4. Creating Digital Accessibility Culture
Understanding now that there are gaps in the company’s compliance with accessibility guidelines, you start to think about the approaches you might take to implement solutions to fill those gaps.
Having spent some time learning about accessibility testing and trying the tools and strategies you came across, you discover there are lots of potential accessibility problems with the company’s website. You share the results of your testing, and the tools and strategies with your senior web developer, who you ask to review and come up with an estimate of the time it would take to fix the issues you discovered.
The web developer reports back to you after a few days with a plan that will take longer than you expected. But, he also suggests, having reviewed the details of WCAG and the local accessibility regulations, perhaps he could prioritize the issues by first addressing the critical Level A issues described in WCAG, as well as addressing some of the easier Level AA issues.
He also suggests that you go back to the shopping cart vendor and see whether they are open to making some changes to their system to improve accessibility, reviewing the relevant business arguments if necessary in order to convince them the work will be good for their business.
Retrofitting versus Starting Over
Retrofitting an inaccessible website can be time consuming and expensive, particularly when the changes need to be made by someone other than the website’s original developer. Adding accessibility to a new development project will require much less effort and expense, assuming the developers have accessibility forefront in their mind while development is taking place.
Sometimes retrofitting is the only solution available. For instance, a company is not prepared to replace its website with a new one. In such cases, it may be necessary to prioritize what gets fixed first and what can be resolved later. WCAG can help with this prioritizing. It categorizes accessibility guidelines by their relative impact on users with disabilities, ranging from Level A (serious problems) to Level AAA (relatively minor usability problems). These levels are described below.
- Level A: These issues must be resolved, or they will produce barriers that prevent some groups of people from accessing content.
- Level AA: These issues should be resolved, or they will create barriers that are difficult to get around for some groups of users.
- Level AAA: These issues could be resolved to improve usability for a wide range of people, including those without disabilities.
Level AA is the generally agreed-upon level most organizations should aim to meet, while addressing any Level AAA requirements that can be resolved with minimal effort. For organizations that directly serve people with disabilities, they may want to address more Level AAA issues, though it should be noted that full compliance with Level AAA requirements is generally unattainable, and in some cases undesirable. For instance, the WCAG lower-level high school reading level requirement is a Level AAA requirement. For a site that caters to lawyers, or perhaps engineers, high school-level language may be inappropriate, or even impossible, thus it would be undesirable to meet this guideline in such a case.
Working with Vendors and Developers
It is not uncommon for vendors, particularly those from jurisdictions that have minimal or no accessibility requirements, to resist an organization’s requests to improve accessibility of their products. But, there are also vendors who will jump at an opportunity to take advantage of an organization’s accessibility expertise to improve their product. The latter mentality is becoming more and more common as accessibility awareness grows around the world.
You realize that replacing the shopping cart on the company’s website, which was the subject of the complaint the company received, is not currently an option. The company has just renewed a three-year contract with the shopping cart provider and breaking that contract would be very costly. You understand that local regulations allow “undue hardship” as a legitimate argument for not implementing accessibility, and the company’s lawyer agrees.
Regardless, you also understand that your company is losing a potentially large number of customers, who leave the website and shop elsewhere when they encounter accessibility barriers. You want to demonstrate that the company takes accessibility complaints seriously, so you approach the shopping cart vendor with a proposal to help them improve the accessibility of their product.
Depending on the vendor, various approaches may be taken to either guide the vendor through the process of addressing accessibility in their products, or convince a vendor that this is something they need to do.
Ideally, you want the collaboration with a vendor to be a collegial one, where both your company and the vendor are benefiting. You could offer to have an accessibility audit performed on the software being (or having been) purchased, which should have been done anyway as part of the procurement process, and offer that audit to the company. Contributing to a vendor in this way may create a sense of “owing your company” and they will be more receptive to working together to address accessibility issues. When purchasing a new product, it is often possible to have the vendor cover the cost of an accessibility audit performed by an auditor of the company’s choice. After the fact though, it’s unlikely a vendor will want to take on that expense. Thus, an audit may be more of an offering to keep the vendor on the side of the company when asking for work from them that will likely be unpaid.
On the other hand, if a vendor is resistant, and not interested in your offer, as a last resort you may need to apply more cunning tactics, for instance, by threatening to publish the accessibility audit.
Of course, these scenarios describe only a couple potential vendor/client relationships, which really require a clear understanding of a vendor’s position before approaching them with work they will likely not be paid for. Often the business arguments, introduced earlier, work well to convince vendors that accessibility is something that they can benefit from.
The bottom line is that some vendors will be more approachable than others and different strategies may be needed to have your accessibility requirements met by what may be considerable effort on the part of the vendor.
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