In small companies and large corporations alike, people often ask, “When should we start accounting for digital accessibility?” It’s a hard question that usually has the same, simple answer: as soon as possible.
Make digital accessibility part of your business strategy from day one
It might sound funny to hear a business say that privacy, security, or its target audience will have to wait to be prioritized — we’d probably expect these areas to be core to a company’s roadmap to success. In the same way, digital accessibility should be treated with that sense of necessity, and in fact accessibility is often synonymous with or part of those same areas.
Here are some tips to help:
- Hire for diversity. Your company will be better-suited to compete and thrive when the talents and perspectives of all are considered and valued.
- Define accessibility requirements from the beginning. Identify accessibility standards and requirements before, not after, launching your web presence.
- Do your homework when selecting vendors. If any part of your digital presence will be handled by a third-party, make sure they share in your commitment to accessibility.
For more thoughts on how to prioritize accessibility from the start, read Ten Ways to Plan for Digital Accessibility with Your New Business.
Strive for diverse segments in research and development
Important, large-scale digital products and services often will be preceded by or will include some level of user research, the scope of which probably depends on the product, the organization, and the resources available. Many times, companies will focus their efforts on who they think is their ideal or most typical user or target, with the ultimate goal of finely-tailoring the product to that user group.
There are niche industries in which this approach might be appropriate, but a more effective – and compliant – strategy is to include diverse segments in research and testing — and people with disabilities should be part of this.
Broadening focus away from the presumed “ideal user” is one of the best ways to avoid myths like, “We don’t sell to people with disabilities,” and, “People with disabilities don’t use computers.”
Engage accessibility testers or experts early in the process
The importance and benefit of this really can’t be overstated: it is much easier and cost- and resource-efficient to account for accessibility early on in the design or idea-development stage than to remediate for accessibility after a website or app has already been created. Accessibility experts know what to look for and understand certain elements or content types that will trigger certain violations, and they can help avoid accessibility issues before they happen.
Here are some of the key areas an accessibility tester or expert can usually provide guidance on in the design and pre-development stages:
- Color contrast and use of color: Colors are a major part of the design playbook and there’s nothing inherently accessible or inaccessible about them on their own, but an accessibility expert can let you know if your color combinations have sufficient contrast simply by providing them the colors used. Additionally, they can help ensure that color isn’t being used as the only visual means of conveying information. The a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator can quickly test the contrast on any web page.
- Font styles: Like color, font can play an important role in design and brand considerations, but it’s also important for accessible web design. For example, sans serif fonts are usually better for digital accessibility. Read: Best Fonts to Use for Website Accessibility
- Heading structure: Headings play a critical role in the navigation of websites using assistive technology, like screen readers. Headings should be properly-nested and sequentially-structured to provide people the knowledge of how a web page is organized. Pulling in an accessibility expert to verify or prescribe an appropriate heading order based on a mockup or concept can save a lot of time and hassle down the road.
- Tab order: Some people will navigate a website using a keyboard, not a mouse, either alone or along with other assistive technology like a screen reader. Some will use switches or other devices that replace keyboard and mouse usage entirely. Some will use speech technology, or any other number of assistive technologies. The order in which the elements on a page should receive focus is important to understanding and using a website. This is an area that is sometimes overlooked in development, but an accessibility expert can help outline the correct order and get ahead of any issues.
Of course, these are just a few of the areas in which accessibility experts and testers can keep digital products on track before they get the chance to veer.