instead of reading through every WCAG standard, you can use these principles to analyze your website:
- If I change my site, will it still be perceivable to all users?
- Will the change affect how the site operates?
- How do users understand the content? Is the site readable and predictable?
- Can users operate the site with any web browser or assistive technology without losing access to content?
By adopting an accessible mindset, your team can prioritize users with disabilities — and your site will enjoy better user retention, improved search engine positioning, and the other major benefits of digital accessibility.
Working with an accessibility partner can help you optimize your results. To learn more, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility or get started with a free WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance summary of your website.