An audit is just the first step. You need to have a plan or roadmap to guide your team toward fixing, improving and maintaining website accessibility. This post outlines some of the things that should be considered when developing an accessibility plan.
It’s important to know that any change to your website – any content content changes or updates to software/plugins – can potentially decrease the accessibility of your website. Improving the accessibility of your website is a never-ending journey. Like SEO, there always improvements to be made to make the user experience for site visitors with disabilities (and all users) one that will keep them coming back. Think a plan for progress, not perfection.
Audits and Assessments
An important part of creating an accessibility plan will be determining your starting point so you can track your progress. Accessibility assessments are typically called “audits”. Especially at the beginning of your accessibility journey, it may be important to have an outside audit performed. This will give you a good assessment of the accessibility issues on your site, but also information about what sorts of training your content, design and development teams might need for moving forward.
Typically, an initial audit might be a “sampling” audit, which would look at a representative sample of pages on your website. You would want to select a variety of layouts and types of content. For a small to medium-size site, auditing 10 URLs may be sufficient to surface most issues. Much larger and more complex sites may need audits of 20 or 30 URLs.
As your accessibility plan unfolds, you will want team members to make regular use of tools for self-assessment in their areas of responsibility. For instance, content creators and managers may benefit from using a tool like Accessibility Checker for WordPress, which gives immediate feedback in the content editor window about potential accessibility issues. Developers should learn to use axe DevTools for Web Accessibility Testing.
Team members should not depend solely on automated tools, which may only find 30% of issues, and may give both false positives and false negatives. This means that they should master website accessibility basics and recognize now to implement them.
While your team may develop the skills and experience to regularly perform in-house audits and assessments, it’s probably a good idea to regularly schedule outside audits. Sometimes familiarity with a site can prevent seeing issues, and outside eyes may bring a new perspective. Additionally, outside accessibility auditors should be bringing higher-level and more full experience with accessibility audits. This means that an outside audit may be an opportunity for finding issues that your in-house team simply just doesn’t understand is an issue yet.
The optimal frequency of these ongoing outside audits will be determined by a number of factors, including:
- the size of your site, the frequency with which content is changed and updated
- the frequency with which the software or code is updated
- website traffic and the revenue that is generated (which impacts liability exposure)
- the number of previous accessibility complaints or lawsuits (and their settlement terms)
- any compliance requirements in your legal jurisdiction.
Some sites may choose annual or even every six month outside audits, others may have an outside audit done only every two or three years.
It is often mistakenly assumed that only developers need to be trained regarding website accessibility. But improving accessibility compliance depends on many different teams. Developers definitely have contributions to make, but the design team needs to learn things like color contrast, font sizes and best practices for optimizing layouts on both mobile and desktop. The content creation and content management teams need to learn proper heading structures, creating meaningful link text and creating good alt text (even if they are not the ones putting the content into the site). The support team may need guidance about how to get user-reported accessibility issues addressed.
Initially your accessibility plan will need to include ways for getting all of the involved team members trained. There are some great online learning opportunities including both paid courses and free webinars (even recordings of past free webinars). You will need to determine who needs to get trained, what that training will consist of, and the deadline date for completing the training.
Website accessibility can be fairly complex and new strategies are evolving all the time. So you should consider that training will not just be a one time event. Perhaps you will regularly offer or expect continuing education or learning opportunities for your various teams.
Additionally, you will want to set up expectations for what happens when new team members come onto the team.
QA (Quality Assurance) Processes
The most expensive way to try and improve accessibility is to tack it on at the end of a project or process. Say you’re building a new website, the design team did their work and the client approved the mockup, and the development team has built it out. But when testing for accessibility near the end of the project, you discover that there are some big color contrast issues. Now design has to go back to the client and get approvals for new colors and the development team has to implement the approved new colors. It’s ALWAYS less expensive and more productive to include accessibility regularly through projects or processes.
Typical touch points for accessibility during a web design and development project or the development of a new app might happen:
- at the very beginning when new features are being scoped and planned (so input early about potential accessibility issues can prevent having to retrofit development work)
- multiple points in the design phase (with input on fonts, color schemes, and mockups/layouts);
- and accessibility checks before launch.
Our team has discovered that adding an additional touch point somewhere between the 30% to 50% completion of the buildout phase can sometimes catch issues before they are replicated or so embedded that changing them requires lots of additional work.
Add to other QA Processes
In addition to major projects, it’s important to pay attention to any content & design changes on the site or sites. Your company may already have processes for getting new content approved and published. For example, before a new product page is published, it may need to be approved by the product manager, design team, and legal team before it goes to development or content management to get built out. Consider how you might include accessibility checks in this process.
Remediation and Fixes
Initial audits and assessments may surface quite a number of issues that will require fixing or remediation. It’s not uncommon for these issues to be remediated over a fairly lengthy time period. If you need to add alt text to 10,000 images, that’s going to take a while. There are several factors that need to be addressed from your audit: how to fix the identified issues, which issues to fix first, and how to track issues as they are remediated. “How to fix” is addressed in many other posts, so we’ll focus here on triage and tracking.
Triage Remediation Issues
Not all accessibility issues create the same barriers to usability. Some issues may be critical errors that prevent some or all disabled visitors from using the functionality at all. Other issues may have less convenient workarounds that the visitor could use. Still other issues may be minor and characterized as an annoyance (but something you may want to address eventually as a part of user experience optimization).
Some accessibility issues will have a clear impact on your business and revenue. If your eCommerce website check out form prevents blind users from entering a credit card, that’s a significant issue that also represents losing revenue. You will probably want to address that issue before adding in missing alt text. All issues should be triaged based on how much of a barrier they represent for users (the bigger priority) as well as the impact of the barrier for the business.
Ideally, some sort of issue tracking system should be used to track accessibility issues and the progress toward fixing them. This may be as simple as a spreadsheet for a smaller organization, or something like a formal issue tracking platform or project management system. There are addons for some issue tracking platforms like Jira that have features especially for tracking accessibility issues.
Crucial for actually moving forward with improving accessibility is to make sure that identified accessibility issues have designated owners who are responsible for the progress of resolution and remediation. Simply identifying and tracking issues without making anyone responsible for them tends to not move things forward.
In addition to tracking and documenting issues as they are being remediated, you will want to document the other parts of your accessibility plan as well.
For instance, you may want to create internal policies around staff training for accessibility, which should be documented. And then you may need a system for tracking the training for each staff member which may be a part of their employee file.
This documentation of a plan and progress may be a valuable resource for your company attorneys if a lawsuit regarding accessibility compliance arises.
Things that you would want to document include:
- Audits: copies of audit reports; plans for regular audits; plans for specific features or pages to have audited in the future
- Training: what training various team members should have; any continuing education requirements; the training individual team members have completed
- Processes for: submitting user-reported issues; tracking issue remediation, especially for documenting progress on resolving issues; creating and approving new content; checking for any new accessibility issues after updates to software
Improving your website accessibility makes sure that all your site visitors can use the site and is vital to creating good user experiences for everyone. Forming an accessibility plan for your site is an important step for improving accessibility over time. If you need help creating a comprehensive accessibility plan, contact us today!
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