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If you work in Higher Ed, Healthcare or Financial Services, you’ve probably heard about your competitors and contemporaries being sued for not having ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant websites. Harvard University, H&R Block, and even Target and Five Guys are well-known for being landmark lawsuits in digital accessibility. More recently, Miami University, Winn Dixie, Tenet Healthcare, Anthem, WellPoint, and RiteAid have all been the subjects of major lawsuits. In all of the above but Tenet, which is still in litigation, either the organization entered into a settlement or the court found in favor of the plaintiff. While some courts are finding in favor of the defending organizations (there’s currently a case against Domino’s Pizza on appeal), the majority of outcomes seem to be that the ADA does not refer only to the physical space of an organization, but also to the digital space. In other words, just as a place of business must be accessible to disabled persons, so must be digital properties.Bringing Your Website into ADA ComplianceEfforts are being made to deter drive-by lawsuits. However, by proactively bringing your website into ADA compliance you can deter potential litigation and show good faith should you receive complaints about inaccessible content. Even better, building ADA compliance into your website will bring you closer to the goal of serving as many people as possible. Accessibility affects legitimate would-be-users who can find themselves unable to complete common online tasks, such as finding a doctor or filling out a Contact Us form, and the needs of these users cannot be ignored. For reference, 20% of the US population has a disability, and about 12.5% of the population has a severe disability. Don’t forget, also, that Baby Boomers are aging, and control 70% of the wealth of the United States. As they age, they’ll become more susceptible to disabilities (see chart below). Regardless of your industry, this is a valuable market with changing needs, and more and more organizations are shifting their focus to address accessibility and compliance with the ADA.Where to Start with Your Website Accessibility ProjectStarting your accessibility (a11y) project can be daunting.  There are crazy acronyms (ADA? A11y? 508? WCAG?) and a huge number of sources to sift through to find out what to do and how to do it. At Primacy, we’ve helped many clients reach WCAG A and AA compliance, and we’ve worked out a series of eight steps you can follow to ease your way into WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. Before going through those steps, take a quick swing through my earlier post, Putting “Access” Back into Accessibility to get comfortable with the lingo. Ready? Good – let’s get going.
  1. Adopt a Digital Accessibility Policy – commit to WCAG 2.1 AA compliance.  WCAG 2.0 is currently the international standard for digital accessibility. However, WCAG 2.1 is currently in the works and expected to be approved by the W3C in June 2018, then pulled into the European regulations in 2019. We recommend building and testing to that standard now in order to remain compliant in the future. Put this commitment in writing on your site.
  2. Consider accessibility a part of every interactive project throughout the project life cycle (especially the beginning).  We’ve found that by incorporating accessibility into the initial stages of the project life cycle, we cut down on remediation at the end. Remediation is expensive and time-consuming, so starting early is a huge win!
  3. Solidify procurement; choose partners that understand web accessibility. This should be for all your digital partners, not just your web developers. Make sure your marketing and email partners understand web accessibility and will help you get there.
  4. Identify personas within your key market segments that may require more targeted usability (Seniors, ESL, Temporary). Accessibility isn’t just about the blind and deaf. We’ve had clients with large senior citizen markets, for whom we designed specific types of interactions in order to make task completion very easy. We’ve also had clients in very rural areas with low bandwidth. That was a very different type of design, trying to minimize the amount of data consumed while still providing a rich experience.
  5. Appoint a single employee responsible for all digital accessibility initiatives. This employee is your accessibility expert, passion-finder, and cheerleader, all rolled into one. You’ll find that people in the accessibility community tend to be very passionate; after all, our number one priority is to make sites accessible in order to help people use them!
  6. Start a center of excellence to manage and support accessibility efforts. Your accessibility point person can be the head of this team, ensuring the message reaches all members of the organization, including the leadership.
  7. Train staff, particularly within digital and call centers. If a user encounters a problem on your site that they can’t get past, they will call for help. First of all, provide a phone number! If your forms aren’t accessible, people can’t use them to contact you. Train your staff in empathy – if you tell a blind user to click on the red button on the right side of the page, chances are very good that they become frustrated, and won’t complete the task in question.
  8. Create an environment that ensures inclusion as part of your corporate values; promote a culture that fosters accessibility. Accessibility isn’t something that you can build once, launch, and forget about. It doesn’t take long for new, inaccessible content to make its way onto a site and break your carefully thought-out user experience. When in doubt, train your content authors; but the leadership has to provide direction and focus. If your organization’s leadership merely wants to check it off the list, chances are the site won’t be truly accessible.
Once you’ve gone through these steps, what’s next? What do you do with the inaccessible content on your site? First, prioritize. Bringing a complex, existing site into compliance can be a large investment. Are you planning a redesign in the near future? If so, that would be the perfect time to make the site truly ADA compliant. In the meantime, prioritize important interactions. Make sure your carousels don’t auto-play, that you can tab through each interactive item on the site and see where the keyboard focus is, and make sure you can use the site’s navigation without a mouse. Train your content authors to create new, accessible content. And most of all, don’t panic! A11y is first and foremost a journey. It’s an iterative process to improve upon what you have and make it better for more users each time. Good luck!