Web accessibility isn’t something that is ensured solely through a website development project. To be successful, accessibility has to be a part of the overall web governance strategy.
Websites have become so large and complex that being concerned with the strategies, goals and standards you have for your website is an entire career. Here at Siteimprove for example, we have separate advisers and tools for handling servers, search engines solutions, web analysis, web accessibility, and SEO. Large websites and portals are an integration of many different systems that often come from different parties. Handling and controlling the website therefore becomes a complex unit to work with and there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
This blog post will focus on how to best integrate your goals for web accessibility into your web governance strategy.
Why you should include accessibility in your web strategy
Online self-service is by far the most affordable way to service your users/customers. Contact by phone or in person requires dedicated staff time, and detracts from your other initiatives. The importance of accessibility is that it helps ensure as many users as possible can use your website, including the online self-services. Having a website that is accessible to 90% of users rather than just 70% of users can make a big difference on your bottom line.
Accessibility is often a neglected part of making a website strategy. The project manager usually has too much on their plate, and accessibility slips through the cracks. It isn't neglected as a result of not caring or a lack of interest, but rather because there is too much trust put in the website vendors. The tendency is to assume that they know what to do, and that adding accessibility to your requirements specification means it will be taken care of. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.
Another problem is that many web managers do not know enough about accessibility to know that ensuring good web accessibility is a process, rather than just a coding task during development.
I have been involved in many web projects where an executive in the organizations says: "Our website must meet
WCAG, the web accessibility guidelines on all conformance levels," but they have no idea what this entails. Accessibility isn't something that can be simply added into the current web project and the new website budget. For example, if you want to add a video to your website and want it conform to the guidelines on level AA (which is mandatory for many public websites) it requires a number of things for video content. You must provide captions, audio description and a number of other things. If you wish to conform on level AAA you must also provide sign language of the content. Do you have the resources for this every time you upload a video to the website?
Accessibility is relevant as an on-going process during the lifetime of the website. Every time you integrate a third party solution or you upload video or audio content and similar situations. The publishing process of web editors and the CMS that the website is based on also has influence on the ability and the situation of whether the publishing practice supports accessibility or whether it introduces new accessibility issues.
It's a good idea to have a separate strategy for ambitions on accessibility and what strategy to have in order to ensure it. It is also important to integrate the number of accessibility criteria relevant in the organization's communications policy, design guide, policy for purchase and the likes. Create a matrix of the stakeholders in the process.
Web Governance Tips for Accessibility
It's a good idea to divide accessibility into a set of areas of responsibility and subsidiary goals:
- Who will ensure that the right requirements are made at the right time with the vendors?
- Who will ensure that accessibility is integrated in the different policies for the organization? (Communications policy, design guide, policy for purchase and the likes).
- Who takes responsibilities for accessibility during design and development?
- How do we ensure that the requirements are met? Remember the CMS, video and audio players, forms and all the technical tools that are connected to and integrated with the website.
- Who ensures that web editors and authors of documents are trained to follow accessible publishing practices?
- Who ensures that there is an on-going process of checking if the guidelines are met and that no new accessibility issues are introduced on the website?
It's important to have established the division of ownership and responsibilities on all the different areas, and you should have an accessibility coordinator. This person is consulted when new decisions are made for the website. This could be re-structuring, new purchases and integration, change of existing policies and the likes. And this person has a written network of contacts inside and outside the organization. People that in some way can affect the website and its content.