A Guide to Creating a Successful Digital Accessibility Program

Accessibility can be a big initiative at any company, requiring a lot of resources and time. For companies that have yet to craft an accessibility program, it can be hard to know where to begin. If that sounds familiar, then this guide is for you.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into digital accessibility. We’ll explore what digital accessibility is, the history of digital accessibility, and why–and how–your business should create a digital accessibility program.

What is Digital Accessibility?

At its core, digital accessibility is about making sure everyone has equal access to digital content. This includes more than just your company’s website, but also interactive self-serve kiosks, apps, and any other content accessed through digital devices. Digital accessibility covers all tools, digital attributes, and other features companies use to make it easier for older people or people with physical or cognitive disabilities to understand the digital content being presented.

A digital accessibility program aims to build a sustainable system that allows a team to implement accessible products throughout the company’s digital asset portfolio and ensure everyone can use them. Simply put, a digital accessibility program opens the door to universal use of websites, self-service technology, kiosks, mobile apps, and the many other digital tools many people use every day to purchase goods and connect to people.

Digital Accessibility Across the Globe

Although digital accessibility programs may feel like a new concept to many, laws guaranteeing equal access to people with disabilities, in some cases, have been on the books for decades.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was landmark legislation in the fight to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to resources and services. Similarly, the European Union’s European Accessibility Act improved access to services and products in member countries. While these acts established obligations around equal access, both have a wide degree of interpretation when it comes to digital accessibility. While some efforts were made to address digital accessibility in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, this was only for federal agencies. Today, the laws are unclear about digital accessibility guidelines at private companies. However, recent court decisions support the need for companies to implement accessibility for people with disabilities, indicating that accessibility is something companies today must address to comply with accessibility regulations.

Fortunately, the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative stepped in to create a thorough set of digital accessibility standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This globally-accepted standard serves as a good starting point for companies when creating a digital accessibility program.

Why You Need a Digital Accessibility Program

According to the World Bank, an estimated 1 billion people have a disability, or about 15% of the world’s population. If your digital content is not accessible, it stands to reason that 15% of your audience can’t access your information, not only hindering their equal access to content, but also impacting your company’s ability to reach people it could potentially serve.

Companies are taking key steps to ensure digital assets are accessible, however, there is much work to be done. According to an analysis by WebAIM, 97% of websites have accessibility errors. Having a digital accessibility program in place provides a roadmap to guide updates and redesigns in a thoughtful and timely way. A mature digital accessibility program also helps companies get everyone within the company united behind the effort, from customer service reps to the design team, to the head of IT.

Here are some additional reasons why your company needs a digital accessibility program.

Protect Yourself from Legal Liability

The ADA says that everyone, regardless of physical ability, should have equal access to “public accommodations.” The U.S. Department of Justice has said that websites and other digital content are public accommodations under the law, which then prompted a surge in digital accessibility-related lawsuits. In 2022, over 3,000 web accessibility lawsuits were filed against companies, claiming those websites were not accessible.

For example, your company has an app that customers use to order products online, check if products are in-store, or set up a curbside pickup of products. If people with disabilities can’t do any one of those actions, your app is not accessible and your company is not providing people with disabilities equal access to goods and services. This opens the risk of a lawsuit which is not only expensive, but could also and could damage your brand’s reputation.

Good corporate social responsibility

Corporate responsibility goes beyond simply doing good. It is an approach to business that protects your brand reputation, creates employee and customer loyalty and can potentially add value to your overall business.

Digital accessibility ensures inclusivity within your organization. Employees can use all the digital tools they need to do their job. Customers can use digital tools to purchase goods, do banking and submit service questions. Creating a digital accessibility program that reviews all your company’s digital content means it is also living up to the brand’s commitment to creating a socially responsible and inclusive environment.

Serve All Your Customers

Even if a customer does not have a disability, they likely know someone who does. Customers without disabilities will weigh how well you serve customers with disabilities when deciding how they feel about your brand.

It also opens markets among people who previously could not access your digital content and ensures it remains available to people as they age or develop a disability in the future.

Are There Rules Governing Digital Accessibility?

Yes and no. Earlier in this article, we wrote about the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Companies, government agencies, and others worldwide use WCAG as the foundation for their policies and design decisions. WCAG is the most widely-adopted set of standards for web content accessibility. Although accessibility is required under law, these guidelines are neither rules nor are they enforceable. What they are is the most complete digital accessibility standards available, and building your digital accessibility program around the WCAG standards is best practice.

