When I discuss website accessibility with clients, one of my first jobs is getting them to understand what it is, why it’s important, and the different communities it supports. That often means I must address the client’s mindset and approach to website accessibility by sharing six important truths to consider.
1. Website accessibility is necessary
For a long time, there was a perception among business owners that they weren’t losing much business by not prioritizing website accessibility. This seems to stem from the incorrect perceptions that only blind or deaf people need website assistive technologies, and that website accessibility only affects those population segments.
However, that’s simply not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every four adults in the United States has some sort of disability. From the colorblind, neurodivergent, and visually impaired but not completely blind, to the physically challenged and the many other diverse populations ‒ website accessibility guidelines serve them all.
The makeup of your clientele is likely similar to that of the general population, which means your website could be turning away roughly 25% of your potential customers. That’s significant.
2. Website accessibility is a priority, not an afterthought
It’s one thing to say you support the concept of website accessibility, but it’s another thing entirely to empathize enough with the people supported by website accessibility to actively prioritize their needs.
Business owners sometimes erroneously look at website accessibility from their own monetary profit/loss perspective rather than from an individual’s success perspective. It’s not uncommon for me to run across a stakeholder who views taking care of website accessibility as a burden: it takes time out of their day that they believe should be spent on something they consider more important. It’s only when someone comes after them with a legal notice ‒ which may mean monetary and reputational repercussions for the business ‒ that they finally make website accessibility a priority, not for the sake of their customers, but for themselves. Additionally, that priority is often only temporary ‒ just long enough to make their legal issues go away.
But what could be more important to your business than connecting with your customers and protecting your brand’s reputation? Because your customers and your reputation are what’s at stake.
Website accessibility is not about your business’s needs. It’s about your customers’ needs. But your business will likely benefit from your customers’ successes if you make website accessibility a priority.
3. Website accessibility is a process
Website accessibility is not a single set of instructions to be followed. It’s not “do these five things, et voilà, your website is accessible forever!” Although that’s an obvious exaggeration, some people view dealing with website accessibility as an imposition rather than as a reasonable part of their daily routine. That tends to make the process stressful instead of effortless.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) list the requirements of website accessibility. Applying those techniques often takes several passes through your website to complete ‒ like proofreading a manuscript. However, unlike a manuscript, a website is never truly completed. Making a website accessible cannot be a “one and done” procedure, and it’s a disservice to your customers to treat it as such.
4. Website accessibility is ongoing
Some questions I hear that show a lack of understanding of website accessibility are, Are we good? Are we done? Is it over? My first thought is always, “Is there such a thing as an error-free website?” Some people might argue an error-free website can exist, but even so, does it always exist, or can new errors be introduced as the website changes? The answer, of course, is that errors can be introduced later. And honestly, there’s always the possibility the website host missed something in previous passes.
Websites are not meant to sit unchanged: they grow and adjust as you need them to. If your website changes ‒ when you add content, widgets, or new page layouts; adjust the header or footer; receive vendor updates; or rebuild or rebrand ‒ those website changes have the potential to affect your website’s accessibility. And occasionally, the guidelines themselves receive updates as well. Ongoing changes mean your website accessibility should also be reviewed on a regular basis.
An ongoing review is more than making sure nothing new has popped up on an automated accessibility system scan. Of course, that’s important as well, but when is the last time someone checked your website with a screen reader? Or at 500% zoom? Or with Windows High Contrast mode turned on? Or just tabbed through the screen to make sure that all the functional areas that can be clicked can also be easily and visibly accessed via the keyboard? Those functions and views can also change over time as your website changes, and those changes have the potential to introduce barriers to accessing your website.
So, Are we good? Are we done? Is it over? Perhaps this round might be, but the next round should already be on your calendar.
5. Website accessibility is too complex to review using only automated scans
Some website accessibility techniques can be automated and searched for by accessibility system scans, and some can’t. Automated systems can only look for the specific patterns they are programmed to find. However, many of the guidelines have multiple techniques for success, and not all will be simply patterned and programmed or easily searchable.
This is especially important to understand when we have an automated accessibility system telling us we have a certain number of issues that need review for possible correction. False positives can show up in automated scans, meaning your website can still be accessible even though an automated system thinks an issue exists. And conversely, automation can still miss issues that need to be corrected. That’s why manual accessibility reviews will always be necessary in addition to automated scans.
It’s not the end goal of website accessibility to have zero issues in an automated system; the end goal is for your users to all have the same experience on your website. You want everyone to be able to use your website to perform the desired calls to action: find information, purchase something, contact you. Their success is your success. Don’t lose sight of the true goal.
6. Website accessibility is your responsibility
What do you need to do to make website accessibility as painless as possible? Don’t treat it as a hindrance to your day; build it in as a routine part of your work. Create internal processes and timelines for documenting, reviewing, making decisions, correcting issues, and following up.
Do your support teams know where to direct website accessibility concerns when they receive them? Do they know what information to gather to help document issues? Do they make the process of reporting issues as painless as possible for the customer? Do they offer the customer another method to handle inaccessible transactions without the customer having to ask for it? Do they offer to follow up with the customer once the reported issue is resolved?
Having these processes in place and questions answered helps take some of the headache out of handling accessibility errors. As for the errors themselves, accessibility professional Sheri Byrne-Haber has an excellent blog post about why accessibility bugs are a good thing and how to handle them.
Ultimately, the results you get from your website are proportional to the effort you put into it. Do you have the proper mindset toward website accessibility? If not, are you really willing to have a quarter of your potential customers seek more accessible options elsewhere?
Learn more about how you can improve your institution’s website accessibility with help from Jack Henry.™
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