Just announced: Level Access and eSSENTIAL Accessibility agree to merge! Read more.

Recently I’ve been attending networking events where web accessibility has been a hot topic of discussion. Many questions I entertain are about what I see as the key components to building successful web accessibility initiatives for organizations that are committed to creating a fully inclusive experience for their customers and employees.

Based on personal experience, here are my top five tips for creating a successful web accessibility initiative.

Be Proactive

Take the initiative now! The Department of Justice (DOJ) will announce new regulations for web accessibility in November 2013 for state and local governments. In March 2014, the DOJ will announce its proposed rulemaking for public accommodations. Governments, retail, financial services and web applications will be impacted. This means that the ADA no longer only applies to physical accommodations, but also to the worldwide web. As a consultant, I see more and more litigation around inaccessible websites and IT systems that could be avoided by simply being more proactive and putting a game plan in place.

Build a Top-Down Policy

To be successful, executives must begin by creating policies that promote change throughout the organization. This means writing policy that mandates accessibility be built into core processes system-wide, becoming part of the DNA of the organization. Policies can encompass areas such as accessibility conformance guidelines, procurement requirements for vendors, and help desk support for people with disabilities.

Audit Your IT Properties

No organization will be 100% compliant, but it’s important to know the current level of compliance with technical accessibility standards and how usable the organization’s web services are by persons with disabilities. Automatic testing alone will only catch about 25% of accessibility issues at best, and results will not reflect the actual usability of an application or website. Functional testing using assistive technologies (AT) is also necessary, preferably by individuals with disabilities who use AT as a primary means of controlling their computer or mobile technology. An inexperienced user attempting to perform functional testing using AT such as a screen reader is much more likely to use it incorrectly, resulting in false positives and/or negatives. At SSB we have a peer reviewed methodology that entails both technical and functional testing by expert level AT users to determine the level of accessibility compliance and usability.

Educate Your Employees

Google isn’t the answer! It’s surprising how often I have conversations with employees who say that they found their information about web accessibility by searching online. Organizations hire highly trained professionals for internal and external audits of their finances, security and overall compliance. Why would an organization leave accessibility, something that has such a high impact on overall business success, to an employee trolling the internet where much of information is unverified? SSB BART Group has been advising clients since 1997 on accessibility training for all roles in an organization including Designers, Developers and QA personnel.

Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

Organizations must be proactive and consistent in monitoring their IT properties.  As companies move to a more agile development cycle for IT products, many things can be left out or overlooked, potentially causing costly and time consuming roadblocks. Consistent and ongoing monitoring of web systems allow organizations to track compliance over time, identifying changes in baseline compliance and taking action to address any issues. As with the initial audit of IT properties, it is important that regular monitoring include automatic testing AND functional testing using AT, as a system can technically meet accessibility requirements yet still function poorly due to a lack of user agent usability

To learn more about SSB BART Group Inc. and our services, please contact us at 1-800-889-9659.