Learn more about the differences between Section 508, ADA, WCAG and more by registering for an on-demand webinar on understanding the accessibility menu.

Start Your Digital Accessibility Program

There is no wrong way to start an accessibility program, what really matters is that you in fact start one. Establishing a digital accessibility program will help your organization move accessibility practices to the forefront of everything you do. By leading with accessibility, and ensuring that your digital experiences are inclusive for all customers, you will provide equal access to digital experiences all your customers can use.

A digital accessibility program is a worthwhile investment for any business, regardless of business size, maturity, or industry. If your company is ready to create its digital accessibility program, here are some steps to start with:

Research and Analyze

Every digital accessibility strategy has the same purpose–to make sure people with disabilities can access your digital content. Yet to be effective, your strategy should be right-sized to your company’s unique needs. The first step is to determine those needs.

An easy way to kick off your efforts is with a free website accessibility scan. This automated web accessibility scan will show how your website stacks up against the latest WCAG guidelines and highlight any violations. Other testing tools include:

  • ARC Monitoring – A fast, effective, and scalable scanning solution that turns data into actionable insights.
  • ARC Toolkit – A convenient web browser extension that enables you to easily uncover and resolve accessibility issues on any web page.
  • JAWS Inspect – The most efficient JAWS screen reader accessibility and compatibility testing tool available.

It’s Okay to Start Small

Once you have reviewed some initial data from your accessibility scan, we recommend developing a strategy that aligns your team on the goals, provides clear processes, and prescribes next steps. That said, starting small, building momentum, and sharing results to secure buy-in from your leadership team is how most companies start their accessibility journeys. Below are some small but important actions your company can try:

  • Make sure that your web pages have a clear structure.
    • You should include headers and subheaders to make content easier to skim. Insert images and alt text into your pages to clarify content even more.
  • Include easy-to-use navigation menus on your website.
    • This will make your site accessible to people with limited computer skills or with cognitive disabilities and generally make the user experience better for all users.
  • Ensure color contrast conforms with WCAG.
    • Make sure that the color scheme on your site has enough contrast so that users with low vision or color blindness can see the difference between text, images and backgrounds.

These seemingly small actions are relatively easy to achieve and will give your company a sense of accomplishment. Not only that, it will lay the foundation for bigger digital accessibility efforts down the road.

Create a Plan

To create an effective digital accessibility plan, you’ll need to break it into three parts:

Set your goals, such as WCAG compliance. Document why you want to achieve these goals. Create an outline of how you plan to achieve these goals.

Using the data you gathered, you can make a check list of items that need to be fixed, from simple to complex, and set a schedule for implementing changes.

From there, companies need to shift focus to maintaining accessibility through progress monitoring and error remediation.

Progress monitoring helps track the accessibility of your website as you make changes over time, identifying any new additions that do not meet compliance standards.

Error remediation is the process of fixing issues when accessibility errors are discovered. It not only aims to fix errors, but also prioritize severity to make sure the issues with the biggest impact are addressed first.

Once you’ve fixed the top errors on your site, it may be time to conduct a usability test with people with disabilities. You may uncover accessibility barriers that may exist on your site or application. Conducting usability tests allows you to continuously improve your digital experiences by removing assumptions allowing people with disabilities to provide real feedback on your website.

Mobilize Your Staff

Employee buy-in is important to the success of any digital accessibility program. If your team is not on-board with your accessibility plan, you will struggle to achieve your accessibility goals.

To earn staff buy-in, focus on communication. Tell your team about your accessibility concerns and why now is the time to address accessibility. Next, educate and train your employees on the WCAG standards and other accessibility topics. In addition, make sure your team has the right tools to do the accessibility work, which brings us to our next topic.

Invest in the Right Tools

Tools and technologies can make or break your digital accessibility program. Using the right tools makes accessibility testing easier to address and should include both accessibility monitoring and educational resources.

TPGi has helped many organizations start and maintain successful digital accessibility programs. Our Accessibility Resource Center (ARC), allows your team to quickly identify errors, learn how to fix them, and stop these errors at their source. The ARC Platform is cost-efficient, user-friendly, and, most importantly, effective.

Ready to Launch Your Digital Accessibility Program?

Making your content more accessible helps you improve user experience for all your customers. That is the true value of a digital accessibility program—creating equality and inclusion. Solutions like TPGi’s ARC Platform are a great way to get started. It provides valuable insights into your site’s compliance and can guide your remediation efforts. Start your journey toward making your digital content accessible to all by scheduling a demo today.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Business, World of Accessibility