When choosing a web developer to update your site, don’t assume they know all about accessibility. The guidelines for web accessibility are often treated like tacked on ramps to a building. That is, something you think of after you’ve done the design. To ensure accessibility of your site, it pays to know how web design decisions are made. And you don’t need to be a tech person.
A paper from the United States spells out the development process to show how accessibility gets missed. The authors report that one study found that more than 70% of websites contain multiple barriers to accessibility. Another study found that almost all homepages didn’t meet the basic web standards for accessibility.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a general guide for developers. But they are not the total answer because they are more about code compliance than accessibility. Hence, design briefs need to include usability testing early in the concept stage.
The process often begins with brand, customers, and the message to be communicated. This stage rarely involves accessibility concerns. Designers make assumptions about users – usually people like themselves – for the next steps. Designs are reviewed by art directors and brand creators. Colours and font choices are considered at this stage but without reference to accessibility.
If the design team lacks diversity this is where design justice becomes design privilege. Before any coding takes place, images, animations and graphics are created to show what the site will look like. Users are not involved in the testing at this stage. The key issue with web accessibility tools is that they look at code, not these mock-ups.
Priority is brand message
The prototype stage would be a good point in the design process to begin user testing. It is as this stage colour, font, layout and other critical access features can be addressed. However, communicating brand message takes priority. Responding to the needs of less privileged and less able users is left for coding checks rather than usability checks.
The authors conclude that considering accessibility early in the process can bring greater usability for all. However, industry development processes often result in accessibility being an afterthought. Standards are not enough to meet the needs of all users. Consequently, industry’s internal processes need to change.
The title of the paper is, Addressing Accessibilty as Advocacy. The authors use the term “special needs”. The article is easy to read and not tech-based. It is more about advocating for social justice in the digital world.
Choosing an IT designer
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive IT Procurement Toolkit. It takes potential purchasers of IT systems through the process of procurement, including assessing potential suppliers, and overseeing the successful implementation of accessibility features. It also shows how to manage the accessibility of the system once the set-up phase is complete. This means ensuring that documents staff produce for the website also meet the accessibility criteria. Each section of the Toolkit is provided separately. It includes:
- Writing Request for Tender
- Assessing Candidates and Tenders
- Development and Implementation
- Evaluating Deliverables
- Maintaining Accessibility.