Web accessibility and ADA compliance. They can nag at you like deep cleaning a bathroom. It needs to be done – sooner rather than later – or there will be some really unpleasant consequences.
When we feel stuck on a project (or are just avoiding it), it is a good idea to ask, “Who can help”.
Let us show you who can help and what to look for, so you can get the job done. And we’re talking about web accessibility here. You are on your own with that bathroom.
WEB ACCESSIBILITY EXPERTS TO CONSIDER
In general, there are three types of web accessibility vendors: managed services providers, web developers, and certified web accessibility professionals.
You may already be using any one of these. But are you contracted for web accessibility services too? You may want to check your existing contracts to see if it is already included. Don’t be surprised if it is not.
Let’s take a look at each one of these.
- Managed Services Provider (MSP) – MSPs are third-party companies that remotely manage a customer’s information technology (IT) stuff. Some familiar examples include: digital marketing, data backup and recovery, network management, mobile app management, communication systems management, security, etc. Many MSPs also offer web accessibility services, either bundled with other services or a la carte. Most MSP services need ongoing attention – just like web accessibility. You wouldn’t want to go without ongoing security updates, data backups, or functioning e-commerce systems, right? Web accessibility is not a “once-and-done” service either. Because MSPs build their businesses with ongoing service contracts, they can be great partners for ongoing web accessibility compliance.
TIP: Find out who in their organization is the web accessibility expert and how that person helps guide/perform the work needed for compliance.
- Web developers – Web developers are usually the technogeek-wizards who make the digital magic happen for your website. Most developers will have the skill to code the changes you need for web accessibility compliance. But not all web developers will have sufficient knowledge of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards to help guide you through an audit or recommend changes. But when you find a developer that also specializes in web accessibility, you have a powerful combination right there! If you are working with a web development firm, perhaps they will have an accessibility expert who can work in tandem with the developer on your project.
TIP: Probe to determine the developer’s WCAG competence, and find out if he/she offers ongoing maintenance for accessibility support.
- Certified Accessibility Professional – The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is the trade association for accessibility experts. The organization promotes accessibility around the world. Part of this effort is to grow a workforce of accessibility professionals who can steer companies to ADA compliance. IAAP offers certifications in areas such as architecture, transportation systems, the web, document creation, etc. Though they have a handful of certifications, look for a WAS or CPWA designation. Keep in mind that having a certification does not necessarily mean that the professional is also a skilled programmer.
Find a directory of IAAP certified professionals on their website.
TIP: Be sure to find out who will be doing the coding for your site.
COMPARE WEB ACCESSIBILITY VENDORS
As you are evaluating different vendors, here are the things you want to look for:
- Knowledge of the WCAG standards. There are a few different versions of the web accessibility standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The most current is version 2.1. (But 2.2 and 3.0 are on the way.) And if you want to stay out of legal trouble, you will want to follow these standards as soon as possible. They are not law, but courts defer to them all the time.
- Technical Skills. Any business worth its salt will be able to do what they say they can. You would expect that if a company offers web accessibility, they should be able to deliver. And 9 times out of 10 you will be right. But don’t be shy about asking for technical credentials of the people doing the work.
- Type of Audits/Testing. While automated tests can catch some accessibility problems, manual testing and user testing will yield much better results and liability protection. Of course they come with a price tag too. But this is one area where you definitely get what you pay for. The government may help with the cost with a $5K tax credit too.
- Established Process. An experienced web accessibility pro is going to have a method for auditing your site, finding solutions, and implementing changes. And to be honest, there are so many fine details involved in web accessibility, that things can easily fall through the cracks. That’s why an effective process is so important.
- Transparency. Outsourcing technical stuff, like web accessibility, is a great way to delegate and keep yourself focused on what you do best in your business. But you also want to make sure you are in the loop about what is going on…especially when you are paying for it. That’s why we think transparency is important. Whether that occurs through a customer login back end, or through regular meetings (or both), you deserve to know what’s happening in the project all along the way.
- Experience. It doesn’t take long to learn that hiring the right person/group for a job is critically important. Same goes for web accessibility providers. You may get a lower quote from someone who is less experienced, but you may be happier with the process and speed of a vendor who has made accessible sites several times already. Ask the vendors to show you web accessibility projects they have already completed.
- Understanding your business’ needs. Things just work better when you understand each other. That goes for any type of relationship, really. Does your vendor understand your mission, the things that drive your customers’ loyalty, the expectations for customer experience? If they don’t, it is not likely they can deliver what your customers deserve. Consider this aspect carefully.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WEB ACCESSIBILITY VENDORS
When researching vendors, interviews are great for getting the information you need. Their answers will reveal how well they understand web accessibility and how it fits in your business.
Here are some suggested questions.
- Why is accessibility important? This may seem like a silly question. Hopefully they won’t say, “because you are paying the bill.” A better answer will include access to an equal experience for all users and preventing lawsuits for starters. This question matters because a person’s/company’s “why” is what motivates their work.
- What makes a site non-compliant? This is a great way to find out how much your vendor knows about the WCAG standards that guide web accessibility. You will get the most out of their answers when you understand the standards as well.
- How can I avoid a lawsuit? While it is always best to get legal advice from a practicing attorney, a good accessibility expert will know the most common violations that make a company prone to legal action.
- Explain your process for making a site web accessible. Okay, so this is a request, not a question. And there are actually a lot of things you want to look for with this one. Find out what kinds of audits they do and how they perform them. What kind of testing? How is accessibility maintained over time? Who are the players? How will progress be monitored and reported? I bet you can come up with even more questions regarding the process, too.
