What Is a Web Accessibility Policy? 5 Factors to Consider

November 22, 2021

Planning plays a crucial role in every successful initiative, and digital accessibility is no exception. By establishing goals, tracking progress, and monitoring your results, you can create more useful content for your entire audience. 

A web accessibility policy establishes the practices you’ll use to improve the on-page experience for people with disabilities. There’s no standard format for writing the document; a web accessibility policy may consist of a few pages of guidelines or a comprehensive framework with clear definitions, coding standards, and project management frameworks.

Below, we’ll address some of the fundamental features of a strong web accessibility policy. By planning effectively, you can prioritize accessibility as you build your content — and communicate your priorities to employees, business leaders, and customers.

1. Web accessibility policies can be incorporated into broader initiatives

Many organizations build their web accessibility policies into the framework of larger diversity and inclusivity programs. This approach can work well, particularly for enterprise-level organizations: One study of Fortune 100 companies found disability inclusion, as part of a diversity strategy, is a common practice among successful businesses.

However, a standalone web accessibility policy can also serve an important purpose. In either case, the policy should clarify the best practices of accessible design and enable employees to track the initiative’s overall progress. 

2. Every web accessibility policy should reference widely used third-party standards

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the consensus standard for digital accessibility. Published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG is applicable to all types of online content. It’s an essential starting point for developing an effective web accessibility policy.

Currently, the W3C officially recommends WCAG version 2.1. However, the organization regularly updates the guidelines to reflect changes in technology (WCAG 2.2 is expected to be released within the next several months). Keep your accessibility policy up to date — use the latest official recommendations when measuring your progress. 

Read: WCAG 2.1: What You Need to Know

3. Your web accessibility policy should have defined goals and timelines

WCAG contains success criteria to help organizations set goals for accessibility. The success criteria are organized into three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (most strict). Clearly state your goal for conformance in your accessibility policy; most companies should aim for Level AA. Content at this level is generally considered reasonably accessible for most people with disabilities.

Establish deadlines for meeting your goals. If your website is complex, conforming with WCAG 2.1 Level AA may take time — organizing your policy with milestones and timelines will help to keep your initiative on track. 

Remember, a timeline isn’t a completion date; accessibility is an ongoing priority, not a one-time project, and you’ll need to regularly audit your website to prevent new barriers from limiting your audience. 

Related: Website WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Audits

4. Make sure you define the scope of your policy

Your accessibility policy applies to everyone in your organization — not just web developers. Content writers, designers, customer service representatives, and other team members should share the same commitment to the best practices of accessibility. If your accessibility policy is clear and comprehensive, they’ll be able to stay engaged with the process.

Asking questions can help you determine whether you’re creating an effective accessibility policy:

  • Does the policy include instructions for evaluating widgets and third-party content? 
  • Does it address the accessibility challenges of accessible mobile design? 
  • Is the policy flexible enough to apply to desktop-like apps, an e-commerce store, or other interactive resources? 
  • Does the policy include clearly defined monitoring and review processes?
  • Can employees submit questions or feedback to help strengthen the policy?
  • Will employees understand their duties by reading the policy?

5. Promote your web accessibility policy with an accessibility statement

Most organizations don’t publish their full web accessibility policies — your policy might include detailed information on your development process or other confidential information, and most web visitors won’t read a multi-page document detailing your behind-the-scenes work. 

However, if your organization is committed to web accessibility, you should certainly promote your efforts. An accessibility statement provides basic information about your goals and current WCAG conformance level, along with resources for reporting accessibility barriers. 

In other articles, we’ve detailed the important features of a strong accessibility statement. Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your conformance goals before publishing your statement; by communicating your goals, you’ll tell your readers that you prioritize users with disabilities.

If your organization is taking the first steps towards establishing an accessibility policy, expert guidance can be extremely helpful. Contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to discuss auditing, training, and remediation options.

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