Web Accessibility Policy Statements : Best Practices
A first step on the path to web accessibility and litigation avoidance is to publish a "Web Accessibility Statement" to your website. Such a statement serves a number of different roles and audiences. Not only will this better serve those with disabilities, it can also serve to reduce your legal exposure.
Benefits of a Web Accessibility Statement
- To the potential plaintiff firm trolling, an accessibility statement (placed prominently in the footer) serves as a flag to say "we're on this, move along". There is so much ripe low hanging fruit, that most trolls will simply skip to the next website on the list.
- Such a statement demonstrates intent. In court, such a statement shows that this initiative has management buy-in.
- For the people that count: visitors with disabilities, you want to communicate your intent, your commitment, and a path for communication so that the individual can be helped.
Web Accessibility Policy v Statement
While this may seem like semantics, these terms do matter. A policy is an internal document that outlines the goals and process to acheive the stated goals. A statement is a public declaration of goals and intent. The tone of the statement should be very thoughtful. Put yourself into the shoes of a person with a disability that is struggling to use your website. So write with empathy and a voice that is real. Avoid legal-speak. And if you have other initiatives designed to serve the disabled community, consider leading with those.
Web Accessibility Examples and Best Practices
As an example, one that I like is Capital One's accessibility commitment statement. Its very simple. In reviewing many of these statements, too often companies get into the nitty gritty of spec versions, testing tools used, frequency of auditing, and such. Don't do that. That may increase exposure.
Here, Capital One simply starts by saying that they're committed to following WCAG and ARIA specifications. Note they don't get into even what version or level. Then, how to get in touch with them. Finally, they show off their goodwill toward people with disabilities - actions speak louder than words. Simple.
Additional Examples of Website Accessibility Statements
Chipotle - also states that they are using an independent accessibiity consultant to perform periodic audits (fantastic idea)
LL Bean - standard
Community America Credit Union - interesting note about 3rd party vendors.
Nature.com - intersting that it includes a VPAT statement. The Voluntary Produce Accessibility Template is a format for documenting the accessbility of a product by Sect 508 standards (WCAG 2.0 A, AA).
What If Our Website Isn't Accessible Yet? Should We Still Publish A Statement?
Now, in Capital One's case, they have already been through a full audit and remediation process. That is likely not your situation, else you wouldn't be reading this. Regardless. The answer is YES. Not having a website accessibility statement communicates that you're ignorant of this issue and that you don't care about them.
If you are at the front-end of this process and your site has not been fully audited and remediated, then to start you're going to want to instead express your intent.... "we are in the process of.... our goal is to..."
I recommend simply making sure you've included two things: the goals you're striving for, and how to reach you for assistance (ESSENTIAL). If you engage with the disability community and have accolades to show, then great.
Announce Your intent and commitment.
- Your wish is to make your website accessible to all visitors. Its not yet.
- Your goal is to provide universal access to your website by following WCAG 2.0 (current WCAG 2.1) A, AA guidelines. But this will be a work in progress.
- Its ok to publish this before you reach conformity. That said, it might be good to first do a thorough audit (software + manual + assistive technogy testing) and at least check off some of the basic items before publishing. It depends on the nature of your brand and audience.
Provide Clear Path for Communication
Its important to enable a person with a complaint or need of assistance to contact you.
- Phone number - bonus if toll free manned 24-7
- Chat service (that is accessible)
- Form (that is accessible)
Now, its through this path that any legitimate claim will likely begin. So, its very important that this path be monitored and responded to carefully. Your customer service reps on the receiving end, should have a script and document any interaction. Better yet, use a unique number, email, chat, form that directs to a trained manager.
Final best practice for web accessibility statements: location location location.
Please contact us if you have more queestions or require web accessibility consulting, audits, or remediation guidance.