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Creating an Accessible Website & Digital Presence with Jason C. Taylor

When most businesses launch a website, they’re focused on the basics: Getting the actual site up and running with decent copy and the core functionality they need. Many end up forgetting to prioritize digital accessibility, and this is often a mistake— accessibility should be a from-the-ground-up priority to help ensure your entire site can be accessed by everyone, regardless of potential disabilities.

Since many businesses often have to jump through more hoops to implement accessibility practices later on, Jason C. Taylor— a digital accessibility expert— shares his most important advice about website accessibility. 

Jason C. Taylor is the Chief Innovation Strategist and Advisor to the UsableNet CEO. Jason has been an active member of the accessibility and usability communities since 2001, which started with leading partnerships between UsableNet, Macromedia (now Adobe), and The Nielsen Norman Group.

Why Digital Accessibility Matters

What Accessibility Guidelines Should Businesses Follow

The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides international standards for web accessibility. As of October 5, 2023, WCAG 2.2 is a W3C recommendation. WCAG 2.2 is the most recent standard to make your content accessible to more people with disabilities.

The previous standard was Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA introduced in June 2018. Since midyear 2020, WCAG 2.1 has been the standard most requested for remediation by plaintiffs who file ADA web accessibility lawsuits. Depending on where your customers are, it's a good idea to review what standard local regulations require.

What to Prioritize for Accessibility When Starting a New Site

Establish and agree upon your company goals for digital accessibility.

You can define your accessibility policy. A policy explains and documents your accessibility standard, the channels, and a roadmap of how you plan to get there. It will be critical to the success of your accessibility initiative to get buy-in from leadership. You want to ensure leadership is aligned with your goals and throughout your process.

What to Prioritize for Accessibility if You Already Have a Website

It can be challenging to know where to start, so think about the user experience and top user tasks that you want customers to be able to complete on your website. Prioritize and scale from there. If your team isn't experienced in accessibility, a partner or consultant like UsableNet can help.

What Are the Most Common Mistakes Brands Make with Digital Accessibility

When people come to us, they think of accessibility as a one-time project. Yet, accessibility is not easily "one and done." Instead, you want to make accessibility and digital inclusion for your customers and employees a part of your product lifecycle. For accessibility to work well and be sustainable, it must become part of your company culture.

Another is that sometimes well-meaning companies get caught up in attaining a "good" accessibility score according to automated accessibility tools. Automated tools are a part of an accessibility program and are helpful for benchmarking progress, but relying on automated tools is not enough. However, it's important to remember that of the 50 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Success Criteria in 2.1 AA, automation can detect only some of the criteria.

I recently hosted a webinar with Joseph DiNero, Assistant Program Director of Assistive Technology Services at Hellen Keller Services for the Blind, and the team lead for user testing at UsableNet. We demonstrated how Joe navigates a website as a blind user relying on a screen reader. We used a site with O errors detected by Jaws, a popular testing platform and within minutes, Joe found issues that had gone undetected by the automated tool. Everything requires a manual review!

Unfortunately, we hear more frequently from the disability community and accessibility advocates that accessibility widgets cannot make complex websites fully accessible to people with disabilities. We’ve started to see this with lawsuits against widget vendors. If you are working with a partner for accessibility, be wary of claims that they can make your website accessible within hours.

How to Flag Potential Accessibility Issues

Test and then retest. Suppose you've already started with your accessibility initiative. In that case, an enterprise accessibility testing platform to periodically scan and monitor digital experiences can be helpful to alert you to new issues. However, you want to set up regular manual testing and testing with the disability community.

Evaluation will help you know where to start. A free, automated accessibility test can help identify and fix the low-hanging fruit. Speak with your website provider about errors found by these tools.

A full accessibility audit that includes evaluation by manual and user testing can help you prioritize by impact.

Another good idea is to include a customer service line or email that customers can use to alert you of accessibility issues with your website. If you decide to set up a phone number for this, train your staff on how you want to handle these calls and where they should document reported problems.

What Do You Think About Accessibility Widgets and Overlays?

We've heard from the disability community that they can be disruptive to their experience by adding a technology layer between your website and your customers. We monitor ADA digital accessibility lawsuits, and lawsuits increasingly list widgets as barriers in cases. If the point of your accessibility initiative is to create a more inclusive experience, then the community you hope to include should approve of or like the solution.

True accessibility doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and you must maintain it. You want a partner who can perform accessibility audits and who will manually address your website's code to ensure compliance with your chosen accessibility standards and who is dedicated to your company and can provide continuous services to accommodate any updates as you make changes to your digital properties in the future. Unfortunately, accessibility widgets don’t do any of this.

When to Consider Working with an Accessibility Service & What Can They Help With?

Accessibility experts can help you with all aspects of building your digital accessibility program. They should work as an extension of your team. A few places where an expert can help are digital accessibility audits, training, remediation work, and reporting. 

Whether you are just considering accessibility or have a more mature program and need help, accessibility experts can help you at every stage. Suppose you have limited resources or expertise in accessibility or have a small accessibility team. In that case, an expert may be beneficial when starting.

Final Thoughts

It’s common for brands to think “let me get this site up and running and then we’ll figure out accessibility features— most people don’t need them,” or even to forget about accessibility altogether.

This can be a mistake. It can alienate customers, impact your brand reputation, and potentially even result in a significant lawsuit (depending on the location of your business and customer locations). And since remediation is so much work, it’s often much more effective to consider accessibility right from day one.

And if a customer reaches out to let you know of a potential accessibility issue, take note— if one person has the problem, many others may, too.

And finally, make sure your entire team is aware of the importance of accessibility, including managers, development teams, QA teams, and even content teams. Small things like adding alt text to images on blogs or ensuring that forms work with speech readers can make a world of difference, and some basic training and guidelines can ensure that happens.

Want to learn more about creating a high-performing website for all users? Check out our blog for more expert tips!

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