How to Implement Website Accessibility Standards

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Monday 9 January, 2023
by Dr Danielle Kennedy (PhD)

DDSN has been preparing accessible sites for large organisations, local government and state and federal government agencies for most of our 25 year history.

Here are our teams thoughts on how to approach an improvement project to implement ensure your website complies with WCAG guidelines.

Image: Generated using DALL.E with the prompt - inclusion of all individuals in the content on the internet in the style of Salvador Dali.

inclusion of all individuals in the content on the internet in the style of salvador dali. Image by DALL.EUnderstanding Accessibility

Accessibility is a process that focuses on making digital content and systems accessible to everyone.

A lot of people are under the mistaken belief that accessibility compliance is solely for the purposes of inclusion of disabled audiences. However, the purpose of the WCAG Accessibility guidelines and associated methods is to improve the experience on the internet for ALL users.

Seeking to meet Accessibility principles and guidelines becomes more than just inclusion of those with differing abilities it also has the potential for substantial return on investment for your organisation.

What are the WCAG Accessibility Guidelines?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines and standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make web content more accessible to people of all abilities.

WCAG has three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. The higher the level, the more strict the guidelines are and the more accessible the content is likely to be.

The guidelines also change from time to time. We expect in 2023 that the updated WCAG guidelines will be finalised with more stringent requirements and additional recommendations.

Setting Organisational Expectations

Seeking to meet Accessibility principles and guidelines becomes more than just inclusion of those with differing abilities it also has the potential for substantial return on investment for your organisation.

The main expectation to set regarding Accessibility  is that it isn't a project, it is a journey. It is a set of rules and practices that make up a change to the way that you work that all contributors to your online presences must underszand and be involved in. This includes the;

  • managment
  • technical & visual design teams
  • development team
  • any QA or testers
  • the IT team
  • the marketing team,
  • the communications team
  • content producers
  • subject matter experts
  • graphic designers

All have a role to play and no individual within a role can meet full compliance alone. This does not mean that they will not make a difference. As we said. Accessibility is a journey and we hope by the end of this article you will see the multiple benefits of starting on that journey.

The Motivation of your Organisation

We recommend that you spend some time before you start defining the reason or motivation behind your organisational accesibility goal. Why do you seek to meet WCAG Accessibilty standard?

You also need to make sure that your intent and your budget are aligned. The guidelines are extensive, some aspects are highly technical and others add substantial time for your staff. Fully implementing them to the highest AAA level can be a significant investment for organisations that have large sites. 

However not implementing the standards at a certain compliance level can be harmful to your business and for small sites can be quite achievable.

Understanding your motivation and your budget will assist the team that you work with to plan your accessibility journey to achieve the best outcome for your organisation.

Inclusion

Did you know that more than 20% of the global population has an issue that affects their ability to use the web? Ensuring that your website is accessible to all users is the right thing to do.

Striving to achieve an accessibiltiy standard  can also have reputational benefits for your company or organisation. Companies that are seen as being committed to accessibility may be perceived more favorably by customers, employees, and other stakeholders. This can help a build a positive reputation and enhance iyour brand.

Some issues that limit an individuals use of the web can include the affects of aging, vision or hearing deficits and impairments and neurological or cognitve differences. 

Improved User Experience

As the Accessibility standards are defined, they improve User Experience (UX) for everyone. Having a website, customer portal or mobile app with a great user experience will experience increased usage and customer retention with content that is enjoyable, informative AND easily accessible.

Increased Market Reach

One factor that is often overlooked by many companies is that your market includes people of varied abilities.

Creating a digital experience that is accessible will expand your market reach - increasing your total accessible market size. When this occurs the business case for a return on investment from an Accessibility improvement program is clear.

Improved Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

 Another frequently overlooked factor is that much of the WCAG accessbility guidelines are site and content hygiene principles that;

  • make your site; easier to crawl,
  • make your site and content clearer for robots to understand, and
  • as search engines are invested in the quality of content on the internet they are also part of the algorithms of search engines.

This means that improving accessibiltiy improves the SEO performance of your website. This will lead to more traffic, which will lead to more business. Again when this is an expected outcome it can prove to be a substantial part of the business case for your WCAG compliance efforts.

Legal Compliance

In many countries, it is a legal requirement for websites and other digital content to be accessible to people with disabilities. Meeting the WCAG standards can help  ensure that your company is in compliance with these laws.

In Australia, while laws are not actively prosecuted, it still makes sense for companies to start their Accessibility journey for all of the reasons listed above. 

Set your Target Accessibility Standard & Budget

This is the first place to start - set your target compliance level - A, AA or AAA - and secure a budget. 

The target compliance level you choose depends on your motivation and resourcing. For example, striving for the A standard will assist with improved SEO performance but will not enhance your organisational brand as this is the minimum requirement for all webpages on the internet.

If you are an Australian government agency or an organisation funded by the Australian government then you need to understand the government guidelines require you to meet WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. Digital Transformation Agency - Make it Accessible Advice (External Link). This is expanded to AAA standard for those sites that service a disabled or impaired audience. 

In Victoria the guidelines are slightly stronger than the national standard requiring WCAG 2.1 AA.

 DDSN can help you make this choice and develop your accessibility strategy.

Choose Software that supports Accessibility

It might seem obvious for those that are not experienced in the application of accessibiltiy principals that common software would meet the minimum standards for the webpages that they produce. That is not the case. 

Many popular content management systems (CMS) or digital experience platforms (DXP) do not, out of the box, support accessible delivery of content.

It is important therefore to ask your vendor and choose a platform that does produce accessible content, or a developer with a commitment to implement the CMS or DXP in a way that meets the accessibility guidelines.

Cycle of Accessibility Improvement - (Scan, Prioritise, Repair) Repeated with Reporting and Improved ContentStart your Accessibility Journey

Broadly Accessibility improvement and eventual compliance is a journey. This journey involves several steps;

  1. Audit or Scan your site, platform or mobile app
  2. Prioritise resolution of issues based on severity and available resources
  3. Repair issues
  4. Repeat continuously

Underpinning this journey is a requirement for a strong commitment from your content authors, document preparation team and developers to produce new content and material at the standard you have set for the site. Without this compliance just can't be reached. Producing accessible content is additional effort requiring real energy from content teams to meet the standard. Make sure that the leadership is there from the top to place value on this activity within your company or organisation.

We also have experienced that regular internal reporting is important to ensure that processes are embedded and the standard is being met consistently for new content and screens.

 You can't make progress though without starting so just take your first step - understand the extent of the gap

 


About DDSN

DDSN Interactive is a highly experienced digital agency that was established in 1997. 

We can assist you with the development of your accessibility strategy and implement accessibility improvments across a wide range of CMS and DXP platforms, making a difference at all budgets.

We can even just take care of it for you with our Content Quallity Assurance Plans.