Making Your Site Accessible, Easy as 1-2-WCAG

You’re sold on the idea of making your website accessible. You understand that web accessibility boosts traffic and conversions. And you understand U.S. law requires accessibility.

So you’re ready—and in fact eager—to make your website accessible to all visitors. But how?

First, acquire a tool to analyze and score the accessibility of your website.

Except you can’t.

Well, technically you can. And I don’t mean for you to interpret what I’m about to say as me trying to dissuade you from picking up one of these tools. It’s just that using any of the current tools to analyze and score the accessibility of your website can be a dicey proposition.

Let me explain by starting at the beginning.

WCAG

If you’ve spent time seriously investigating the issue of website accessibility, then you very likely already know about WCAG.

In case the name rings no bells for you, WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. WCAG was developed by a cooperative of international organizations. Including W3C (the folks who invented the internet) and others. Together they are dedicated to figuring out and explaining what it takes to make content accessible to disabled users.

WCAG proves itself very helpful in steering the development of products designed to evaluate your website for accessibility.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Steering is all the guidelines are good for since they’re just that—guidelines. They are not hard and fast rules.

Developers who follow the guidelines have lots of differing opinions about what WCAG specifies.  Like what it allows, what it discourages, and what it requires.

On top of that, developers must take into account the plethora of website platforms. Not to mention all the user hardware-software choices out there.

Consequently, no clear-cut path to the development of a universally agreed upon website accessibility evaluation tool yet exists.

There’s No Magic Tool to Gauge Accessibility

So there isn’t at this time a tool you can acquire. Not to analyze and score the accessibility of your website.

Eventually, such a tool will exist. But not until everyone everywhere gets on the same page with their interpretations of WCAG. And not until everyone starts using identical hardware and software. Until all of this, no magic tool will be available. One that can tell you: OK, this about your website’s accessibility is good, this is bad, and do this, this, and this to improve it.

Some tools claim they can do all that. Don’t believe them. They unrealistically (and unfairly) inflate user expectations and leave you completely misinformed.

Even so, you can achieve a heightened state of website accessibility without the benefit of a magic tool. Simply adopt WCAG to the best of your understanding and ability.

The Breakdown of WCAG

Distilled to its essence, WCAG asks you to configure your website so that, to users, it is:

Let’s examine those more closely, one at a time.

Perceivable

First, the perceivable nature of your website.

If your site offers non-text content, you need to provide text alternatives for images and captions and other alternatives for multimedia.

Look to create content that can be presented in different ways. Most importantly, without loss of meaning. Among the ways available are assistive technologies.

Explore methods of making it easier for users to see and hear your content.

Operable

Next, operable. This means making all functionality available from a keyboard. Operable also means giving users enough time to read and use the content. It includes avoiding the use of content that can cause people with neurologic disorders to suffer seizures. And providing thoughtful features and extras that help users navigate and find content.

Understandable

Then on to the issue of understandability.

Here, you need to make text readable and understandable. Make content appear and operate in predictable ways. And help users avoid mistakes and be able to correct them.

Robust

Finally, there’s the matter of offering a robust website. You can do this by maximizing its compatibility with current and future user tools.

It's About Success, Not Techniques

It’s important to understand that the real measure of a website’s accessibility comes from your success in living up to the WCAG Guidelines. Not the techniques you used to meet them.

Think about it. All these guidelines do is generalize the conditions necessary for there to be a satisfactory level of accessibility. However, in truth, no health condition is the same for any two people. Moreover, associated with each website is a unique set of accessibility goals-related needs. Consequently, the achievement of these goals may require a skirting of the “rules.”

As such, any scan tool you might use to evaluate accessibility will generate lists of “actions” to take. But those actions may or may not be entirely correct. Therefore, the wisest course is to supplement listed actions with your own knowledge of the principles of accessibility.

The WCAG supports this advice directly:

“While many authors find W3C-documented techniques useful, there may be other ways to meet WCAG success criteria.

