Be proactive – Planning ahead pays off
Similar to retrofitting physical structures to address accessibility, the cost to retrofit an existing website for accessibility – both in time and dollars – can be extensive. The simplest way to minimize cost is to integrate accessible design and conformance testing into the development process from the start, and then phasing in accessibility features with regular website updates. As a general rule of thumb, it is assumed that the cost to retrofit a site can be as much as ten times the cost to build in accessibility from the beginning. Companies can expect to pay about 10% of their total website costs on retrofitting, but if they phase in accessibility as they naturally upgrade their website, they usually spend much less—between 1% and 3%. In addition, an accessible website is generally more cost effective because it takes less time to maintain and update, is more adaptable to emerging technologies, and attracts a larger audience.
Consider a phased approach
Digital accessibility is not a one time fix – it requires a long‑term investment, and an accessibility program must be actively managed and nurtured to be successful. Level Access recommends a phased approach:
Phase 1: Test
In Phase 1, digital assets such as websites and mobile apps are reviewed to determine the areas of highest risk to be focused on first. Once those areas are defined, system audits are performed to determine the current level of compliance.
During this phase, you should begin working on an initial digital accessibility policy – it doesn’t have to be perfect, but get something in place. It’s also a good idea to get some kind of training program moving, even if it’s just general awareness training to convey the key concepts of digital accessibility and how the company is addressing it. In terms of public communications, at a minimum you should have an accessibility statement available on your site with clearly defined (and well tended) feedback channels for customer inquiries or complaints.
Phase 2: Fix
In Phase 2, you want to start implementing accessibility into the high‑risk areas identified in Phase 1. You will also start to mature the overall program at this point, by documenting your approaches to accessibility, measuring the impact and cost, and refining the program based on what is learned.
Phase 2 is also the time to develop accessibility testing plans, which define the overall testing approach for accessibility. Testing validation plays a key role in accessibility and you want to make sure you have an overarching testing plan that defines the key gateways where you will be evaluating accessibility.
Phase 3: Maintain and Scale up
In Phase 3, you move from the focus on high risk areas to testing for compliance and implementing accessibility systemically. In addition, this phase is the time to finalize the development of clear, maintained digital accessibility policies and standards.
Monitor ongoing compliance
An important step in managing risk is to ensure that all web systems are monitored for compliance on an ongoing basis to:
- Be aware of the current level of compliance
- Track compliance over time and identify changes
- Take immediate action to address high priority compliance issues
- Communicate compliance to executives and regulatory authorities
Contact your legal counsel to discuss your risks under the ADA and similar digital accessibility legislation, and secure third party technical expertise to help guide you through the process of auditing your public website and understanding the level of risk of the system.