You’ve optimized your website for accessibility. What’s your next step?
The answer is simple, but not necessarily satisfying: Keep optimizing. As is the case with SEO, web security, and every other aspect of a website, accessibility requires ongoing support and maintenance. New content can make a site less accessible, and many issues aren’t easy to identify immediately after a feature roll-out — a new navigation element might frustrate users, despite being genuinely helpful to others, or a third-party integration might fundamentally change the way the site operates.
In recent years, accessibility has become a priority for webmasters for a number of practical reasons. Accessible sites rank higher in search engine results, and accessibility improvements typically result in a better user experience overall — and because the number of people with disabilities will likely increase over the next decade, accessibility won’t become a less substantial concern for business owners.
Business typically follow one of three strategies: Hire an expert, work with a third-party support team, or run an occasional automated check and hope for the best. The last option isn’t much of a strategy; while automated accessibility checkers can provide a starting point, they’re not an effective substitute for real-world experience. That’s particularly true for websites that need to maintain compliance with the ADA and other laws or standards.
For some organizations, in-house experts can help to keep accessibility at the forefront of a web development strategy, but this isn’t always a feasible solution. Building a relationship with a team of ongoing support experts can provide many of the same benefits (along with a few additional ones). Some of the advantages of ongoing accessibility support include:
- Better Implementation of Major Website Changes - Websites might require significant changes for dozens of reasons ranging from minor usability issues to outdated architecture. You may make significant changes with the intention of improving user experience — but if those changes negatively impact accessibility, they’re difficult to roll back.
The solution is to address accessibility at every stage of development, and experts are enormously helpful in this regard. By coordinating with the development team, consultants can identify issues before they’re hard-coded into the site, ensuring a smooth roll-out.
- Guidance for Staff Training - A single on-staff accessibility expert doesn’t ensure compliance. Accessibility needs to be a focal point, and to create the right mindset, proper training is essential. At BOIA, we provide training guidance that emphasizes the importance of this mindset; rather than providing a checklist of fixes, our approach is to build an understanding of accessibility concepts.
Training also improves self-sufficiency, gradually reducing reliance on outside experts. When teams understand the purposes, objectives, and benefits of accessibility, they’re more empowered to implement new features and address issues.
- Evidence of Compliance - In 2020, the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal courts was at least 2,058. The ADA applies to places of public accommodation, which can include websites.
Accessibility isn’t simply about maintaining compliance, and the advantages of an accessible website extend far beyond protection from litigation. With that said, an impartial analysis from a qualified third party may help to prove compliance. BOIA provides a Letter of Reasonable Accessibility™ along with a detailed report explaining the web standards used for accessibility testing, staff training processes, site accessibility accommodations, and other pertinent information.
Ongoing support teams can also address third-party site integrations, improve content strategies, and ensure proper implementations of necessary fixes for known accessibility issues. Building an approach to accessibility is rarely a simple undertaking, and the process is never truly finished — but a relationship with a qualified team of experts can make finding the right mindset much easier.