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Incorporating Accessibility: Do This One Thing to Improve Your Accessibility and Save Time and Money

You’ve done some research to better understand accessibility and why it matters, you’ve read our 3 steps to get started, and now you want to create more accessible products. But you’ve heard it can be expensive, time consuming, and complicated. And to be honest, you’re still not really sure how to make it happen.

You’re not alone. Budget and uncertainty about where to begin are often cited as reasons why organizations haven’t yet implemented an accessibility strategy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s one thing you can do now to start improving your accessibility while saving time and money. 

So what’s that one thing?

Bake accessibility into the process you’re already doing. Don’t think of accessibility as something additional you need to do. Just incorporate it into what you’re already doing.

Incorporating accessibility into your process will save you time and money because the decisions you make early on will affect the accessibility of the final product. Planning early avoids costly rework later. And starting early allows you to build toward improved accessibility overtime.

Baking accessibility into your process

I know what you may be thinking. “Great, I’ll bake it in… but how?” Let’s look at a typical web project process to see what baking accessibility in actually looks like on the project level.

Stage 1: the Request for Proposal (RFP)

Your journey to accessibility begins before your project even starts. Internally, you should confirm the standards that are right for you and your audiences. When a new project is on the horizon, be sure to: 

  • State your standards in the RFP. For example: This website must comply with the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines.
  • Include testing. User testing is incredibly important. Include accessibility testing in your Quality Assurance plan.
  • Include reporting. Although you will dig into this in the discovery phase, be sure to reference it here in order to gauge how much time and resourcing will be required for your needs.
  • Ask about experience. Ask potential vendors about their accessibility experience, examples of their previous work, and what you can expect.
  • Get your team ready. Educate everyone on the what and why of accessibility. Here are a few ways to get everyone on the same page:

Stage 2: Discovery

This is the first time your team will meet with your chosen vendor. Be sure to:

  • Include “accessibility” on the agenda. This will give your team time to map out a project plan that includes accessibility. 
  • Explore and discuss an accessibility compliance report. This is a snapshot of your website’s accessibility at the time of delivery. It will help your team know areas you’re doing well and areas that may need improvement. Continued reporting is also a good way to measure how successfully you are maintaining and improving accessibility over time. If you’ll be creating your own report, be sure to talk with your vendor about the testing criteria.
  • Ask questions. Remember, your vendor is your partner throughout this journey.
  • Set your team up for success. This might include identifying gaps in knowledge and asking about training opportunities. Check out  “Inclusive: The Film” for inspiration.

Stage 3: Content

Beginning in the discovery stage, you’ll be auditing and updating content. Content plays a huge role in the accessibility of your final product. The time between discovery and the design phase is ideal for updating your content to be more accessible. You’ll want to do three things:

  1. Use plain language. This means writing at about a 6th to 8th grade level. The Hemingway App is a handy tool to help you write clearer content.
  2. Follow best practices for writing on the web. Here are some resources:
  1. Work with your design team. Your content and your website design should complement one another. Your design team can help you understand how to create content that will shine on your new site.

Stage 4: Design

The design phase covers both the user experience and visual design of your site. This phase of the project is where accessibility should be incorporated as part of the overall audience experience and not just a checklist.

These are only a few of the many ways user experience and visual designers can design with accessibility in mind: 

  • Check color contrast. Use WebAIMs contrast checker
  • Don’t use color to communicate meaning. Check out Color Oracle, a color blindness simulator.
  • Create a clear hierarchy and user journey. Allow audiences to quickly identify important information and what they are being asked to do.
  • Avoid CAPTCHA tests when possible. This is not typically included as a ‘design’ recommendation since it falls on developers to implement. However, we’re including it here as a reminder that good decisions now can save you rework later. In fact, I would argue that the majority of the most problematic issues identified in WebAIM’s recent screen reader user survey can be addressed, avoided, or planned for in the design phase.

Want to spark conversation? Learn more about how design contributes to accessibility using the Designing for Accessibility poster series.

Stage 5: Development

Developers add the technical requirements necessary to make your website accessible. Developers should be familiar with the WCAG guidelines for both 2.0 and 2.1. This blog post “WCAG 2.1: What is Next for Accessibility Guidelines” provides a great breakdown. If you’re interested in learning more about developing more accessible web content, be sure to check out Tips for Getting Started Developing for Web Accessibility.

Here are a  few of the many ways to develop with accessibility in mind:

  • Use an accessible starter theme. Gesso is Forum One’s starter theme for front end development. It was designed and built by Forum One developers specifically with accessibility in mind. It’s open source, so anyone can use it as an accessible starting point for a digital project. 
  • Use HTML5 markup. HTML is the “behind the scene” language that allows us to see a webpage. Learn more about HTML5 in this 1.5 minute video.
  • Use ARIA Landmark Roles. ARIA stands for “Accessible Rich Internet Applications.” It’s basically a way to help assistive technologies, like screen readers, better identify sections of a web page. This in turn helps assistive technology users better understand, and interact with, the elements and information on your website. Learn more about Aria in this nine-minute tutorial.
  • Include Skip Navigation. Skip navigation is a link that allows users to ‘skip’ certain repeated content (like main navigation) and navigate directly to the main content on a page. Learn more about skip navigation.
  • Test early and often. Use both automated and manual accessibility checks. Automated testing tools include WAVE, SiteImprove, HTML_CodeSniffer, Lighthouse, and Accessibility Insights.

Stage 6: Delivery

This is where you want to do final accessibility testing and updates, as defined in your Quality Assurance (QA) plan. Ironically, however, many people mistakenly believe this is where accessibility work begins, near the end of a project. As a result, they do not ask about it until now. Retrofitting something unaccessible to make it accessible can be time-consuming and expensive.

Accessibility is an ongoing, iterative process that must be maintained. Here are a few tips on maintaining an accessible website: 

  • Run automated checks. Automated tools are good for identifying possible issues. But remember, tests and checklists can’t tell you how people actually use information and technology. Understanding how people experience your website will help you improve and maintain accessibility.
  • Run manual checks. Nothing replaces a knowledgeable human. The W3C provides guidance on things you can check, even if you know very little about accessibility.
  • Automated tools can have false positives. It’s important to learn how to interpret test results.
  • There’s no such thing as perfect. It’s most important to try your best, learn from your audiences, and iterate.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, your goal is to realize your mission and serve your audiences equally. Accessibility helps you get there. Incorporate accessibility into every stage of your web project, and you will save time and money, and improve your organization’s online experience for everyone.

Learn more about accessibility: watch the webinar

For an in-depth look at how you can create accessible platforms and resources for your organization, watch our recent webinar on “Accessibility and Design: Create the Best Online Experience”.