For most associations, web accessibility doesn't make it to the top of the list of requirements for a website refresh or digital product development project. That's a missed opportunity because accessibility can help make your association's digital presence reach a wider audience and reduce the risk that your site is out of compliance with the latest legal requirements. While you can always make your website more accessible, it's always easiest to bake accessibility into the design and development process. Here are four reasons why it's important to put accessibility at the top of your list of requirements.
Website Accessibility is the Right Thing to Do
According to the World Bank, 15% of the world’s population, or 1 billion people, experience some form of disability. "Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities, such as less education, poorer health outcomes, lower levels of employment, and higher poverty rates." Your association can help lessen those adverse outcomes by ensuring that everyone can access your association's digital experience. It's not only strategically important, but it's the right thing to do.
Website Accessibility Makes Your Website More SEO-Friendly
Accessible web content is search engine optimization (SEO) friendly content. In the same way that persons with disabilities may require alternative text descriptions of images, easy to follow headings, and clear link titles, search engine spiders (the computer programs that index the web) need that information, too. A search engine crawler will have a much easier time indexing a captioned video than one without that information. Likewise, a website that uses HTML5's semantic tagging for the identification of page areas will improve search crawling precision.
Website Accessibility Makes Your Website Work Better for Everyone
In the same way that sidewalk curb cuts benefit people pushing strollers and riding scooters, making web content accessible has benefits for everyone. For example, web accessibility tends to help people with lower bandwidth because it allows them to turn off images or avoid large downloads, while still obtaining the meaning of your content. In a similar fashion, anyone who has wanted to watch a video in a quiet space can attest to how captions help people better comprehend video content when the sound is turned off.
Website Accessibility May Be Legally Required
There is a growing legal consensus that if the Title III requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to your association, you may be required to make your website accessible. As described by Lisa M. Brauner, an attorney at a law practice specializing in nonprofit legal matters, "Title III of the ADA, which applies to private entities, states that no individuals shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation." You should get your own legal opinion, but some nonprofits may be a covered “place of public accommodation." In those cases, the ADA law may apply to your online products and services, in addition to your physical space.
Next Steps for Website Accessibility
If you are convinced that web accessibility is important, your next question may be: Now what do I do?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Develop an accessibility policy for your organization.
Your policy should outline what standard of accessibility your organization hopes to achieve, as well as responsibilities for the implementation of that policy. A common standard to shoot for is the WCAG 2.1 AA standard, published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). As part of their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), they publish a sample accessibility policy that you can tailor to your organization.
- Publish an accessibility statement on your websites.
An accessibility statement shows that your organization takes accessibility seriously and allows you to share any known limitations, as well as contact information if a customer encounters a problem. Again, the W3C has an accessibility statement generator that you can use to get started.
- Develop an accessibility checklist that can be used for future digital development.
If you are working on a new website or requesting development work from a vendor, it helps to have a checklist of what to look for and do when it comes to accessibility. While you cannot anticipate every scenario, the W3C has a fairly comprehensive accessibility checklist on their website that will help make sure your accessibility foundation starts off strong.
As with many things digital, accessibility is a journey, rather than some task to be checked off. There doesn't come a point at which you can sit back and relax, knowing that your entire web presence is accessible. Rather, your accessibility practice is about putting in place the policy and standards that will make your website work better for everyone. Good luck on the journey!
Tom was a guest on DelCor's Reboot IT podcast, Episode 6: Defining Digital Transformation.