16 Accessibility Questions to Ask Your Digital Agency
Dec 7, 2023
You’ve picked the perfect agency partner for managing your website or creating a new one. You’ve found a firm you trust, that shares your brand vision. And like you, they are committed to accessible, inclusive user experiences. But have you made sure that you and your agency define “accessible” and “inclusive” in the same way?
The fact is, just because your website may have been created by your agency partner doesn’t mean your organization won’t be liable if it fails to meet standards for compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable accessibility laws.
To avoid unpleasant surprises, and ensure the most productive, positive working relationship possible, you need to ensure you and your agency are on the same page. In this blog, we’ll further explain why it’s important to discuss accessibility with your digital agency and share a list of accessibility questions that will help facilitate an open, constructive conversation.
Why is it important to ensure your agency partner understands digital accessibility?
Many organizations lack an intimate understanding of what accessibility really means when it comes to websites, apps, and digital products. So even if an agency is vocal about their commitment to inclusive experiences, some may not know what they don’t know.
Additionally, agencies are often managing a lot of complexity and working with tight timelines. Discussing accessibility with your agency partner earlier, rather than later, ensures time can be allotted for incorporating and checking for accessibility. This is especially important if your digital agency may be inheriting accessibility issues from other agencies managing your organization’s brand, or in the case that they run into challenges with tooling and integrations as they incorporate accessibility software.
Given these factors, it’s easy to understand why some agencies may struggle to fully adopt accessibility—but ignoring the needs of users with disabilities has serious consequences. The legal landscape surrounding web accessibility and ADA compliance remains active, with plaintiffs filing a record 3,255 lawsuits in 2022. Legal action can lead to reputational damage and escalating fees for your organization, not to mention the drain on productivity for both brands and agencies when teams need to drop what they’re working on to quickly remediate issues identified by a complaint.
There’s also a significant opportunity cost to ignoring accessibility: in the U.S. alone, working-aged adults with disabilities control about $490 billion in disposable income. An informed, proactive digital agency partner will help you not only avoid negative outcomes, but also optimize your user experience so you can reach (and retain) the widest possible audience.
When is the best time to ask your agency about accessibility?
Ideally, accessibility should be a point of conversation from the very beginning of the relationship. Embedding accessibility expectations in your contract, including the accessibility standards your finished product needs to meet, is a great starting point. This will keep accessibility top-of-mind in any early discovery and planning discussions—for example, your agency will know to ensure that brand colors and key color combinations are vetted for accessibility during any early-stage branding review.
However, depending on the digital accessibility maturity of your organization and your agency partner, accessibility may not come up in conversations until a project is well underway. If that’s your situation, no time like the present: in our 20+ years of experience supporting organizations of all sizes—and partnering with some of the world’s leading digital agencies—we’ve learned it’s never too late to adopt or improve accessibility.
Accessibility questions to ask your digital agency
In the content that follows, we’ve collected questions that will be helpful for fostering a conversation with your agency partner about how accessibility is being incorporated in your digital experiences. You’ll also gain information about how to best support your partner in enhancing their approach to provide your customers with the best user experience.
We’ve collected our recommended accessibility questions into three key categories, based on important topics to align on with your agency: the current state of your digital experience’s accessibility, how your agency approaches digital accessibility, and how the experience’s accessibility will be maintained over time.
Current state of accessibility
- How many accessibility errors are live on our site / experience right now?
- Of those, how many are critical (meaning, they represent a barrier to access)?
- What tools are you using to evaluate the experience for accessibility errors? How are you managing the results?
- How long have you been tracking accessibility performance? Are there trends in the types of accessibility issues you’re noticing, or in the types of pages or types of content that tend to contain issues?
The response you’re looking for:
At a basic level, it’s important to know that your agency partner is aware of what constitutes an accessibility error that could render your site or experience inaccessible for people with various disabilities (and therefore non-compliant)—and that they can identify if any currently exist on your site.
