Everyone loves accessible web sites

By Robyn Hunt

Published in New Dialogue Spring 2009 NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations

Accessible web sites are often seen as boring, and as a bit…well PC. But accessibility is important as without web-based information some people have few choices. It’s not too difficult or expensive to create a great site if you do the groundwork.

Here are ten things you can do that will make a difference to the accessibility of your site. Most of them should be done before you hire anyone to design and build the site.

 

1. Everyone benefits

Accessibility helps Deaf, blind and vision impaired people, physically impaired people, people with learning disabilities and dyslexia, people for whom English is a second language, older people and those who struggle with literacy. People with low bandwidth, older technologies, or who have simply broken or lost their specs will welcome accessible sites.

2. Focus on the user

Thinking about the people who will be using the site is the first step, and considering what they will be using it for. It is easy to build a web site that is all “about us” and not about the user. Your web site is your ‘front door’ and getting it done on the cheap by a mate may be a false economy.

3. Decide on the level of accessibility

Considering your audience and what you and they want from your site will help you decide on the level of accessibility you want, and how to manage any resulting risks.

4. Get “buy in” by decision makers

They can be champions for accessibility. Convince them by making the business case. Not for profits can show the corporates a thing or two because accessibility is more about motivation than money

5. Link to business planning

Achieving business objectives through your web site is important. Integrating it into business planning, and in particular communication strategies will bring better results. Every web site needs a clear purpose. Integration of the web site into organisational objectives should include methods of evaluating ‘return.’

6. Don’t leave it to the techies

A multidisciplinary team approach to accessibility will help. Small organisations may have an advantage as there can be more integration of activities and roles.

7. Learn about accessibility

Keeping web development skills in house makes the integration of communications and IT objectives much easier. It is then easier to achieve clarity about why a particular web site exists. Accessibility is integrated across the board and there is clear understanding of why it is important.
Building organisational knowledge and understanding of accessibility is important. Smaller organisations may not have the technical know how in house, but they will find it worthwhile to have an understanding of the strategic importance of accessibility.

8. Plan for accessibility

Ask intending vendors to give you examples of their accessibility work. Talk to site owners they have worked with. Build accountability for accessibility into contracts.
Include accessibility milestones at every stage of the project and make sure they are met. Check regularly that accessibility is built in. It is almost impossible and very costly to retrofit if you get the basics wrong.

9. Insist on standards and best practice

Your site should be designed and built to accessibility standards, New Zealand Government standards, and international standards and best practice.

10. Test for accessibility

Technical and disabled user testing is critical at stages throughout the process. If accessibility consideration and testing is left until the end and the basics aren’t right insurmountable problems will result. Test early and often.