Have you ever wondered how a blind or visually impaired person skis down a mountain or runs through the trails of the backcountry? Probably not. Maybe you didn’t even realize someone who cannot see would actually want to ski on the powder of the latest snowstorm or enjoy the serenity of a trail run. Although you may think that’s as odd as California rain, it’s actually not. Just because someone cannot see doesn’t mean they aren’t an outdoor enthusiast wanting to enjoy nature in all its varieties.
If you don’t already know, you’re probably wondering how the blind skier in the above photo made it to the bottom of the mountain without a jacket full of snow from the many falls he surely must have experienced. It’s quite simple, actually. What you don’t see in the above photo is his trusted companion right by his site to guide him through the slippery slopes, avoiding barriers that would otherwise have him visiting the local emergency room.
The blind skier’s companion guide remains behind the skier describing the surroundings. The instructions he provides allows the blind or low vision athlete to navigate the slopes, gaining independence and confidence that is sure to last a lifetime. Is it possible for the blind skier to perform alpine skiing without his trusted guide? Probably not.
*Photo courtesy of Courtney Patterson
What does this have to do with my website?
Before all this outdoor talk has us closing our laptops and heading off to embark in our next grand adventure, let’s consider how our websites guide everyone to the information they came for. When tourists are looking for the amazing activities your area offers, where do they search for the information? When your newest residents need to know what school their child should attend, where do they look to find out? When local contractors want to submit a response to build your new city hall, where do they find the bidding requirements? All of this information and more is—or should be—on your website.
With over 56 million people in the United States living with a disability such as blindness, it’s vital your city, town, or county provides everyone access to everything all the time. In addition to being required by federal law, providing an accessible website has other noteworthy advantages. By conforming to best practices in accessible web standards, you will enjoy:
- faster load times and website functionality;
- SEO (search engine optimization) to ensure you’re at the top of Google’s list;
- confidence knowing you won’t be the next lawsuit filed for failing to comply with Section 508, Section 504, or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA);
- the privilege to provide consistent expectations for your website users regardless of ability; and
- a sense of achievement knowing you are doing the right thing.
Where do I start?
Step 1: Testing
The first step in creating an accessible Section 508 and WCAG-compliant website is to evaluate the current state of your website. We’ve created a WCAG checklist to help you begin evaluating your website accessibility.
You can also start with these easy checks:
- Does each page have a page title shown in the browser tab?
- Does every picture, illustration, chart, or other image have text alternatives describing the content of the image?
- Does each page include headings?
- Are the colors within the required contrast ratios?
- Are your styles (fonts, widths, heights, etc.) designed with relative styling to allow for text-only and page zoom?
- Can everything on your website be accessed without the use of a mouse, using only a keyboard and/or keyboard commands such as voice input?
- Is your website free from moving, flashing, or blinking content such as scrolling news feeds, auto-updating tickers, and photo slideshows or carousel that do not allow users to pause, stop, start, or control the frequency of the update?
- Does all video content include accurate subtitles or captions?
- Is all of your content still presented when images and style sheets are disabled and the page is linearized?
- Are the linked attachments such as PDF documents accessible? (See our Get ADA Docs website for information on document accessibility.)
You can manually perform the easy checks listed here. However, there are some automated tools to help you evaluate things such as color contrast and presence of alternative text on images. W3C’s web accessibility evaluation tools list offers an extensive list of automated testing options, including options to test PDF accessibility. We recommend using the filtering options to view free software. If you think you need more than what the free software options provide, be sure to contact us before purchasing pricey software. We include both automated and manual accessibility scans free for our clients, and you may be able to get a whole new website for the price you would pay for new software (besides the extra expense of training someone to understand the results).
After completing your initial review, if you answered no to any of the questions listed above or your automated scan found accessibility errors, your website has barriers putting your organization at legal risk for denying equal access to all users. If you answered yes to all of the easy checks listed above and your automated scan is clear from accessibility barriers, congratulations! You are most likely already one of our clients. You can ask us at any time how accessible your website is. Of course, be sure to let the rest of the businesses, agencies, schools, and other organizations in your city or town know which vendor you prefer to keep your website accessible. Otherwise, keep reading to learn what you should take as your next step toward website accessibility and compliance.
Step 2: Remediation or Redesign?
The barriers (errors) you found must be removed. There are two options for removing barriers. The first option is to remediate your current website, and the second option is to develop a new website. Below are some questions to ask to help you decide which option is best for you. Since we like to make things easy for everyone, we’ll let you know what the answers mean for your website.
- Is the number of errors I found minimal?
Yes: Maybe you just need to add text alternative to a couple of photos. In this case, remediation would be the best option.
No: If your website has extensive accessibility barriers, for example, it’s not keyboard accessible, a new website will most likely be the best option.
Yes: Most digital accessibility is handled in the backend (coding) of a website. For example, in order for a screen reader to read a table, it must be designed with proper HTML tags such as table headers and rows. Remediation requires not only knowledge of these standards but also having access to the coding so you can make the necessary edits.
No: A redesigned website will allow you to apply accessibility standards easily during development so you are sure all features of your website are designed compliantly. As mentioned earlier, we can oftentimes redevelop a website faster and cheaper than the cost of remediation.
- Am I familiar with and understand how to apply Section 508 accessibility standards and WCAG success criteria?
Yes, I’m an accessibility expert: Even if your organization purchases expensive accessibility testing software, someone will need to understand the results. Just because an automated scan shows a pass or fail result doesn’t mean it’s an actual pass or fail. Someone who has completed accessibility training understands and has experience with website accessibility needs to interpret the report and make decisions as to whether or not remediation of each error is necessary and/or possible. If you answered yes to the first two questions and you have an employee who is formally trained in digital accessibility, remediation instead of redesign is very possible.
No, I have never attended formal digital accessibility training nor do I have an employee who has completed training: Not only does someone need to understand automated reports, there are numerous testing steps you need to perform manually. This should be performed by someone who has experience testing website accessibility. Additionally, we recommend working with a team of disabled users who can perform testing and provide feedback. After all, your goal is to make your website accessible to real people, right? Remember, compliance does not always equal accessibility.
Step 3: Develop a plan
Now that you know what you need in order to provide an accessible website, you need to create an action plan to ensure your website remediation or redesign is completed right away. Decide who will complete the tasks, and give a deadline so you know your accessibility project stays on track. The most important part is to start now. Each day you procrastinate accessibility is another day you are blocking someone access to your valuable information.
This is overwhelming; how can you help?
Whether you just need an audit or an entirely new accessible website, our team of accessibility experts can help you with every step of your accessibility plan. Options include the following:
- Website accessibility audity
- Remediation plan
- Accessible website design, development, and management
- Accessibility training
- Ongoing accessibility consulting and assessments
- Document evaluation and remediation
Before you start a new marketing campaign to show off how awesome your city is and bring even more outdoor adventurers to your nearest ski resort or state park, you’ll want to be sure you have all the resources they need to embark on their next adventure. Use our convenient contact form below to let us help you before your website turns into an avalanche of confusion, barriers, and legal fees.
Posted by Kelly Childs, Director of Website Accessibility