The Short Version
If you need to implement accessibility on your site (and if you haven’t, you absolutely do for equity/ethical and legal liability reasons). Here is a quick list of resources and tips.
- WCAG Home
- 508 Policy Refresh page
- WebAim Contrast Checker
- Accessibility Partners
- Baruch College’s accessibility program
- 11th Annual Conference on Employment & Visual Impairment: Policy & Practice – April 13, 2018
- A machine scan, by itself, is not a guarantee if you are using anything more than basic HTML. Even CSS can muck things up.
- Check with HR. They would love to connect you with people with disabilities, and the people with disabilities would love to play a role. Everybody wins.
- Consider adding a disability to a persona, why don’t you?
- Want some quick empathy to aid your design thinking? Find a local disability community serving event, and volunteer. They need abled people of all types to help attendees get the most out of the event.
- Even before you get into compliance, as long as you are working on it, put an Accessibility Statement up on your site, with your other policies, expressing your intent, like this one.
- As of June, 2018 WCAG has expanded the Accessibility success criteria in version 2.1
My three main interactions with Accessibility have been:
- Working as Associate Creative Director on the USPS account at FCB, which as a governmental agency was required to comply with the 508 standard.
- Working on the Glucofacts application for Bayer, where I developed a new color palette, designed to provide maximally clear color distinctions for people with degraded color perception (a condition that can develop in people with Diabetes)
- Working on NYL.com. See “The Long Version,” below.
The Long Version
Not so long ago, when I was responsible for the UX of the primary customer facing website of a Fortune 100 company, I was approached by a member of our employee resource group with a free offer from Accessibility Partners. In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, they were offering a free audit of your company’s homepage.
Since we were a good way along into a redesign of the website, I thought it would be a good idea to add current state accessibility to the benchmark metrics I was compiling to measure the new site against. I accepted the offer, with thanks. A few weeks later I got the results of an automated scan of the site and added it to the stack of things to look at post MVP launch without the perceived need for any immediate action, given that our design agency was warranting their work for compliance with the WCAG 2.0 A standard.
WCAG 2.0, for those wondering, is the inheritor of the original 508 accessibility standard that the Federal Government developed back in the late 90s. Back in the early oughts, when I was at FCBi, we were designing 508 compliant marketing materials for the United States Postal Service, as mandated by law for government work, and our thinking carried over to the work we were doing for MetLife. We weren’t legally compelled to adhere for a non-governmental website experience, and the client didn’t ask for it, it just seemed like the right thing to do. All that changed in the years since. Target got sued for having an inaccessible website under the broader provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, challenged it in court, and lost. Since the 508 standard was pretty old, the WC3 group took up the flag and produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These have evolved, are now at version 2, and have varying levels of specificity from A to AAA. It is generally held that AA, the middle standard, is sufficient. While everyone had been waiting for the US Government to publish a more modern standard, they recently announced that that new standard was to be WCAG.
It’s always a good feeling when a serious team anxiously approaches you with a serious problem and you have all the material right in front of you, so when our legal team came to us with an urgent request to get informed about our compliance, I had the right set of documents, and the instant budget to undertake a more comprehensive internal/external audit.
I evaluated a few firms and in the end hired Accessibility Partners to conduct an audit and remediation recommendation. I took on the task internally to get closer to the subject matter to make sure I could properly evaluate their work. I installed JAWS, the leading Screen Reader for Windows, and fumbled through learning to use it before realizing I had a better way. I reached back out to ENABLE, the employee resource group, to see if anyone might be willing to volunteer to review the site with me to evaluate the ways specific disabilities make navigating out content difficult.
The response was immediate and enthusiastic. Happy to help? Most definitely!
Immediately, I learned a valuable lesson: you cannot trust an automated scan. Every one I tried passed our new homepage. It was properly formatted and tagged, nicely hierarchical, and valid. The only problem was that humans weren’t machines. They don’t care about structure, they care about information, and the fancy animations on our homepage were communicating the former at the expense of the latter.