Our Approach to Accessibility: Best Practices for Nonprofits

By Nicholas Longtin | February 2022

A photo of someone planning website accessibility with paper and pen.

Website accessibility has continued to be an important aspect of nonprofit websites and in recent years the debate on how to approach accessibility has heated up. Many technology companies have recognized the difficulty in maintaining a high level of website accessibility and rushed solutions to the market that make big promises but don't necessarily deliver. Keep reading to learn about ArcStone's approach to accessibility and why you should avoid quick-fix solutions. 

Your Approach to Accessibility Matters

When it comes to improving website accessibility the end result oftentimes is not actually perfection. Having perfectly implemented accessibility standards across all your websites, social media accounts, third-party systems, and documents you link to are almost impossible. Accessibility is also a moving target and will change slightly as you add new website content, design new features, and create new links out to third-party systems.

So knowing the difficulty with implementing website accessibility the approach you take to maintaining accessibility standards becomes very important. Our approach at ArcStone is more about creating an accessibility strategy, so clients can continually improve and maintain their accessibility over time.

Strategy Instead of Quick Fixes

It's tempting for organizations to buy into the idea that some magic tool will solve all their accessibility issues and any tedious or hard work can be avoided. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Even the most advanced automatic accessibility scanning tools miss things or have a high rate of false positives. The better ones can get close to creating a good picture of your overall accessibility but they are extremely expensive and the costly monthly subscription must be maintained over time, since as I stated previously, your website accessibility changes over time.  

Accessibility "overlays", or third-party tools you add to your website for visitors to activate, can actually create accessibility issues on their own and often slow down your website substantially or conflict with other tools like popup and chat systems.

In fact, a recent lawsuit over an organization utilizing a very popular accessibility overlay ended with the defendant settling, which creates a significant caselaw against using these accessibility overlay tools. 

Developing An Accessibility Strategy

Now that we've established there is no quick fix to handling website accessibility how should you proceed? At ArcStone we highly recommend creating an accessibility strategy for your organization and partnering with experts that can guide and advise you. There is also no "one size fits all" strategy for accessibility.

Some organizations have much more exposure to accessibility-related litigation, have an audience that is more likely to need accessibility features or have funding that's contingent on a minimum level of accessibility. The first step in developing a strategy is to understand your organization's specific needs and level of risk.

If the worst-case scenario happens and your organization is served with a demand letter you can still avoid the most serious consequences by showing you have a strategy in place and are actively working on improving accessibility. The reason why organizations are getting into trouble by using these inexpensive accessibility tools is it shows they don't have a strategy and are hoping a quick fix is enough to satisfy accessibility concerns.

 

SEO Audits

 

Step #1 - Assign Responsibility

The first step in your accessibility strategy should be to make someone on your staff responsible for coordinating your website accessibility efforts. This person doesn't need to be an expert in accessibility, but they should be in charge of working with vendors and taking an active role in helping maintain your organizations' accessibility.

ArcStone often works closely with this person and provides training and resources so they can develop a better understanding of website accessibility and over time take a much more active role in the execution of your accessibility strategy. 

Step #2 - Get An Accessibility Audit

The next step is to have an accessibility expert audit your online presence. This audit often goes beyond just your website and looks at social media accounts, file downloads, third-party services you utilize, and more. Social media sites have gotten a lot of pressure to become more accessible and now offer much better accessibility if you know how to leverage these features.

ArcStone's standard accessibility audit reviews your website, social media accounts, downloadable content, third-party systems, and even does a detailed analysis of your branding. Oftentimes when we review an organization's brand guide their primary brand colors don't offer enough contrast to meet the minimum requirements when used with white. This is a perfect example of the kind of strategic planning that scanning tools don't cover.

ArcStone brand guidelines and accessibility guide.

Above is ArcStone's own brand guide which has a dedicated section on accessibility so designers know how to implement our official brand colors in an accessible way.

Step #3 - Prioritize and Begin Correcting

Another key aspect of an accessibility strategy is to recognize that not all accessibility issues are equal. Usually, when I present an accessibility report to a client their jaw drops at the sheer number of accessibility issues found in the audit. Most of the time I can reassure them the majority of issues are either easily corrected at a minimal cost or aren't critical to the vast majority of users.

It's very important to work with accessibility experts who can guide your organization on which issues to tackle first and create a strategic plan. An up-front strategy will help correct current problems and implement processes to prevent future issues.

A screen capture showing a WAVE report with accessibility errors.

The above image shows the government's own FCC website has over 250 accessibility issues on the homepage alone. However, only two or three would be considered more serious issues.

Step #4 - Bake In Accessibility

Like ArcStone's brand guide example above, your organization should bake in accessibility into every aspect of the organization from your brand guide to your website and social media accounts. For every process, your organization has that touches your website or online presence add a step to review accessibility.

For example, don't publish a PDF online until you've run Acrobat Pro's built-in accessibility checker. This small additional step could mean the difference between publishing an accessible PDF document or one that's completely unusable in screen readers. I also highly recommend you create an "accessibility statement" page on your website and link to it in the website footer. Much like a privacy statement or terms of use, this can be an important page that signals to visitors you are taking accessibility seriously.

Step #5 - Train and Review

Accessibility is a process, not a destination. Ongoing training and reviews of your digital presence will be required to maintain good website accessibility over the long run. I highly recommend organizations that update their website with new content on a regular basis conduct quarterly accessibility reviews. Over time these become less and less laborious as issues are corrected and staff becomes more comfortable with thinking about accessibility.   

With every accessibility audit, ArcStone delivers we include an accessibility guide customized to the organization with easily understood steps and information for maintaining accessibility. There are also a huge variety of resources online you can use for free to help keep your website accessibility strong.

 

 

Topics: Design and Technology

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