4 Steps Your Business Needs to Take to Ensure Web Content Accessiblity

Hundreds of businesses in the United States have been successfully sued in federal courts—not because they defrauded their customers, or underpaid their employees—but because their websites didn’t meet accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities.  They include some of the biggest names in American retail, from Home Depot to Footlocker, Brooks Brothers and Sears.

Those which haven’t yet been tested in court aren’t out of the woods.  According to Business Disability Forum, more than 70% of the websites they reviewed failed to meet accessibility standards, and that could make for a day of legal reckoning not too far down the road.  As Accessibility Works notes:

"Website accessibility lawsuits and threatened claims have become big business...More law firms are filing lawsuits or sending demand letters alleging individuals with disabilities are denied access to a business’s goods and services due to inaccessible websites than ever."

Time to Get Familiar with WCAG

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are international guidelines prepared by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  Although they can be confusing at times, their purpose is clear:  to ensure internet users with disabilities, such as visual or hearing impairments, are able to use a website as well as individuals who don’t face these challenges.  For example, if someone who is visually-impaired wants to access non-text items on a website, they have no way of identifying those items unless the website provides a text alternative which a site narrator can read. 

Accessibility-computer-icons-300x225.jpg

There are 3 levels of site compliance prescribed by WCAG—beginner, intermediate and advanced—and each is associated with a specific set of guidelines, but some standards are common to all 3.  To be compliant, websites must, among other things:

  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content
  • Provide captions for all videos which include audio
  • Not use presentation that relies solely on color
  • Make all functionality accessible by keyboard only
  • Provide a “skip to content” link
  • Use clear and helpful page titles
  • Present items in a logical order
  • Make the purpose of every link clear from its context
  • Ensure page elements do not change when they receive focus on input

To Be Compliant and Avoid Litigation, You Need a Plan

Perhaps in recognition that WCAG guidelines are complex and, at times, rather vague, the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) offers de facto recommendations for how businesses can create an effective plan.  Your plan should include the following 4 elements:

1.  Select a Website Accessibility Manager

Your accessibility manager can be in-house, but make sure that individual has the skills to carry the project to completion.  If he doesn’t, you’re better off working with a third-party developer.  The person you choose should be fully familiar with WCAG 2.0 guidelines, skilled in web development and content management, and experienced in training the members of the development team. 

He will have 3 primary functions:

  • Creating clear and comprehensive web accessibility policy;
  • Posting that policy on your site (this is important in the event your site is scanned); and
  • Thoroughly documenting all of his actions

2.  Perform a WCAG Audit

Your website accessibility manager needs to conduct a thorough audit of your website (he can get help from several available automated auditing tools).  The audit should include automated testing (this will identify about 25% of all issues); a manual code review; and an assistive technology review (in this final phase, your manager will test your site using some of the same tools which people with disabilities use—like ZOOM and Dragon).

3.  Keep Detailed Records

Clear and comprehensive documentation is essential to establish full compliance—and could be critically important if your business is sued.  Documentation should include all audit reports.  It’s best to organize all documentation, preferably in a spreadsheet, including each action, by whom it was performed, and the date of completion.

4. Train In-House Staff

You can’t assume your accessibility manager will be with your company in the future, or that your first attempt at compliance will be your last, so it’s important for him to fully train every member of the development team.  Be sure to create easy-to-understand training manuals to assist future efforts.

Conclusion

Complying with WCAG is, admittedly, daunting, but it’s something your business needs to be serious about.  The steps you take now, although difficult, could be a lifesaver for your company if users of your site register complaints and you’re taken to court in the future.  If no one on your team is sufficiently skilled to carry out your compliance plan, hire knowledgeable website developers who understand WCAG guidelines and can help you achieve your objective.

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