In nearly every website Request for Proposal (RFP), there’s a line about accessibility. It either says it’s important, or it’s not.
But a funny thing happens between RFP and website launch: Even those who claim web accessibility is important lose sight of it. Sometimes it’s scrapped to cut back on cost. Other times it fades into the background as meatier project details emerge.
When the project “gets real,” accessibility gets forgotten. Both client and agency march on toward the finish line and avoid the distraction of what some assume is an edge case.
A Guest Post by Josh Amer, Strategist at Dynamit
Web accessibility is fairly straightforward, but few companies – including digital agencies – understand what it takes to make a website accessible. If you are a marketing leader, you may not need to know the minutiae, but the basics will help you understand why this is important for your business and your customers.
Here are the top five things to know before you cut accessibility from your next project:
1. It’s Not an Edge Case
Oftentimes, the objection to creating accessible sites is a belief that accessibility features won’t help a large enough audience to justify the additional cost. Doing this type of cost-benefit analysis is common in many aspects of web projects, such as in selecting which browsers we test against. If the audience isn’t large enough, is it worth it?
While we know globally 1 in 7 people has a disability, it is difficult to quantify the number of users with a disability that actually affects their use of the web. It’s even harder to quantify the percent of disabled users who visit a particular site. Unfortunately, no existing analytics tool can help with these questions.
Identifying the audience that benefits from improved accessibility is far easier: It’s everyone. When you create an accessible website, you create an easier to read, easier to interact with, more usable, user-centric website that better serves all of your customers.
There’s an old analogue that gets thrown around for website accessibility, “It’s like adding a wheelchair ramp to your website.” That’s not true if you are doing it right. It shouldn’t feel tacked on. It should be more like a sliding door or an elevator. Sure, those features may improve accessibility, but the beauty is they work well for everyone.
2. The Laws, They Are A-changin’
Let’s pretend for a minute that you are completely on board with making your website accessible because you know it’s a good thing to do and you want to provide a great experience for all of your customers. Still, your humanitarian pitch fails and the decision maker says no. In that case, you have the law to help you.
Some companies that take on accessibility projects do so because of litigation or the fear thereof. They or one of their competitors is sued and action is forced. For most companies, however, this isn’t the case. The risk is viewed as low, and companies question whether the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to their website. All this is expected to change in 2016 when it is highly anticipated that the ADA will be updated to hold businesses accountable for having accessible websites.
If your business is covered by the ADA, there’s a good chance your website will need to be accessible. The Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as some courts, have already acted under an interpretation of the ADA that assumes this to be the case. The changes next year should clarify that process and increase the risk profile for any business with an inaccessible website.
3. You Don’t Have to Sacrifice Your Brand, Design, or Big Ideas
Another common obstacle for web accessibility is the thought that making an accessible website means making an ugly, boring website – watering down the brand, the design, and worse, the ideas.
Sounds awful, right? Luckily, none of it’s true.
The W3C (web standards body) has released Web Content Accessibility Guidelines — which, by the way, are the standards the DOJ uses when enforcing accessibility. These guidelines outline three levels of accessibility for websites: A (the bare bones); AA (really accessible); and AAA (painfully accessible). The standard the DOJ enforces is AA.
There are a lot of things that must be done to meet this level of compliance, but none of them will kill your brand, ideas, or design. In fact, most everything that can be done on the web can be done in an accessible way. Are there exceptions? Sure. But the vast majority of what can be done can be done with accessibility in mind.
4. It Will Cost More to Wait
Like most things on the web, if you design and develop from the beginning with the thought that the site will be accessible, you minimize the cost of making it so. If you wait until you get sued or try to retrofit an existing site, it will cost more. Waiting means you’ll start by figuring out all the issues with your site. You’ll then have to rework existing designs and code to make them fit the new paradigm. Like most things that you attempt to retrofit into a new paradigm, the results will vary. Anyone who has ever tried to take an existing site and make it responsive knows these pains. Sure, it’s worked for some, but it’s better, cheaper, and faster to make accessibility a focal point from the start.
5. Don’t Forget… Accessibility Has a Real Impact
The nuts and bolts of how this works, what to watch out for, and how to advocate for accessibility are all well and good, but they gloss over an important reality: inaccessible websites negatively impact the lives of real people. All you have to do is talk to someone who has a disability about their experience on the web to realize how bad it is. If they are like most, they’ll tell you about websites they’ve left and brands they’ve abandoned because they felt that the company didn’t care about them.
It’s easy to forget these users, especially without someone advocating for accessibility on their behalf. Unlike the loud mobile advocate in the room saying, “Don’t forget about Android users!,” people with disabilities aren’t always involved in projects. Someone needs to represent them. How?
First, create an accessibility evangelist — someone charged with making sure accessibility is remembered throughout every project. Second, create a persona with a disability. If you design with personas, having one with a disability will serve as a helpful reminder to consider disabilities throughout the project. Lastly, work with actual users. Have them test, review, and speak up. Give them a role. Enable them.
Accessible websites are better for everyone. They enable some of your most disadvantaged consumers. And they might just save your company from a multi-million dollar lawsuit. It’s time to embrace a more universal way to design and develop websites. It’s time to stop ignoring web accessibility.
Josh Amer is a strategist at Dynamit (http://www.dynamit.com), a data, design and technology company in Columbus, OH. Prior to joining Dynamit, Josh was a developer, UX designer, project manager and content strategist. Connect with Josh on Twitter at @jdamer (http://www.twitter.com/jdamer) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.