Caring: The Critical First Step to Accessibility

August 22, 2023

Accessibility isn’t as hard as it looks

A lot of digital accessibility is simple. Very simple. For example, most people who have spent a bit of time working in digital know about alternative text and why it’s important. Every CMS has alt text fields baked in. But how many sites consistently use alt text for images? According to the 2023 WebAim Million Report, over one third of images on popular homepages do not have usable alt text.

Let’s grant for a moment that producing quality alt text does take a bit of knowledge and practice. It’s also true that producers and content creators can get overzealous about alt text in a way that introduces accessibility concerns. But these types of issues are hard to detect using automated scans like the one that feeds the WebAim report.

In other words, we see extremely common failures for the most basic accessibility issue. No technical intervention is required to fix it. And we’re talking about homepages, which get the most attention from web teams.

There’s only one possible explanation

With all of that in mind, there is only one persuasive explanation for all of these missing or broken alt text issues on the web’s most prominent homepages.

They just don’t care enough.

This doesn’t mean that they are consciously trying to exclude people with disabilities. But it does mean that these organizations and their employees have not chosen to make accessibility a priority. And as a result, they can’t clear a very low bar.

A bit of caring goes a long way

Many accessibility features are not easily noticed by those who don’t use them. In this case, it’s easy to check if alt text is being applied consistently. But it’s also easy for QA testers, developers, project managers, and clients to review a page without noticing their absence. Especially when a team is under pressure to deliver, it’s easy to overlook big accessibility misses.

There’s more to accessibility than alt text. But making the decision to declare accessibility is a priority can take you surprisingly far. In our example, knowing that stakeholders consider accessibility to be important changes behaviors in big ways. The prospect of being accountable for accessible outcomes is a strong motivator for individual contributors to care.

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Caring flows downhill

A lot of accessibility is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. When organizations design and build with accessibility in mind, it’s possible to achieve accessible outcomes without additional marginal cost or effort. But making the decisions that allow teams to build accessible from the start takes advance planning and coordination. And for most organizations, introducing accessibility into a built environment, especially at scale, can feel like a long slog.

One person can make a difference. We’ve seen individual designers, developers, and testers who are knowledgeable and passionate about accessibility move outcomes in their organizations. But we’re also familiar with accessibility advocates struggling to make a dent within their organization.

Making a decision at the top to treat accessibility as a company priority is far more impactful.  For obvious reasons, most people take their boss’ and customers’ priorities more seriously.

Imagine what happens when organizational and team leadership prioritizes and tracks accessibility. Stakeholders and procurement teams include accessibility requirements in RFPs and set expectations in contracts and SOWs. Designers and developers have accessibility included in the requirements they are provided. Digital teams know that they must take care to write and input accurate alt text. Project managers and QA teams make sure to double check that alt text is included.

Why should you care about accessibility?

In a very basic sense, accessibility is the right thing to do. Building and maintaining an accessible website reflects whether you believe everyone should be able to use the web. It’s also the law. Under the ADA, public accommodations (including websites) must be accessible to people with disabilities and tens of thousands of businesses are targeted for lawsuits each year.

But accessibility is not just about doing the right thing or avoiding legal liability. It’s also good business. Making a website more accessible can also create a better user experience for everyone and improve your SEO. But most importantly, it opens up your organization to an underserved audience. Roughly 20% of the US population has a disability. The most recent Click-Away Pound Report survey found that 75% of participants with disabilities were willing to pay more to purchase a product from an accessible website (rather than buy the same thing from an inaccessible website). Wouldn’t you like to position your organization to serve that missing 20%?

We’ve seen that most businesses don’t care about accessibility. There’s a low bar to clear and your organization can do it. The first step is choosing to care.

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