6 Tips for a Technical — and Cultural — Shift to Accessibility

An effective organizational shift to digital accessibility requires a systematic approach to not just identifying and mitigating issues but avoiding these issues in the future by integrating accessible practices with the development process itself.

Digital accessibility is an ongoing journey for every organization, and even those with limited resources can take tangible steps towards implementing a more accessible online presence.

In this article, we focus on both low-hanging fruit that can provide readily achievable accessibility improvements and long-term goals for ingraining accessibility in your organization’s culture.

Interested in a more in-depth overview of this topic? Check out our webinar here.

6 Tips for Supporting a Digital Accessibility Shift (Whatever Your Resources)

The tips below are arranged in order of the effort and investment required to achieve meaningful improvements in digital accessibility. While a focused long-term program is needed to support continuous improvements, the most foundational practices like keyboard accessibility and automated testing should be in reach of even the smallest development teams.

Many legal requirements pertaining to digital accessibility take proactive improvement into account, and targeting specific improvements can be a great way to begin mitigating potential sources of liability even if your organization does not yet have a comprehensive long-term strategy.

One: Understand the Inputs – Keyboard Accessibility

A tremendously important device for both text input and basic navigation, keyboard accessibility is a fundamental building block for any website.

Many assistive technologies rely on a keyboard or an emulated keyboard to allow a user to navigate websites and other digital content. If your entire website can be navigated using a keyboard only, you have already achieved one important pillar for accessibility.

Basic checks for keyboard accessibility are relatively low effort for developers and can provide easy wins for digital accessibility (while benefiting power users who prefer to keep their hands on the keyboard for maximum efficiency).

Learn more about some important technical aspects of keyboard accessibility in our article here.

Two: Employ Automated Accessibility Testing

Automated accessibility testing tools provide powerful resources for identifying potential accessibility issues on your website, while ongoing cloud-based monitoring is a great way to track progress over time, support continuous improvement, and ensure that sustainable best practices have been established.

While automated testing tools can detect only about 40% of the potential accessibility issues on a website, they provide a great way to track the overall health of your accessibility program. Ideally, this issue detection should be integrated with a knowledge base on how to implement related changes (like with our free ARC Accessibility Testing tool).

Implementing an automated test will require some additional effort from developers but is an ideal launching pad for future efforts to improve digital accessibility.

Three: Prepare Your Website for Assistive Technology

While the keyboard is the foundational input for accessible websites, compatibility with a variety of other assistive technologies is important for ensuring a positive experience for the broadest possible set of users.

What are assistive technologies?

Assistive technologies refer to a range of different technologies that help empower people with disability to access digital content. Important examples include but are not limited to:

  • Screen readers
  • Screen magnifiers
  • Alternative keyboards
  • High contrast mode
  • Dark mode Zoomed viewport
  • Voice control

Organizations do not necessarily need to specifically design their websites with all of these technologies in mind at once; following the relevant legal standards will go a long way toward ensuring compatibility with the most common assistive technologies.

For a deeper look at screen readers as an illustrative example, please see our article here.

Four: Employ a Manual Accessibility Audit

To verify the progress of your digital accessibility program, there is no substitute for working with experienced accessibility professionals to conduct a thorough accessibility audit. An audit will include automated evaluations as outlined above but expands to include a more holistic, qualitative review of relevant accessibility standards.

An effective audit program should take the time to provide:

  • Detailed advice on a representative sample of pages and other components.
  • Actionable remediation advice that is applicable to broader areas of the website.
  • Concrete identification of gaps to pinpoint the areas where improvement is needed moving forward.

This final step is critical, as a continuous cycle of manual reviews and website retrofits is simply not sustainable. A manual audit should provide the knowledge needed to implement the development best practices needed to proactively prevent future accessibility issues. An audit can offer insight into not just how to fix specific issues, but what internal resources might be necessary to establish a robust long-term digital accessibility program.

While a manual audit is a much greater investment in time and resources, it provides an ideal underpinning as the organization seeks to refine its long-term shift toward accessible practices.

Five: Involve people with disabilities in usability testing

To go the next step in efforts to improve digital accessibility, usability testing with disabled participants provides the most direct feedback on how easy it is for users to use a digital product for its intended purpose.

Usability testing can help you validate your technical accessibility efforts, while also identifying issues that might not have been picked up in accessibility reviews but will disrupt users with disabilities from being successful. It helps uncover significant issues that you should prioritize for fixing before final release.

Be aware that usability testing can require a substantial commitment in time and effort by participants. So to avoid wasting their time, testing should generally be employed only once you’ve done your best to address issues identified through manual and automated accessibility.

This important step offers direct feedback on the experience of people with disabilities when using your website to complete tasks and achieve goals. In turn, this helps ensure your accessibility efforts are verified by working with the users you are trying to support, going beyond strict compliance concerns to providing an accessible, usable and useful digital product for all.

We take a deeper look at usability testing and why it’s an important part of the quality assurance process in our article here.

Six: Implement Accessible Design Practices

Accessible design practices will help ensure that future web pages and other digital content are fully accessible from their inception. Most designers are passionate about their work reaching the widest possible audience, and the following priorities can readily be integrated with the development process:

  • Ensuring adequate color contrast for paragraphs, headings, labels, error messages, and in-logo text, in addition using alternatives to color to convey meaning.
  • Clear and logical page structure, including headings, lists, paragraphs, landmarks, and form labels.
  • Responsive, viewport-flexible design for different types of viewers, a requirement the runs parallel to designers’ existing imperative to design for multiple categories of end-user device.
  • Specific guidance to support consistently specified keyboard inputs for control elements throughout the website design.

You can learn more about the fundamentals of accessible design here.

Ready to start developing a roadmap for your digital accessibility journey?

If you’re ready to get started on your digital accessibility journey, TPGi is here to help.

With our free resources and accessibility testing tools, we offer solutions to help advance digital accessibility no matter how many internal resources you have available. As your digital accessibility program matures over time, we can provide broader support including manual audits, assistive technology user testing, training, and more.

If you need help identifying the best path forward, contact us today!

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Business
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