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  • Hiram Kuykendall

Getting Smart on Digital Accessibility: Top 5 Things You Need to Know

Updated: Mar 25



Digital Accessibility is critical to access and inclusion. For a company that may be looking to get smart on digital accessibility, here are the top 5 things they need to know.


1. It is not a quick fix -- Accessibility is a program, not a process.


Many people we talk to think they can get a one-time audit, give the results to the developer, and then that is it. For technology, accessibility has to be baked into each step to include design, coding, and testing. And this requirement to keep designing, testing, and coding will never end.


2. People underestimate the importance of governance. Having an accessibility policy and defined ownership helps drive accessibility in the organization. There is a good framework called the Policy-Driven Accessibility Adoption for Accessibility created by NASCIO – the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. In short, the PDAA is an excel document that walks you through accessibility maturity questions. At the bottom, it gives you a score. What I like about this framework are the accompanying documents that have estimated times to create a mature accessibility governance structure.

A. https://www.microassist.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/201608MLY-PDAA-FINAL-acc.pdf

B. https://www.nascio.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/NASCIO_-Accessability_In_IT_Procurment_Part_1a.pdf

C. https://www.nascio.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/NASCIO_-Accessability_In_IT_Procurment_Part_2a.pdf


3. Remember the supporting systems. Many people focus on web-based technologies. What is frequently forgotten are the supporting systems. For example, the FAQ system, the training videos, the customer-facing documents, etc. This blind spot often exists even for organizations that prioritize accessibility.


4. Keep up Compliance. I hear clients say it seems the digital accessibility guidelines change frequently and ask how they can keep up and ensure that they are in compliance.

First, WCAG accessibility guidelines have only changed once in 10 years, and I do not see them changing again soon. Second, every organization must find its way, but the following two actions seem to be a common pattern when addressing complaints for people who produce websites, web applications, and mobile apps.


A. Stop the bleeding. Get with the development teams and integrate at least automated testing into your current practices. Ideally, you want the team to embrace automated and manual testing using the same assistive technologies as a person with a disability.


B. Create an Accessibility Policy. Without executive-level buy-in, accessibility will not be a priority for the organization. One way to elevate executive buy-in is to adopt an accessibility policy that involves executive approval, if not direct involvement.


Once you have done these two things, the road gets a bit more specific based on organization type and industry.


5. Address complaints. I hear clients say “our company has gotten complaints about our digital accessibility, what do we need to do? ”


If the complaint is from an individual, immediately respond to them and work toward solving their issue. The best way to avoid legitimate legal action is not to ignore the individual. And one of the best ways you can facilitate communication is to have an accessibility statement on your website that has contact information that is actively monitored.


If the complaint is in the form of a lawsuit under Title III of the ADA, then seek out competent counsel who specializes in the accessibility industry.


For an industry regulated by the federal government, for example, an institution of higher education, an action such as an Office of Civil Rights Complaint or DOJ action will have a defined resolution path.


The most frequent next step is to have the product in question tested for accessibility by a knowledgeable third party. That is what we do at Microassist. We work with organizations to test and remediate accessibility issues and create accessibility governance structures to facilitate long-term change. The quicker you get a product into compliance, the less risk you have in the short term. The better your governance structure, the more likely the organization changes will be persistent.


Getting smart on digital accessibility is imperative to advancing access and inclusion. We encourage clients to consider a complaint as your invitation to increase the maturity of your organization. Just like when designing accessible physical spaces, digital accessibility must be baked into each step along the way.


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