Accessible to Whom?

For many, website accessibility is a topic to “deal with later.” (Sound familiar?) After all, if you’ve personally never had difficulty navigating a site or making a purchase on a site due to visual, hearing, or other access issues, how can you make this a top priority to address?

Food for thought: I could launch into an array of statistics about how federal website accessibility lawsuit filings have jumped 256% in the past five years, according to Sacramento-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. And you may have even heard of the recent uptick in legal cases filed against numerous wineries over their websites’ accessibility. But in the end, all that information may register as, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

What does it really mean when you have a hard time finding what you’re after on a website? What are these accessibility issues cited in lawsuits or simply having a frustrating time navigating a site?

Throughout this post I’ll throw in a few examples of what those with challenges may face on a website.

Above: Examples of an accessible website button and one that is mostly inaccessible (too small, too hard to see, low contrast colors).

Your Website & Your Business

Business first! Deal with website later…  Right?

Most of us think of our websites as merely tools to help run our businesses and attract new clients. But for an existing or prospective client, a website may be the first introduction they have to your business:

  1. It represents your business / public face. What does it say, or should it say, about your business and your values?
  2. The site’s initial construction and development likely took a considerable amount of your time, effort and investment.
  3. The website was compliant to WCAG 2.0 standards when you launched, right? (And how long ago was that?)

Whatever decisions you take about your website, they should reflect the whole of your business:

  1. Who does your business serve? A wide swath of the public or a narrow, niche market?
  2. Who are your customers? (Demographics as well as psychographics)
  3. Do you want to alienate or omit upwards of 20% of potential clients?
  4. If you wish to be an inclusive business, does your site reflect that?

Looking back, your website likely required a great deal of your time and attention to organize, design and launch when you first set out to introduce it. Site builds are big, complicated and tend to eat up budgets. Further, its maintenance to protect sites from hackers and attacks, and its updates with new content throughout the year, add to expenses. Revisiting this topic may feel like opening Pandora’s Box. But…

  1. What does it cost to address this accessibility issue?
  2. What’s the potential risk (or business loss if you don’t address it)?
  3. What’s the potential legal risk?

What Accessibility Issues Are Being Cited in Lawsuits?

You may have noticed both buttons above went to the same place. (Sneaky!) That’s because I’m not a lawyer. And if you’re truly concerned about the legal risk implications for your business, you should seek advice from a licensed attorney.

Perhaps one of the reasons you haven’t yet addressed accessibility issues in your website is simply because you don’t know what they are. If so, here’s a quick primer on basic issues for those with accessibility challenges:

Vision Challenges

For those legally blind, or with issues such as difficulty seeing contrasting colors, and for those of us a bit older who simply can’t read small type any more, we employ helpers to provide access.

Many of us use reading glasses to view website content. Beyond this basic helper are digital screen readers that “read” page content out loud to the visitor with significant vision challenges.

What if you can barely see what’s on the screen?

Example of site appearance to a low-vision visitor (darkens, low contrast colors, blurry or dark edges and corners)

Example of site appearance to a low-vision visitor (darkens, low contrast colors, blurry or dark edges and corners)

Other Challenges

The screen reader, unfortunately, misses a lot—particularly if the website is missing “behind-the-scenes” components to aid those with a variety of challenges. These may include:

  1. Alt tags – the text description for each image
  2. Keyboard navigation – Not everyone has a mouse or can scroll. Sites must be navigable entirely by keyboard!
  3. Unique button labels – For those visually challenged, it’s unhelpful for every button to be labeled “Learn More” or “Buy now.” It often is unclear to those with disabilities what they’re learning more about or what they’re purchasing.
  4. Content hierarchy structure – All webpages should contain hierarchy structure to aid the visitor in understanding what’s important, including headers, footers, section headings (and subheads). These are created via the underlying code.

How Inaccessible Is My Site?

Don’t panic. Most sites produced within the past few years may meet most of the WCAG 2.1 standards. (And experts are already working towards implementation of WCAG 3.0!) But unless your website build contract specified that your site is certified and authenticated to be in compliance of WCAG 2.1 standards, that doesn’t mean that someone can’t or won’t sue you for some accessibility grievance. (Further, I don’t know any web designer who will guarantee you won’t be sued, or that your site is 100% compliant, because they are organic and are regularly being updated with new content. I’ve heard of several site builds undertaken with this guarantee, and they were still sued for accessibility issues.)

So what’s a website owner to do about accessibility?

Actions To Take

First, I recommend a mind-shift: You don’t want to alienate 20% of your potential customers, right? If your personal values are to be all-inclusive and fair to everyone, then it’s time to look at what parts of your business don’t meet that value…and that includes your website.

The Website Audit

Second, there are myriad companies happy to run a quick (or long) scan of your site to analyze accessibility issues. These can run into many $1,000s to diagnose and resolve. Some web development companies specialize in this work. (I do not. But I can advise.)

There are no black and white rules for ensuring your site is fully compliant or not. (There are myriad details about whether or not the shade of blue you use for text  contrasts sufficiently to meet guidelines against the background.)

The web remains largely the “wild west” with few regulations, some guidelines, and most website owners left to their own devices to define what it means to meet the needs of their site visitors. Start defining those needs!

Get Professional Advice

Seek out professional advice to ensure you’re fully informed of your potential risk. Begin with your insurance provider. Do you have coverage for website  accessibility/disability? Depending upon what you learn from your insurance provider, you may wish to consult an attorney about your level of risk.

Accessibility Statement

Start by crafting an Accessibility Statement. (This isn’t the same thing as an Accessibility Policy. These documents may be drafted by your legal counsel.)  Add these to your website like your Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy.

Craft P&P for addressing accessibility in an ongoing manner. Do you conduct an annual audit of your site? Who is assigned to oversee the audit and hire the auditor?

Tips for Accessibility Success

Decide what changes to implement and which to address long-term. Bottom line: What keeps you up at night? Tackle those concerns FIRST! Getting them done may include:

  • Who will conduct the site revisions to meet the audit recommendations?
  • Will you have internal staff do some of the work, leaving more complex matters to an outside firm to conduct?
  • Start small. Chip away at it.

Solutions for your website may be very different than someone else’s. There are no black & white simple answers as everyone’s sites are different.

If your core value is to provide excellent service, then it needs to be excellent for everyone — not just those without accessibility challenges.

More Help

Want to know more? Call me if you have questions, or take a poke around.
Here are a few links to other parts of the site.