It seems these days that more and more businesses are facing legal issues due to the accessibility of their website. This has left many business leaders considering the accessibility of their own websites and the implications it could have on their business.
I agree that we should be doing more as an industry (web development) to make the web more accessible. And due to the increased focused I have seen over the last couple of years I am confident we will be making great strides toward this goal on our own accord.
However, it does sadden me that we are now entering an environment where many businesses will be blindsided by this new “web accessibility” trend and the web becoming the new domain for lawyers who previously walked door to door with a tape measure.
Protecting yourself from lawsuits?
Disclaimer: I’m a web developer. I’m not an accessibility expert however concerns about accessibility are a part of my everyday work. The following is just my opinion on what I believe is a good approach for businesses to consider when addressing the accessibility of their websites.
In my experience, the question to ask is not “is my website accessible?” because the answer will never be a resounding “yes” or “no”. It should “how accessible is my website?”
From this mindset you’ll have a proper foundation for what I believe we should expect when it comes to web accessibility and lawsuits in the years ahead. Sadly, I don’t believe this will ever be a situation where you can “take these steps and you won’t get sued.” This is a situation where you “take these steps and if you get sued you have an arguable case.”
10,000 foot view of accessibility and your website
When considering the accessibility of your website there are two main areas that you need to consider:
- How the site is designed & developed
- How content has been created and added to the site
How the site is designed & developed
The first consideration is ensuring that the website itself has been designed and developed in accordance with accessibility best practices.
From a design perspective, this covers issues such as font sizing and color contrasts to ensure content can be read by the elderly or those with slight visual impairments.
From a development perspective, this covers items such as all content being structured properly and able to be read by screen readers as well as items such as interactive elements being able to be controlled via the keyboard.
As a business owner, this is actually the simplest area to address. You just need to verify with your web development company (or find a new web company) that accessibility is a concern and you would like the website updated to address these concerns. For this there are guidelines (WCAG 2.0 or Section 508) that can be followed.
How content has been created and added to the site
Once a site is built, it isn’t a static page that never gets new content added or updated (at least it shouldn’t be!). A healthy website thrives on new content.
However, this content is where you’ll most likely find the majority of accessibility issues on a website.
Have graphics been added with text embedded in the graphic? Have helpful “alt” tags not been given to the images used? Have you uploaded a video or audio clip that didn’t include a transcript?
All of these things have nothing to do with how the website was originally built (or updated to be more “accessible”). However issues here will cause you to fail any type of accessibility review.
What can be done?
As a first step, I would recommend finding a consultant or development company that understands accessibility concerns and can help to craft a strategy to address these concerns for your business. In general though, a basic plan would most likely be:
- Update your current website or create a new website that follows current accessibility best practices
- Review existing content and update to address any accessibility concerns or failures
- Train any members on your team that will be adding/updating content on accessibility best practices
- Have a regular review of the site to ensure it is still following the latest guidelines