Many forward-thinking organizations have worked hard to develop an accessibility policy in order to better meet the needs of the sizeable disability market. Perhaps your organization is one of them. Customers with disabilities won’t necessarily know about your behind-the-scenes efforts, however, unless you communicate it to them. An accessibility statement is a public information page that relays your internal organizational policies, your accessibility goals and your past successes when it comes to serving and working with people who have disabilities.
Why a Public Statement is Important
An accessibility statement signals your compliance with anti-discrimination laws that you may be compelled to follow. These could include the Americans with Disabilities Act, which ensures that people with disabilities are treated fairly by businesses and organizations, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to provide equal access to their electronic information.
Federal agencies must also procure from businesses with Section 508-compliant ICT (information and communications technology). Your accessibility statement can clearly outline the ways in which your organization or business is following legal requirements.
The published statement itself may be necessary in order to comply with legislation. For instance, businesses that request a listing with the federal government’s Vendor Accessibility Resource Center are asked to supply a link to their online accessibility statement about Section 508 expertise and compliance. In Canada, organizations covered under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) must publish a policy about their commitment to accessibility, and ensure that this policy is publicly available and accessible.
Certainly, meeting legal requirements may be a primary goal of posting an accessibility statement. However, this is also a prime opportunity to engage customers with disabilities by spotlighting relevant information to people with accessibility needs.
Engaging Customers with Disabilities
An accessibility statement can impress people with disabilities by demonstrating the ways in which you are going above and beyond your legal requirements. It also provides a critical service that can engage the disability market as loyal customers.
When an individual with a disability takes the time to read your accessibility statement, it’s likely because they have immediate questions about how to use your website without barriers, how to get accessible help or information, how to reach disability-friendly customer service, or how to report a problem. If your accessibility statement can successfully address these questions, it goes a long way to ensuring your customers with disabilities have as positive an experience as possible with your brand. (Providing online self-service options is also a significant cost-saving measure for your business.)
What to Include in Your Accessibility Statement
An accessibility statement should list the laws and standards – and the levels of these standards – that your organization is committed to following. For example, you may have developed your website in accordance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which are the most up-to-date and widely used accessibility guidelines for the web. You may be complying with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, or adhering to a human rights law within your state.
You should also let people with disabilities know how to contact your organization if they encounter barriers on your website or using your products or services, or if they require materials in alternate formats, such as Braille.
Here’s what else you might add to your accessibility statement:
- Explain some of the specific barrier-free features that have been incorporated into your website, such as using descriptive title attributes for all links, or adding “skip to content” links on every web page, and how to use them, if applicable.
- Explain other ways that users can customize the site to their individual needs, such as font resizing or color-contrast adjustment.
- List the assistive technologies, such as the screen-reading software JAWS, that are compatible with your site.
- Provide tips for users with disabilities that will enhance their experience on your website. For example, you might suggest they keep their browsers or assistive technology software updated with the latest versions.
- If your organization provides software or apps to make it easier for people with disabilities to access your website, include instructions on how they can download and use it. Sam Ash Music has a “Free Assistive Technology” section on its accessibility information page that describes how the eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY app can help individuals with disabilities to use the website.
- A number of companies have also deployed an innovative communications strategy and created a dedicated page that includes links to other disability-related resources you may have produced, such as product accessibility information, FAQs, etc.
- Include external links to resources that might be helpful for some individuals. Greyhound provides a link for Mac users that leads them to Apple’s accessibility information page. Samsung points people to the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative’s database, where customers can find accessibility details and usage information about specific devices.
Other Tips for an Effective Accessibility Statement
Make sure your accessibility statement is – well, accessible! Ensure that a link to your statement is easy to find. Best Buy places a link to its accessibility statement right on its home page. Also, be sure that the link to your accessibility statement is descriptive.
Keep your accessibility statement up to date. The information on this page should be revisited whenever you improve the accessibility of your site or services, when assistive technologies change and when legislation is updated.
You may be aware that your website or app contains some barriers for some people. For instance, perhaps you are in the midst of a process of evaluating and improving your accessibility, and that process is not yet complete. Don’t ignore these barriers or pretend they don’t exist. Your customers with disabilities are noticing them, after all! Instead, use your accessibility statement to provide an update as to how and when these accessibility issues are being resolved. This lets people know that you’re aware of the barriers and are committed to taking steps to remove them.
Some accessibility statements, certainly, are brief and only cover a few references to legislation. When you go above and beyond these basic elements, however, it builds you as a brand that is welcoming its customers with disabilities and is dedicated to enhancing their online experience. That’s why you shouldn’t see your accessibility statement as an obligation. Rather, it’s an opportunity to market your organization as fully inclusive.
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.