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Demonstrating Accessibility and Compliance

Timothy Quinlan, Senior UX Architect

What would you do if your company receives a formal letter from a lawyer or government agency citing accessibility violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

(If you aren’t familiar with ADA, WCAG, and other accessibility guidelines, start out with our first blog in this series.)

Even if your company is investing in making your website compliant, you may be missing the critical step of demonstrating compliance. The concept is simple: you want to be able to provide evidence of all the work you have done to make your website accessible and ultimately show your company’s commitment to accessibility. 

Compliance vs Accessibility
No website is 100 percent accessible 100 percent of the time. That may sound surprising, but accessibility professionals will be the first to admit it. Compliance is the goal, but it’s not a permanent reality. Websites are typically too large, complex and ever-changing.

People with disabilities and accessibility advocates are fighting for accessible websites, not compliant ones. The goal of compliance with ADA and other laws is to provide a path to ensuring websites are accessible for all people. Plaintiffs are not trying to get rich. They are high schoolers trying to apply to college, parents looking up medical information for their children, and employees trying to do their job.  

How to Demonstrate Compliance 
Let’s return to our scenario: you get a letter from a lawyer or government agency citing accessibility violations under ADA. Your company has done a lot of work to ensure compliance, but maybe a new integration or recent update has introduced new errors. How do you respond? 

For many companies, it’s with panic. 

Instead, picture this: you already have everything you need to convincingly demonstrate the work you’ve done to make your website accessible, and you have the process and resources in place to address any valid violations quickly and without legal action. 

The rest of this article will outline the steps you can take today to make sure you can calmly and effectively prepare. 



Create a Website Accessibility Plan 

The first step is to create a website accessibility plan for your company. The goal is to demonstrate that your company understands accessibility and has invested in practical solutions to ensure compliance. The plan should cover the following topics:
 
- List of the targeted laws, regulations and compliance levels. 
- Timeline of key tasks for reaching and maintaining accessibility. 
- Roles and responsibilities of the people involved in building and maintaining the website.
- Description of how the integrated tools and technology will support accessibility. 
- Outline of the content and digital assets available on the website that have unique accessibility needs. 
- Training plan for ensuring the people responsible for website maintenance have the right knowledge and skills.
- A list of tools, technology and content that are not currently accessible or compliant—with details on when and how you will address these in the future. 

This plan is not a prescriptive one-size-fits all document. It should be customized for each company and website.

Document All Accessibility Efforts
Document everything your company has done to create and maintain an accessible website. You don’t want to be in a courtroom saying, “Trust us, it’s part of our process.” Everyone contributing to the website should understand their role and how they should document the work they’ve done to ensure accessibility. 

Here are the basic documentation components: 

- Inclusion in statements of work and contracts.
- Accessibility assessment of the current website when appropriate. 
- Accessibility reviews of design deliverables.
- Accessibility reviews of HTML/CSS prototypes.
- Accessibility reviews of final build.
- Communications with external teams and vendors. 
- Documentation by external teams and vendors on their role in accessibility and compliance.  

The documentation should span the entire process of a website redesign and the accessibility remediation effort as well as ongoing maintenance and updates. 

Plan for Training
Compliance is not a one-time task. Training is also a critical part of the continued maintenance that’s required. Each role should understand the guidelines they need to follow to ensure compliance with training plans for each role including the following:

- Onboarding and foundational responsibilities.
- Regular reviews and open communication with managers and the acting accessibility coordinator.
- Ongoing continuing education. 
- Process for accessing and sharing accessibility resources.

If possible, also provide access to supplementary training such as webinars, conferences and workshops.



Provide Users with Resources and Support 

There may be an occasional instance where someone is struggling with accessing information on your website, even if your company has done everything it can to make the website accessible. To address this issue, consider offering these resources and support options:

- Description of your website’s accessibility features
- Contact channel for feedback about accessibility issues 
- Relevant resources and references on compliance and accessibility features 

By providing these practical and meaningful resources, users can see that your company has anticipated their needs and provided a bridge to support their experience.

Choose Preparation Not Panic
If your company is already investing in making your website compliant, be sure to capture every aspect of that effort. If your company is just getting started, then you have the opportunity to document and demonstrate compliance from the beginning. 

Either way, careful documentation does more than demonstrate the work you’ve done; the care you put into documenting your efforts becomes evidence in itself as to how seriously you take accessibility. 

Good documentation will also empower you to meet any legal challenge head-on. Any remediation required will be easy to implement, and ultimately, more people will be able to access the information and services on your website, which is really the whole point.  

Note: This article is not legal advice and provides no guarantees for the outcome of legal action. If you are interested in legal guidance, consult directly with a legal professional specialized in website accessibility and disability law. 

This is the third in a five-part series on website accessibility. Visit the start of the series here. In our next blog, we will discuss the actual steps that content authors, software developers and designers need to take in order to make websites accessible. In the meantime, if you need assistance in evaluating the accessibility of your website, contact R2integrated at www.r2integrated.com/contact.

 

About the author: Timothy Quinlan

As the Sr. UX Architect at R2i, Timothy Quinlan’s expertise lies in user-centered design, driving usability for websites, user interfaces, and dynamic content systems based on user research.  Timothy has 8 years experience translating user and business needs into a strong strategic foundation and remaining involved throughout the project lifecycle to ensure a killer UX. He brings a deep knowledge of web accessibility, specializing in compliance, education, and training to empower organizations to meet accessibility guidelines across industries like higher ed, health care, B2B, and non profits and associations.

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