Help! How Do I Get Started on Accessibility?

February 28, 2023

So you’ve just learned about accessibility. Now what?

Or maybe you’ve been hearing about web accessibility for ages and never got around to it. Either way, you’re ready to start now. If your team hasn’t prioritized (or even known about) it until now, it can be daunting to figure out where to get started on accessibility. The good news is that it’s never too late and there are steps you can take to make an immediate impact. But what should you do first?

There isn’t one right answer to this question. But let’s start by asking another question first. How and why did you come to decide that now is the time to start becoming accessible?

For example, if you’ve recently been sued or received a demand letter, you’ll have to move a lot more comprehensively and quickly. On the other side of the spectrum, if you’ve been convinced that digital accessibility is important and valuable to your business, you have more flexibility in building an accessibility strategy.

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It also depends on who you are

What kind or organization or team you are makes a big difference as well. For example, size and audience matter. The best steps can be different depending on whether you are consumer-facing Fortune 500 company or a midsized B2B enterprise. Larger businesses or those that sell to the general public have a lower tolerance for legal and reputational risk. They also are likely to have different resources available to solve accessibility issues.

By the same token, businesses that have active maintenance or continuous improvement programs for their sites tend to approach their digital investments differently than organizations that reinvest more sporadically and ala carte.

Start with automation to learn the basics

While strategies and priorities vary, everyone benefits from getting a basic introduction to accessibility for their organization. Automated testing tools are not comprehensive, but they can help you educate yourself and identify some of the higher impact issues that are easy to find. Remember that if you can find issues this easily, so can anyone. So why not try to get these out of the way first.

A good place to start is by running some key pages on your website through WAVE’s automated accessibility checker. More technical teams can also benefit from exploring aXe’s developer tools.

After running your site through automated testing, you should have an idea of how many really basic accessibility issues your site already has. Even if there are some false positives, you can start to figure out whether your team is capable of addressing any of the following:

  • Images missing alternative text
  • Empty links
  • Missing form labels
  • Missing or invalid language encoding
  • Color contrast errors
  • Incorrect heading organization
  • Videos without closed captioning

Teardown and rebuild

Especially for businesses with smaller digital budgets, the cost of accessibility testing or remediation can sometimes approach (or even exceed) the original cost of the website. In other cases, there is a planned redesign or rebuild on the horizon. In those scenarios, it can make more sense to focus your energies and budget on rebuilding the site to be fully accessible.

The benefit of building in accessibility from scratch (or shifting left) is that the incremental cost is minimal (potentially as low as zero). The more dynamic the site, the more you’ll need a governance process to keep things in an accessible site. But for a business with a straightforward marketing or ecommerce site that changes very little over long periods of time, it’s a great way to “set it and forget it”.

Audit

Formal accessibility audits are probably the most popular entry point for organizations that need a larger understanding of their current state of accessibility. For many businesses, they may be overkill. But for an organization that needs to be especially comprehensive, an audit is essential. This includes organizations that have already been targeted by a lawsuit as well as those that need to meet stringent accessibility targets for procurement purposes. In particular, VPAT reports must provide an accurate representation of the current state accessibility.

Organizations that want to keep development in-house or prefer not to complicate their existing development agency relationship can also benefit from an initial audit. The audit findings can be used to capture a baseline for future improvement as well as build a backlog of tasks to improve the site’s accessibility.

While audits often have a higher upfront cost, it is important to note that there are many ways to structure or phase audit budgets including carefully targeting the templates, pages and components to be tested as well as selecting the environments and screen reader software to be used in testing.

Remediation first

In most cases, there are significant accessibility issues that can be quickly identified with light testing. For companies with a longer time horizon as well as those in a position to bring in accessibility coding support, it often makes sense to just start fixing things. While full accessibility is the target, we know that all-or-nothing is a false choice. By setting monthly budgets (and goals), companies can achieve high impact fixes quickly and cost effectively.

This can be as simple as starting to resolve the types of issues that appear on free automated testing tools. From there, you can move on to target prominent or global portions of the site such as the homepage, headers and footers, navigation menus, ecommerce checkout flows, and other forms.

Accessibility-focused digital agencies can help get fixed up right away and make an immediate impact within a longer term accessibility roadmap. But if you’re confident enough in your grasp of accessibility, you can get started on your own. Either way, it can be beneficial to have help as things get more advanced. Partnering with accessibility experts (or supplementing your agency team with a white label accessibility agency) can help make sure you are working on the right issues and resolving them appropriately. 

Invest in your team

Regardless of how you test and remediate your site, you’ll need to maintain accessibility. Instead of fully relying on outside help, consider setting up training or coaching for the team members who will be responsible for maintenance, extension and content management on your site. Training can be tailored for everyone from design and UX, developers, marketing, and QA teams.

You can start immediately with free resources like the A11y Project, but it’s also worth considering more formal training and coaching to cover topics like inclusive design, developing accessible experiences, and how to test with screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Which option is right for you to get started on accessibility?

Not sure where your digital properties fit in here? We’re happy to help.

As this article makes clear, there isn’t one right accessibility solution. Access Armada begins every engagement with a free strategy session to help identify the most impactful and cost-effective accessibility solution that matches with your organization’s objectives, abilities, budget, and roadmap.

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