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Web Accessibility Triage: Fixing Barriers That Affect the Most Users

Sep 21, 2023

 

Ideally, every website would be accessible for users with disabilities upon publication. Realistically, that’s rarely the case. 

Most websites have significant accessibility barriers, and if you’re operating a website with substantial traffic, you don’t have the option to pull your site offline during remediation. 

To make thoughtful improvements to a live website, you’ll need to engage in a form of web accessibility triage. “Triage,” of course, describes a medical model for determining which patients should receive priority in treatment — in an emergency room, a patient suffering from a heart attack will receive care before a patient with a cut finger. 

Some web accessibility issues have a higher potential to impact real-life users. For example, if your website has keyboard traps (form fields and other elements that prevent the user from moving their keyboard’s focus without a mouse), that’s a more serious issue than a missing video transcript

Below, we’ll outline a basic process for establishing a web accessibility triage. To discuss accessibility remediation for a specific website, send us a message to connect with an expert.

 

Use WCAG to establish the priority of different accessibility barriers

 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the consensus international standards for digital accessibility, and for good reason: The guidelines are written in simple language, and they’re intended to address the needs of a wide variety of users with disabilities. 

WCAG contains success criteria, which can be used to test content accessibility. Success criteria are organized into three levels of conformance:

 

  • Level A criteria are the most essential criteria for accessibility. Generally, this means that a Level A barrier (such as keyboard accessibility issues) will affect a large number of users.
  • Level AA criteria are less critical than Level A, but still important. For example, WCAG Level AA requires that content doesn’t restrict its view and operation to a single orientation (such as landscape mode on mobile devices).
  • Level AAA is the most strict level of conformance. Some types of content cannot meet all Level AAA criteria.

 

Eventually, you want your website to conform with all Level A/AA criteria — but Level A issues can “break" your content for certain users, so they’re usually high priorities.

But before beginning remediation, there’s another factor to consider: whether your users are more likely to encounter certain issues. 

Related: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?

 

Focus on high-traffic pages and essential interaction

 

Your goal is to build content that works for as many users as possible. If a certain accessibility barrier affects a key process — for instance, the checkout process on an eCommerce website — it needs attention.

As you review the results of your web accessibility audit, ask questions:

 

  • How does this barrier affect users? If the issue severely impacts the user experience, it should move to the top of your list.
  • Is the barrier part of a process, and is that process essential? 
  • What resources will be needed to fix the issue? If an issue can be fixed with a few seconds of work, you might want to fix it before dedicating resources to a more serious issue that will require time and expertise. 
  • Are there multiple ways to fix the issue? Ideally, you’ll involve experts with disabilities in the remediation process. Experts can help you find solutions that provide the best experience for real users — which is more important than conformance with WCAG. 

 

Remember, how you fix accessibility barriers can be just as important as whether you fix them. Some “fixes" can actually make accessibility worse (for example, adding improper WAI-ARIA markup to define an element instead of using semantic HTML). 

Related: Fixing Accessibility Is Important, But Planning for Accessibility Is Better

 

Tell your users that you’re working on accessibility improvements

 

If your website has accessibility issues, you can’t hide that information from users with disabilities. They’ll certainly encounter the barriers, and if you’re not upfront about your efforts, they may decide that you aren’t prioritizing their experiences. 

Every website should have an accessibility statement, which identifies accessibility goals and known issues in plain language. The accessibility statement should include contact information that people can use to report barriers. 

You don’t need to explain your approach to web accessibility triage on your accessibility statement — but you do need to show people that you’re working towards a more inclusive experience.

To learn more, download our free eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Web Accessibility. You can also send us a message to schedule a consultation or to discuss your organization’s digital compliance strategy.

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