How Third Party Services and Products Affect Your Site’s Accessibility

December 20, 2021

If it's on your site, you are responsible

When we audit websites for accessibility, one of the trickiest issues is inevitably third party services that are embedded into the website. We frequently find accessibility violations in services such as exit intent popups, live chat, and cookie notices. Clients are disappointed to learn that they are ultimately responsible for these violations on their site even as they have no power to actually fix them.

The other important thing to note is that your obligations don’t just start and end with your website. What you link to matters. If it’s part of the experience that you are providing to your users or customers (even if it’s not on your website or domain), you bear responsibility for the accessibility if that full experience under the ADA.

Inventory your services

Ideally, you’ll have completed the steps below to identify accessible products before you add them to your website. But better late than never.

Ask your marketing or web teams to prepare a list of the third party services and products that they use as part of the site. If you’re not sure where to begin, you can enter your site’s URL into a technology lookup tool like BuiltWith. You can also jog your team’s memory by providing some examples like:

  • Video players
  • Audio player embeds
  • Live chat
  • Chatbots
  • Cookie and privacy notices
  • Subscribe and exit intent popups
  • Forms
  • E-commerce cart and checkouts
  • Surveys
  • Social media widgets
  • Plugins or modules for your CMS
  • Calendars
  • Ad networks
  • Landing page builders
  • Email marketing providers
  • Meeting scheduling services

How to determine whether a service is accessible

If you’ve done an audit or engaged an accessibility professional, you may already be aware of where a product falls short. But if not, you can start by seeing what the service or product provider has to say about their own accessibility.

Find a VPAT or accessibility statement

You can start the process by searching for the product or service’s name along with “accessibility”. If you don’t find anything at all, that’s probably a bad sign.

Most reputable services should have an accessibility statement linked from their footer, but pay close attention to what it says. The accessibility statement often refers to the accessibility of the company website, but may not have anything to say about the product that it offers.

Ideally you’ll find a VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) or ACR (Accessibility Conformance Report) that describes the accessibility standard (such as WCAG 2.1 or 2.0 AA) that the product conforms to. Barring that, it should explain the accessibility deficiencies that it has not yet addressed so that you can evaluate whether this is acceptable for your use cases.

Find an accessible alternative

Given the increased attention to accessibility, it is still always surprising to me when a prominent web product is not yet compliant with WCAG standards. And while many services and products are accessible as a matter of course, I’m also surprised that they don’t do more to promote accessibility as one of their features.

If your current vendor can't document whether it is accessible, it is worth searching to determine if any competitors meet accessibility standards. If you are able to find an accessible alternative, be sure to tell your current provider why you are leaving so that they understand that accessibility is valuable for their customers.

If it’s mission critical and you can’t find accessibility information about any providers or vendors, an accessibility agency can assist with this type of vendor selection.

Ask for accessibility

If you can’t find an accessible version or there are features that make you reluctant to walk away, you should contact the vendor and ask them about whether they can make the product accessible. You may learn that accessibility is on the roadmap and that they expect to be compliant by a specific date in the near future.

If you don’t hear back, you can also raise these concerns on their public customer forums or on social media where you are more likely to get a response of some sort

Don’t forget your underlying CMS or platform

When it comes to building a website, no matter what platform you are on, it is your responsibility to make the site accessible and typically the choices you make in your design and coding will have an impact. 

That said, some platforms are inherently more accessible than others. You should definitely perform the same due diligence and learn what kinds of accessibility features and assistive options are built in. When it comes to adding plugins or themes, the same concerns and procedures apply.

Conclusion: Upcoming Series

Watch this space for more posts about accessible third party services and products. This is a super important but underdiscussed topic when it comes to web accessibility

The good news is that promoting accessible products is a great way to make large swathes of the internet more accessible in one fell swoop and we want to do our part to bring attention to the products and services that deserve it.

If you are interested in learning more about how your public facing third party services and products perform on accessibility, feel free to share your questions! We would love to feature topics of concern as this series develops.

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