You’ve spent an enormous amount of time and money making sure your digital environments and content are accessible for users with disabilities. But after you’ve finished building or remediating your accessible website or app, how do you make sure it stays accessible?
New elements, layouts, and even content could affect the accessibility of your website or app and render it inaccessible to users with disabilities. Maintenance is one of the most important pieces of the accessibility puzzle, yet it is often overlooked.
Due diligence can ensure any changes to your website won’t create barriers to assistive users, thus helping you maintain WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliance. Here are five best practices for accessibility maintenance to prevent any inadvertent mistakes that may cause your site to drift into noncompliance:
1. Integrate Accessibility Throughout the Organization
The responsibility for the accessibility of an organization’s website or app ultimately rests with senior leaders and management, but many other employees and stakeholders have a hand in making sure accessibility is achieved. Accessibility should be ingrained as a priority throughout the organization, influencing every decision. Achieving a goal is easier if everyone involved understands and owns that goal.
2. Automate Testing Whenever Possible
Make sure you have a centralized testing tool that fits your release strategy. Build test cases around the most important user flows, and save all the code so teams can review and find solutions together. Benefits of a smart automated testing solution include:
- It allows members of the development team to check and validate their work as they code.
- It encourages the QA team to verify the development team’s progress and provides tools to review all the success criteria of WCAG 2.1., the current standard, originally published in June 2018.
- It opens up the testing process to stakeholders from within the disability community—those who will actually use and benefit from the functionality, whose feedback is essential for successful compliance.
3. Perform Screen Reader Validation of Every Release
The best way to ensure a site can be used by users with disabilities is to test releases with assistive technology such as screen readers, similar to how you might test a website design on desktop and mobile devices. Screen reader verification can cover many use cases. With a little training, your QA team can perform the tests—or you could consider a third-party vendor.
Screen reader testing best practices include:
- Testing your top five user flows on every release, documenting all testing successes and barriers
- Training your QA staff on how to use screen readers to perform testing in-house
4. Train Your Team on Accessibility
Accessibility is a team effort. Everyone from the CEO to the interns must understand and champion the project for it to truly succeed. Employees should be taught to be vigilant about accessibility the way they are about, say, digital security.
Training is critical to upskilling and progressing accessibility efforts. Provide clear, concise educational materials across the organization that employees can read on their own, in addition to scheduled informational seminars or webinars. The more employees know about your efforts to provide access to all, the more they will advocate for it and provide support to the people doing the actual technical work.
5. Conduct Annual Audits and User Testing
Once your newly accessible website or app is live, consider an annual cycle of third-party verification that includes at least one audit performed by accessibility experts and one round of user testing with professional testers with disabilities. Your audit should include:
- An executive summary for stakeholders that lays out the current state of affairs and addresses, in detail, the issues that still need to be fixed in order to become compliant
- A detailed report for developers that breaks down every possible path through the site and flags unresolved issues users may encounter along the way
- Open access for anyone (internal or external) who wants to review the results
The Importance of Maintenance
One code release is all it takes to alter your website enough to make it inaccessible. After months or years of hard work and plenty of time and money spent on accessibility, shouldn’t you put in the last mile effort to ensure your hard work pays off? Accessibility maintenance is a crucial part of the process and is necessary to avoid the unnecessary risk of new accessibility barriers for your users with disabilities.
The best practices outlined above are great starting points for making accessibility maintenance a priority. If you want to learn more about accessibility maintenance and how to achieve WCAG 2.1 and ADA compliance, check out our Ultimate Guide to ADA Compliance.