“You can use other techniques. Web content could even fail a particular technique test, yet still meet WCAG in a different way.

“Also, content that uses some of the Techniques does not necessarily meet all WCAG success criteria.”

8 Components That Affect User Experience

Up to this point, I have discussed only the considerations that make it possible for people with disabilities to access your website. I have yet to describe any of the eight components that affect user experience. It is the combination of accessibility and user experience. These provide you the means to measure success in honoring and obeying WCAG.

The eight components of user experience are these:

1. The website itself (consisting of its text, images, sound, and other natural information plus its structure and presentation as defined by its markup code).

2. User agents (i.e., web browser and media player).

3. Assistive technologies (these include conventional keyboard and mouse substitutes such as screen readers and input devices).

4. User knowledge of and expertise with the web.

5. Developers.

6. Authoring tools.

7. Evaluation tools.

8. Evaluation methodology (essentially, the availability of a defined web accessibility standard or policy that your organization uses to gauge accessibility).

Permit me to toss into this mix these two definitional observations. Web developers typically use authoring tools and evaluation tools to create web content. People (a.k.a. "users") use web browsers, media players, assistive technologies, or other "user agents" to obtain and interact with the content.

I mention this because you need to appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not even one for the puzzle of optimal accessibility. This fact of life is reflected by WCAG.

Meet The Guidelines

WCAG presents the meeting of guidelines, as the best means for achieving accessibility. Rather than applying specific technical methods for altering the framework of a website. This distinction is very important.

Please bear in mind that, ultimately, your website will be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. That is if all the pieces placed between you and the user interact successfully. And to a large degree whether that can occur depends on how well you meet the WCAG.

You Still Want The Tool

If your heart is set on using a scan tool to assess your website’s accessibility. And to then use the results of that evaluation as the basis for a plan of action, I won’t stop you. Just do so knowing that the results may or may not be reliable. Additionally, be aware that they are unlikely to be replicated by any other scan tool.

If you’re prepared to responsibly use scanning tools for testing your site, you can find a list of tools in the WordPress Handbook.

Conclusion

Still, to my way of thinking, WCAG is the best resource. It's the best one you can lay hands on as you start trying to identify what your site needs to be considered truly accessible.

Would you like to learn more about those guidelines and kick around some ideas for complying with them? Then please drop me a line at hello@valet.io.

Valet Selects Online ADA as Digital Accessibility Partner

Today, Valet, the original solution for Professional WordPress Support and Development, is announcing its partnership with Online ADA.

Online ADA, the leader in digital solutions, expands online access for individuals with disabilities. They help organizations, businesses, and developers achieve and maintain compliance with digital accessibility requirements.

With this partnership, Valet's client websites will now have access to digital accessibility solutions. Ones that pinpoint and resolve issues of accessibility. Therefore ensuring all site visitors enjoy an optimal user experience.

Pyramid stacking from the bottom up: security, speed, usability, traffic and conversion.

Ensuring the best possible user experience for business owners with mission-critical websites is a top priority for Valet. The addition of this partnership is meant to enhance the Usability tier of their Website Health Pyramid.

Valet is now leveraging digital accessibility tools and services to ensure equal access for all. Plus, avoid legal risk from lack of compliance. In addition, Valet can now resolve issues of accessibility for their clients. As well as offer compliance audits and monitoring. Lawsuits for lack of digital accessibility compliance is on a swift and steady rise. Partnering with Online ADA ensures a solid path to compliance with accessibility laws and regulations. Including ADA Title III, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), as well as Section 508 of the American Rehabilitation Act.

Many businesses with online properties previously have had limited options to resolve issues in website accessibility. Issues can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive to remediate. That’s no longer the case now that Valet brings professional expertise in accessibility to the table.

