Editor's Note: This post was originally published August 2018 and has recently been updated and revised for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
You’ve taken the first step toward solving your website’s accessibility problem—admitting that there is one. The next step is crucial—hatch a plan to fix it and then communicate it to the world.
Who Needs to Know?
In short, everyone. But practically speaking, you have two distinct but equally important audiences that require their own messaging.
First is a policy for your staff, your board, your volunteers, and any other closely held internal relationships. It makes the argument of why accessibility is vital to your company. It is a statement of values, lays out what every stakeholder in the organization stands for, and clarifies each team’s role in the process.
Second is an accessibility statement for your customers, your vendors, and the general public. It communicates your vision and priorities to the wider world and establishes a plan to bring your online and mobile properties into compliance with accessibility standards. Most important, it allows for a level of transparency with your customers and provides easy ways for them to get in touch if they experience any problems on your site.
Timing Is Everything
You don’t need to have a perfectly accessible site in order to publish a policy or a statement. Rather than certificates of completion, they are indicators of intent and measurements of progress. These are living, breathing documents that should be updated regularly to show where you are in your process. Even if you fall behind, the disability community will be more likely to stick with you if you keep them informed.
“A well drafted accessibility statement will not increase your liability risk, but it may mitigate it,” says Mark S. Sidoti, Esq., Gibbons P.C. “Many companies balk at providing their customers with an honest assessment of where they stand on the remediation process, and wait too long to add one to their site. This is short sighted. An accessibility statement lets your customers know you care about their experience in using your site and are committed to addressing these issues. This will often give users and law firms some pause before pursuing aggressive legal action, certainly when compared to the alternative of no acknowledgement at all.”
Internal policies will also go through various stages of progress, from the initial brainstorm to timelines and budgets to working groups to testing to launch. And the work continues beyond launch, with teams regularly monitoring and revisiting accessibility standards, particularly as the site grows and changes.
A key element of any policy or statement is a demonstration of your company’s commitment to open, honest communication; quick, responsive updates when needed; and the flexibility to change course to match your audience’s needs.
When in Doubt, Ask for Help
You don’t have to take this journey alone.
A key resource is the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which provides valuable direction on how to draft a policy and a statement. It will walk you through every step of the process, including industry best practices, and help you set goals based on the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
The scope of your policy and statement depends entirely on your ultimate desired level of conformance. Will it be A, AA, or AAA? How long will this take? You don’t need to have your crystal ball handy in order to answer these questions. W3C WAI can help you develop reasonable timelines, which can always be changed if you fall behind or exceed expectations.
Pull Back the Curtain
Transparency is essential throughout this process. Sit down with your team and think through every possible question that your customers might have. And then answer them (even if that answer is, “We don’t know yet”) and publish them on your site.
A few more tips to keep in mind:
Put all accessibility content in a prominent location on the homepage and provide links from every other page of the site. Your audience shouldn’t have to hunt them down.
Write short and sweet. Keep copy to a minimum and cut anything that’s not directly relevant to your accessibility work.
Give tips and tricks for users to get the most out of your site’s accessibility, some of which may involve walking them through software installation or industry lingo.
Be honest about where you still need improvement and give a rough timeline of when the issues will be resolved.
Make it simple for people to reach you, and make sure your team is ready to hear them.
Learn from the Best
Some of the most recognizable brands in the world have fully committed to web accessibility and have great accessibility statements to prove it.
Hilton’s statement is short and to the point and demystifies the process of booking a room for those with disabilities.
Chase provides great banking-specific details, such as how account numbers and dollar amounts are displayed, and how to personalize online accounts.
eBay’s brief statement boasts an impressive overture, indicating that its community is open to the “broadest audience possible,” which gives the company a wide berth to innovate and improve on its own timeline.
Perry Ellis has great detail in its statement, getting into the weeds just enough to assure users that they can talk the talk and walk the walk.
Kendra Scott’s statement connects accessibility back directly to the company’s core pillars of family, fashion, and philanthropy.
Before you can emulate those who do it well, your first step is to assess your own site’s accessibility. Contact us for a free consultation and automated accessibility test.