How to Make Accessible Websites

April 26, 2016 |
Decoartive image of wordle focused on Accessibility Guidelines

One out of every five adults has a disability, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But yet, with such a high proportion of adults living with a disability, it is shocking how many websites are impossible to use.

USA Today looked into this issue recently, reporting that Facebook is re-engineering its website and mobile apps, and it’s brainstorming a new generation of futuristic products that harness the power of artificial intelligence to improve the experience of Facebook for people with disabilities. Matt King, a software engineer for Facebook, has a goal to make websites and mobile apps friendlier for people like him with disabilities. King who has been blind since college uses “screen-reader software that turns Web pages and documents into synthesized speech. The challenge he confronts every day: As many as half of websites are nearly impossible for him to browse.”

And it’s a clear trend that’s starting to take shape, as Forbes reported that JPMorgan Chase & Co., challenges itself daily to create a truly accessible and inclusive environment including its ADA Program dedicated to achieving the firm’s mission to be the bank of choice for people with disabilities by providing their customers with disabilities equal access to the firm’s U.S. products, services and facilities.

Speaking on behalf of JPMorgan Chase, Taskeen Hamidullah-Bahl said, “I think the key to creating awareness of and raising the bar for accessibility is to get people to buy into the concept of “universal design” – this is the idea that accessible design benefits all of us, not just people with disabilities.”

In the CDC’s study, it reported that disability in vision represented 4.6% of the 53,316,677 U.S. adults living with a disability. Mobility was the most frequently reported type (13.0%), followed by disability in cognition (10.6%), independent living (6.5%) and self-care (3.6%).

If you think these numbers are not relevant to you, think again. Advocates of people living with disabilities are increasingly filing lawsuits, claiming companies have a legal obligation to make their websites as accessible. Recent web accessibility lawsuits against Red Roof Inns, the NBA and Toys “R” Us proves that if your website isn’t accessible, you are both missing an opportunity to gain valuable market share and avoid the risk of costly litigation, settlements and loss of business.

And while the Department of Justice delayed a plan to issue accessibility regulations until 2018, in November it said: “The inability to access websites put individuals at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic marketplace and unprecedented access to information.”

Web accessibility is simply good business, not just a legal requirement. It’s a mobile, dynamic world and accessibility has to keep up! Wondering where to start? Here is our advice.

How to Make Accessible Websites

It is relative easy to be proactive with Web accessibility in even the largest organizations. There are four steps we recommend for making accessible websites:

1. Benchmark Your Web Content. Audit your current sites so that you can benchmark your accessibility to assess where improvements can be made. There is no need for this to be a completely manual project. Instead, make use of all resources available including conducting a Web accessibility assessment that uses an automated solution to validate your site against accessibility guidelines, combined with some manual testing. This will give you a feel for how automated solutions work and how they can benefit you as a more permanent solution. Benchmark activity should include:

  • Automated testing of all or most of your domains. A good automated solution can also identify PDFs and other non-HTML content that may need special manual review.
  • Manual testing (by assistive technology experts) of a small number of Web pages in each domain or major area of your website(s). For instance, WCAG requires that the overall structure of the site is logical and an automated solution alone could not make this assessment.
  • Specific manual transaction testing to assess the accessibility of key functionality, such as registering for courses, applying for a job, or other key functionality provided by your website(s).

2. Make Corrections and Refine Training. The benchmark review will help guide you in understanding what types of Web accessibility problems occur on your site(s) and where. If a good automated solution was used for the assessment, it should also identify exactly what lines of code a problem occurred so that your development teams can easily fix the problem(s). If you also included manual testing as part of the benchmarking, it will help prioritize these problems and provide a clear picture of the issues that automated testing cannot check. This information informs your organization of exactly what to fix—and what areas require improved training.

3. Consider Regular Use of an Automated Solution. Regular reviews using an automated solution together with occasional and limited manual reviews will give you clear metrics of your success. It will also help to immediately identify issues as they arise, preventing major problems.

4. Consider Outsourcing. If you just do not have the staff resources to address accessibility, consider having a third party help you get started. There are companies that specialize in this work and can help you avoid a long, steep, and expensive learning curve.

Common Web Accessibility Mistakes

Following the four steps to Web accessibility will help make accessible websites. In our experience helping companies ensure Web compliance, we also run into 10 common accessibility mistakes. These are largely focused on the human factor of creating content instead of the framework for Web accessibility. Check out the Top 10 mistakes.

If these topics hit close to home, we invite you download our Guidance at a Glance: Web Accessibility whitepaper that offers insight into US, industry and international regulations governing Web accessibility and how automated solutions play a key role in addressing accessibility to comply with regulations.


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Ken Nakata

Ken Nakata, JD, CIPP/US is the one of the most well-known attorneys in the area of IT accessibility and is the Director of Cryptzone’s Accessibility Consulting Practice (ACP). Nakata’s work focuses on Web and software accessibility from both a legal and technical perspective. Nakata’s ACP team helps organizations manage the change towards accessibility in all aspects, providing consulting services aimed at shaping their accessibility policies and practices, and evaluating the overall state of their Web properties leveraging Cryptzone’s accessibility solutions. He is also a board member for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP),of which Cryptzone is a founding member.

Nakata worked for twelve years as a Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. He has argued on behalf of the United States government many times before the federal courts and has helped shape the government’s policies for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Nakata also worked as Director of Accessibility and Government Compliance at BayFirst Solutions, a Washington, DC consulting firm.

In 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno presented Nakata with the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Information Technology. In addition to practicing law, Nakata is active in software and web-based technologies, including Java, JavaScript, SQL, and ColdFusion. In July 2001, he was certified by Sun Microsystems as a programmer for the Java 2 Platform. Nakata is a frequent speaker on both law and technology and is equally adept at conducting one-on-one workshops with programmers and developers as well as explaining law and policy to large audiences. He holds a Bachelors of Art degree in mathematics from John Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is admitted to the bars of New York, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and Washington.

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