TIP: If the only option the vendor offers is an overlay or a “single line of code,” beware. These quick solutions seem like a good idea, but they do not provide the legal liability protection you deserve.
- Do you provide accessibility services for mobile apps, digital assets, emails, etc.? Ensuring all digital aspects of your business are ADA compliant is part of doing business today. More people are accessing companies digitally through their phones than ever. Be sure your vendor can help here too – otherwise you are leaving yourself exposed. (And trust me, nobody wants that.)
- Is web accessibility a separate service or bundled with other services you provide? It is important to be clear on how the service is structured. That way you can know where it fits with the other services they may be providing for you. This is not something you want to assume or guess at…especially when you get served with a lawsuit. (But since you are reading this article, we are pretty confident you are working to avoid those legal snafus.)
- Share examples of other web accessibility projects you have done. Another request here. But it gives the vendor a chance to show what they can do. Naturally, keep an eye out for similar projects. If you don’t see something just like yours, consider how what they have done will transfer well to your project.
- How does your company stay current on WCAG standards? The kinds of companies you want to do business with are the ones who invest in their people with professional development activities. Whether it is sponsoring IAAP certification of certain employees, or attending web accessibility events (even virtually). Look for an agency that makes these investments part of their business…to help your business.
WEB ACCESSIBILITY PACKAGES
Many of the vendors we named above (MSPs, developers, and IAAP pros) may offer a stand alone “Web Accessibility Package.” It may be a menu item listed among their services, which makes it easier for you to see if they offer it.
Many agencies – especially MSPs that offer several different kinds of services – do web accessibility, but it is likely part of their web development services. So keep that in mind if you don’t see a package specifically named in their menu.
As you look into such packages, there are a number of things you should look for. This is not an exhaustive list, but does identify the basics that should be in all accessibility packages.
- Improved keyboard navigation – Some users navigate using only a keyboard. Ensuring your site can be easily navigated with just a keyboard is important.
- Contrast – Visual impairments come in a huge variety. Color blindness is just one impairment that can be aided with high contrast colors.
- ARIA attributes – This acronym stands for Accessible Rich Internet Applications. It is essentially special code added to HTML that helps screen readers do their job better. For example, it can help ensure a screen reader correctly identifies a checkbox and whether it is checked. These are tiny details, and they make a big difference for some users.
- ALT attributes – These are “alternate” descriptions of visual elements on your site. These are also the descriptions that screen readers read. Writing effective alt text to describe an image is an art.
- Label tags for email forms – Forms provide an important way for users to contact a company. But they also can be really tricky with web accessibility. Label tags enable assistive devices (and the users) to know what information should be in each field.
- CAPTCHA code modification – CAPTCHA is one of the tools websites use to verify a user is human (rather than a bot). This feature typically requires the user to identify or select specific images as part of that. That doesn’t work for the visually impaired. But these can be modified to accommodate these users.
- Skip-to-content feature – Most website navigation is at the beginning of a page. For users who use screen readers or navigate by keyboard,this feature is really handy to get them to the content faster. It is a simple addition that goes a long way to make a website more user friendly.
- Font legibility – What good is the written information on your site if it cannot be read easily? Readability studies have shown which fonts are easiest for people to read. What is good on paper isn’t necessarily what is good on a screen. But choosing fonts that are good for the visual impairments and dyslexia will also be good for users without those challenges.
- Removal of “open in new window” code – For many users with disabilities, links that open in a new window become quite disorienting. This is even more so when using a mobile device to access digital content.
Related: Find out what to look for in a web accessibility package in this video by web accessibility expert Shauna Gingras.
FREE ACCESSIBILITY CHECKERS AND RESOURCES
If you aren’t quite ready to start interviewing web accessibility providers, you may want to try a free online web accessibility checker.
Like it sounds, it is a freebie where you enter your URL and provide an email address to receive the free scan and a no-obligation report.
Admittedly, this is one way many providers find new clients. So, don’t be surprised if you end up on an email list. You can always unsubscribe.
But an automated scan is usually the first step in auditing a website for accessibility anyway. The results will show you the blatant stuff that a machine can catch. That may give you a good idea of where to start with your own site.
We have put together a list of resources, including free accessibility checkers, that will be especially helpful to you, or whomever is responsible for web accessibility at your organization.
- ADA Design Checklist Source: WebAIM
- Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List Source: W3C
- Accessibility Resource Library Source: IAAP
- Accessibility Articles Source: Web AIM
- Web Accessibility RFP Model Source: Harvard University
- Vendor RFP Accessibility Questions Source: Harvard University
- Pricing Example of Accessibility Services Source: Accessible.org
- Web Accessibility Pricing Source: Lemonade Stand
- Free Web Site Accessibility Scans
- Free Mobile Accessibility Checkers Source: Digitala11y
- Free Digital Accessibility Foundations Course Source: W3C
- W3C Cheatsheet
We hope that the information here has provided some guidance so that finding the right help with your web accessibility project won’t seem so daunting. (Wish we could say as much for that bathroom, right?)
Lemonade Stand is one of those MSPs that is ready to help you with web accessibility. Compliance is part of our web development services.
As a full-service digital marketing agency, we can help with a whole bunch of other tasks to help get your business where you want it to go. We do what we say, and say what we mean. And transparency is how we do business.
Request a free consultation by completing this online form or by calling 877-395-2351.
And who knows, if you ask really nicely, we might even be able to help with that bathroom.