Web accessibility is a mindset not a checklist

  • Author: Amajjika Kumara
  • Date: 14 Sep 2012

Access iQ™ Business Director, Amajjika Kumara offers some web accessibility ideas and concepts to consider, taken firsthand from our own journey.

Coming from a project management and marketing background, I have a tendency to look at life as one big checklist — tell me what needs to get done, I'll work though all the points and deliver. Being new to web accessibility and creating an organisation focused on web accessibility from the ground up, I quickly learned that a checklist mentality does not provide the right environment for accessibility principles to become part of organisational processes.

I can only wonder how some Federal and State Government departments are coping, thinking that all they have to do is make their website WCAG 2.0 Level A compliant and the problem is solved — or the checkbox is ticked as complete.

Web accessibility is a mindset, a principle that must be adopted by every person in an organisation. This means that responsibility for web accessibility does not lie with a single person but rather becomes part and parcel of the job description of every person involved with a website or web project. In doing so, the organisation is able to create new processes and procedures that ensure that accessibility principles are included and followed at every step in the lifecycle of a website.

Adopting new processes and procedures isn't always easy, and the temptation to "bend" the rules can be tempting. While accessibility does not necessarily "cost" any more, from my observations adopting accessibility principles throughout our organisation has added approximately 20-50 per cent extra time to perform tasks at the initial stages (depending on the type of task).

I keep mentioning organisation wide because as we increasingly rely on the internet to communicate with customers and colleagues, web accessibility principles should flow through to any digital experience — email, web app, social media. While accessibility in the social media space can prove challenging because the social platform itself in inaccessible, there are steps that can be taken to make the message or experience as accessible as possible.

Here are some ideas and concepts to consider, taken firsthand from our own journey in web accessibility.

Accessible web content is a must

Educate every person in the organisation on how to create accessible web content. Examples include:

Educate all team members in web accessibility as it pertains to their job

Educating team members on free web accessibility tools as they pertain to specific roles. For example, in the beginning we used to send all our digital marketing material to one person to have the colour contrast checked (WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.3 Contrast (minimum)). This became an unnecessary burden on our Web Accessibility Evangelist and became a bottleneck in our approval process. It was such a simple thing to organise a 30-minute training session in-house and now our marketing team are empowered to take responsibility for their part of their job that relates to WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 1.4.3 Contrast (minimum).

It would also help if some key technical resources became familiar in how to use screen readers like JAWS and NVDA.

Engage accessibility specialists where possible to save time and money

We also engaged external accessibility specialists when doing it ourselves became non-productive or the economic cost was too great. Web accessibility is an industry made up of specialist fields. Despite providing our web developers training in the principles of accessibility prior to development, since they were prepared to learn about accessibility as part of the engagement, nothing could replace the expert advice we received from our accessibility testers. The reports we received were detailed and explicit which made our bug-fixing process streamlined.

Commit to web accessibility by formalising it in a job role

While I have stated that accessibility should not be one person's responsibility, having a web accessibility evangelist or specialist on the team is certainly a plus. While web accessibility could theoretically fall under your corporate social responsibility banner, I believe that web accessibility is a role that requires specialist skills and knowledge that broaches the technical, business and marketing function — too much for it to be successfully executed as only part of someone's role. Organisations making a commitment to web accessibility should seriously consider employing an individual (or two) who has senior management buy-in and authority who is responsible for the education and implementation of web accessibility principles and procedures across business functions.

This type of resource may be difficult to find since web accessibility skills are not so common, supplementing the efforts of this person by engaging an external consultant specialising in the area of organisational implementation will certainly assist in ensuring WCAG 2.0 is correctly interpreted.

Employ open-minded web accessibility facilitators

The people you engage need to be open-minded facilitators who constantly seek solutions to business problems — but it helps if you frame your questions to get useful outcomes.

One notable example is when I wanted to implement an infographic. The first words out of everyone's mouth were "They're inaccessible!" But that's not entirely true. So I reframed my question to "What do we have to do to make an infographic accessible?" That garnered a completely different response. See our accessible infographic on web accessibility.

There are often practical, simple and cost effective solutions that comply with web accessibility — open-mindedness will certainly deliver them.

Be prepared to educate your suppliers

It's tempting to put a sneaky line item in your request for proposal or functional specifications issued to partners and suppliers that says "Must comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA." Taking this approach without intending to support your suppliers will only cause significant headaches and hardships. Where possible, be prepared to hand-hold on the first few projects if your suppliers are new to web accessibility.

Expect an initial 20-50 per cent increase in effort to complete some tasks

When you start implementing web accessibility principles, expect a steep learning curve initially. With the right team in place, that curve will decrease quickly but don't get frustrated when things take longer to deliver — plan for it. We committed to providing PDF versions for our premium content, which naturally need to be accessible. This has been a job that has taken much longer than anticipated and has been a big learning process — worthwhile of course, but time-consuming none the less.

Our vision is a web without limits

What we do as an organisation has to be exemplary. We don't pretend to be perfect but we are committed. Making web accessibility principles frontline in our decision-making process has certainly been a learning curve and we continue to step up to each new challenge. Ensuring that all participants in that journey adopt web accessibility principles as part of their normal working practice will elevate your organisation to a new level where web accessibility is not an afterthought, stops being a bothersome mandate and starts being part of an overall inclusive principle that forward thinking organisations openly embrace.