There are several laws, with accessibility guidelines, in place today to recognize and support the right of people with disabilities to access the same services and opportunities as everyone else. More accessibility standards are on the horizon as well, as consultations are now underway for new federal disability legislation.
When your organization interacts with and serves customers, the regulations are here to ensure that the same services are available and accessible to people with disabilities. The laws apply whether the customer is shopping in your retail store, communicating with you over the phone, or visiting your website online.
How can you ensure your website has an accessible web design?
That’s where accessibility guidelines can be an invaluable resource.
Accessibility Guidelines Do More Than Comply with the Law
Even if you’re outside the jurisdiction of some of these laws – say, your business is located in a state or province that hasn’t made them mandatory – you should still care about accessibility standards. For one thing, you are obligated to under human rights legislation to treat people with disabilities fairly, without discrimination.
Aside from that, it also makes good business sense. It takes very little additional investment, in most cases, to ensure that a store or website is accessible. Yet it enables your company to reach a larger market by taking into consideration customers with disabilities.
Research shows that over half of potential shoppers are touched by a disability in some way, whether they have a family member, a friend or a close colleague with a disability. Imagine the impact it has on their buying decisions when a business demonstrates that it cares about its customers.
Digital Accessibility Isn’t Just About Having Tools… But It’s a Start
When it comes to independence, assistive technology can make all the difference to people with disabilities. This includes devices like hearing aids, automatic door openers and motion-activated faucets. Assistive technology also enhances the digital customer experience for people with disabilities.
For instance, if a person can’t use their hands to browse the web, due to a paralysis or injury, they need an app that allows them to control the mouse hands-free or use voice commands.
Companies that make assistive technology tools available to their customers are essentially issuing a warm welcome to people with various disabilities. These tools work best when websites follow the accessibility guidelines laid out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These elements are equally important and one shouldn’t be given preference over the other.
To put things into perspective, think about mobility devices. You may be able to use a power wheelchair to get around independently in your community. But what if a store you wish to visit has a set of stairs out front with no ramp or lift? Even a wheelchair won’t be able you to enter the door.
It’s the same with digital accessibility. People with disabilities do often benefit from assistive technology to navigate the web. But if your company’s website doesn’t follow certain accessibility standards – for example, if an online PDF document hasn’t been properly tagged so a screen reader can do its job – or if you haven’t used a colour contrast checker – the assistive technology may not be much help.
Where Can You Find Guidelines for Web Accessibility?
So you’re ready and willing to make your website accessible, but have no idea where to start. The process may even sound intimidating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the technical side of website building. That’s okay. Fortunately, there are reliable resources available for guidance.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 checklist is an organized, thorough, easy-to-follow and universally accepted set of technical guidelines for making a website usable by people with disabilities. It’s available online and free of charge.
It’s worth noting that there are different WCAG 2.0 levels: A, AA and AAA (good, better and best).
Which level should you strive for?
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), new websites – as well as any that are “significantly refreshed” – must meet the criteria of Level A at the very least. By January 2021, however, they must meet most of the requirements for Level AA
Similarly, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act governs web accessibility in the United States federal government and in some state and local government, with a set of standards that will soon be updated. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has also been found in court to apply to organizations’ websites. To be a great corporate citizen, you should strive for WCAG AA status.
Testing Whether Your Website Meets the Accessibility Guidelines
You’ve learned the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and now you’re looking to see if your website meets the accessibility standards. This, too, is probably less challenging than you think. Websites, once built or refreshed, can be tested. There are automatic web accessibility checkers online that will catch at least some problems. You can also hire an accessibility vendor with expertise in WCAG 2.0 to review your site and ensure it follows the guidelines.
If you’ve already built or refreshed your website, but you’d like to know where it stands in terms of accessibility, contact us for analysis of your website.
If you’re planning a major refresh for your website, and you’re hiring a web developer for the project, why not screen for this area of expertise in the first place? Ask about his or her familiarity with accessibility guidelines, as a WCAG validator, and whether he or she has developed accessible websites in the past. When you make it a priority to ensure that your website can be used by everyone, you’re demonstrating that customers with disabilities are a priority, too.
To Learn More About Web Accessibility Download our Whitepaper “The Jargon Free Guide to Web Accessibility”
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.