If your agency team can’t answer these accessibility questions, they likely won’t have satisfactory answers to the rest of the questions we suggest asking, either. But, that certainly doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship! Take the questions below as prompts to explore together and answer collaboratively as you set expectations and create procedures for accessibility moving forward. For this type of session, it may be helpful to rely on an expert accessibility partner who can explain best practices for implementing digital accessibility successfully.
- Who on your team is involved in ensuring accessibility of the site / experience?
- What is your review process regarding accessibility? Who reviews experiences, at what point in the process, and how often?
- What accessibility standard(s) does your team evaluate against?
- How do you approach or make decisions about how to prioritize accessibility in an overall build?
- How do you ensure you’re designing for diverse needs and personas?
- How, if at all, does your team involve people with disabilities in the experience planning and creation process?
- Besides design and development, what is your process for accessible content creation (alt text, captions, videos, reading level, plain language, etc.)?
The response you’re looking for:
Responsibility for, and process surrounding, digital accessibility will vary depending on the agency’s operating model. Larger or more mature firms may have a leader or team responsible for inclusive design, while smaller firms, or those with less accessibility experience, may take a more ad-hoc approach. What’s important is that staff are thinking about, and incorporating, accessibility into their work—and that, if a design or build fails to meet accessibility standards, the work is sent back before the experience is launched.
Regarding standards, the best practice is to work toward conformance with the latest version of WCAG, satisfying at least the Level A and AA criteria. If the agency routinely measures against WCAG 2.1 standards, this may be a good opportunity to explore what it would take to satisfy the nine new standards released in version 2.2.
Only the most advanced digital agencies, and especially larger ones, are likely to have robust policies and procedures around seeking and incorporating user feedback, including feedback from people with disabilities. However, it doesn’t take a large client roster or deep pockets to ensure user stories guiding design and development represent and include people with disabilities. These are the types of achievable best practices an expert accessibility firm can help agencies incorporate.
- How does your team monitor the accessibility of experiences over time?
- What does it do with the resulting data?
- Do you partner with an accessibility firm to evaluate your work?
- Do you have a process for proactively seeking feedback from various user groups and incorporating that feedback into future iterations of the experience?
- (If your brand team handles the maintenance of your site / experience): What resources can you give us to ensure we can maintain accessibility on our site?
The response you’re looking for:
Accessibility is far from a one-time consideration. Each update to your site or experience brings with it the possibility of a new issue that could block access to visitors and users with disabilities. Any indication that your agency partner understands digital accessibility as an ongoing part of an experience’s life cycle and not something that can be “fixed and forgotten” is a great sign.
Expert evaluation, especially manual evaluation including testing by people with disabilities, is crucial to the long-term accessibility and compliance of your experience. If your agency doesn’t already seek this support, ask if they’d be willing to collaborate with experts and incorporate this evaluation in their scope and process.
In terms of resources for handoff, when accessibility is incorporated early, agencies that support with design can offer several guideposts to help your team sustain a compliant website or digital experience. Deliverables from a website design partner might include brand and style guidelines, CSS written with proper semantic markup, accessible widgets and components for creating new pages on your site, and accessible color and font-size options set as defaults in your web content management system (CMS).
No need to play “gotchya”
Digital accessibility is a journey, not a destination. It’s important to remember that these questions aren’t meant to paint your agency into a corner—they’re meant to be the beginning of a conversation. And as a bonus, your accessibility questions may inspire your agency partner to enrich or add to their approach on other clients’ projects as well. In this way, you’re not just partnering to create a website or app. Your partnership can be part of the movement toward a more inclusive internet for all.
If there are areas where your agency partner’s answers don’t meet what we’ve explored in this blog in terms of desired responses, it doesn’t mean they aren’t the partner for you. It probably just means they need support. That support can come in many forms, but the right accessibility solution provider will provide the tooling, training, and expertise both parties need to fill the gaps. Level Access has extensive experience enabling both brands and agencies to create and maintain accessible and compliant digital experiences, including websites, mobile apps, software platforms, and more.
Whether you and your agency want to benchmark your current approach to digital accessibility, or your brand needs a roadmap for enabling best practices across your network of vendors, we’re ready to help. Engage with our team today to get started.