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Why Websites Need an Accessibility Statement

May 22, 2017

Business leaders, government agencies, and internet authorities are working hard to give disabled individuals complete access to the internet, which can mean making developmental and design changes that support assistive technology. Every organization with an internet presence can support this effort for wider accessibility by publishing an accessibility statement.

What is an Accessibility Statement?

The internet is important in many aspects of modern life: social, professional, educational, health care, and more. Equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities is only achieved when they can use the internet as easily as individuals who aren't disabled.

If every website was completely accessible, there would be no need for accessibility statements. Until the internet reaches that point, publishing a statement is a good start to helping people with disabilities make the most of the internet.

Organizations publish an accessibility statement on their websites to describe their policy, goals, and accomplishments related to web accessibility. The statement also includes instructions on how to use specific accessibility technology that is available on the website and how to contact the organization if a disabled visitor runs into problems.

Why is an Accessibility Statement Important?

The accessibility statement serves numerous purposes; therefore, it should be easy to find. The statement is important for the following reasons:

1. Shows Commitment

The statement will inform disabled visitors that they are welcome on the website and that the organization is committed to making the website available to everyone.

2. Identifies Which Accessibility Standards are Used

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed a set of standards for web accessibility called Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The latest published version of that standard is WCAG 2.0. Version 2.1, currently in a working draft, might be released in 2018, but that version will not replace WCAG 2.0. Instead, 2.1 will provide updates and additions to the existing standard. Some organizations might have other standards that provide guidance for accessibility, such as the Section 508 Standards that apply to federal agencies.

This part of the statement will let disabled visitors know what to expect, depending on the target standard(s).

3. Defines Accessibility Goals

It's very helpful for a disabled visitor to know if there are areas on the website that aren't yet accessible. The statement typically will define accessibility problems on the website, alternatives to gain access — such as by contacting the organization — and plans for resolution.

4. Defines Accessibility Accomplishments

The Statement will typically include a description of the individual standards that the website meets. If an organization is moving toward complete accessibility, it might be necessary to point out where a disabled visitor can find interim solutions, such as downloadable scripts.

Who Should Publish an Accessibility Statement?

In general, anything that promotes or enhances website accessibility is worthwhile. An accessibility statement is an important way for every organization to support the need for accessibility.

The legal issues surrounding accessibility provide additional motivation for publishing a statement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) expects organizations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability. The DOJ is in the process of developing specific regulations to govern web accessibility, but those regulations won't be available until 2018 or later.

In the interim, organizations are still liable for compliance, and there are already lawsuits against organizations with non-accessible websites. Plaintiffs often use the WCAG 2.0 guidelines to illustrate shortfalls in a website's level of accessibility.

Website accessibility is important to everyone. Organizations can't achieve their business goals or meet their social responsibilities if they exclude disabled individuals from internet access. An accessibility statement is a positive way to participate in the transition to complete accessibility for all internet users.

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