Online ADA is a national leader in digital accessibility solutions. Online ADA’s tools and technology empowers organizations, agencies, and developers across the world to make the internet equally accessible to everyone. We help achieve and maintain digital accessibility compliance for websites, software, and native smartphone applications.

Website and Mobile Apps Accessibility Update: Court Finds Legal Duty to Provide It Under ADA

Better move up to the front of the stove those website and mobile apps accessibility projects you left simmering on the backburner.

Know why? Your chances of losing a lawsuit brought by a disabled person harmed due to website and mobile apps accessibility problems just went up a notch.

But you need worry only if your online properties serve as extensions of a physical enterprise. Also if your physical enterprise operates in the western U.S.

For this you can thank the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 15, it handed down a ruling in favor of a blind man from Los Angeles who sued the Domino’s Pizza chain.

The plaintiff—Guillermo Robles—alleged at trial in 2016 that Domino's violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 by not providing website and mobile apps accessibility.

The ADA requires businesses deemed a “public accommodation” to be accessible by the handicapped. Under the ADA, this includes just about any business open to the public. Like, for instance, a Domino's restaurant.

How the Lawsuit Started

The lawsuit came about after Robles found himself prevented from accessing Domino's online to place a pizza order. He blamed website and mobile apps accessibility issues.

Normally, vision-deprived Robles transacts business via the internet with the assistance of a screen-reading device.

But screen readers work only if their software integrates with the website or mobile app. And that happens only if the website and mobile apps owners take steps to ensure compatibility with the visitors’ equipment.

Domino’s neglected to do so, Robles alleged.

As a result, nothing but silence greeted Robles when he showed up to use Domino’s online pizza-builder tool.

He went away empty-handed and disappointed—not to mention hurt and angry. Robles responded with an action filed in the federal district court just outside Los Angeles.

Website and Mobile Apps Accessibility Defense

Robles came to court armed with some pretty strong arguments. However, Domino’s trumped them all by pinning the blame for Robles’ troubles on the federal government.

Basically, Domino’s said its hands were tied when it came to website and mobile apps accessibility. The company explained that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) promised long ago to supply accessibility complance guidelines. But the DoJ never did.

Domino's asserted this lack of DoJ guidelines and tech support legitimately prevented the company from addressing website and mobile app accessibility.

Consequently, Domino’s bore no responsibility for Robles' harm.

Not so, said Robles in response. He pointed to accessibility guidelines devised by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and argued that Domino's could have instead used those. The W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines offered the advantage of ready availability, he argued. Moreover, the U.S. government employed them extensively.

But, in the end, the district court judge agreed with Domino’s on the guidelines argument.

Plaintiff Fought On

The judge even labeled declaring the company liable in the absence of government-drafted ADA-compliance guidelines a violation of Domino’s constitutional due process rights.

Website and mobile apps accessibility issues aired in court.
Strong arguments were presented by both sides at trial and during the appeal. Seen here is not one of the lawyers. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

To avoid a due-process breach, the judge dismissed the case against Domino’s.

However, Robles fought on. He appealed the dismissal to the Ninth Circuit, which heard oral arguments in the case just a few months ago.

Upshot: a three-judge panel reversed the dismissal and sent the case back to the lower court. This time, though, a 25-page appellate opinion will guide the trial judge's decision-making.

Speaking of which, that opinion holds sway only in the federal district courts of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. But federal courts outside those locations can if they want draw on its reasoning in deciding website and mobile apps accessibility cases of their own.

Yes, It's a Public Accommodation If...

The appeals court’s opinion held the following:

In reaching its decision, the appellate panel addressed what it considered the case’s overarching question. Under the ADA, do websites and mobile apps that support places of public accommodation become a place of public accommodation themselves?

Short answer: yes.

The panel reasoned that, since Domino’s website and mobile apps allow the general public to engage in many of the same business actions possible while physically visiting a Domino’s restaurant, those online properties qualify as extensions of the brick-and-mortar operation.

Therefore, the ADA's requirements for accessibility apply as much to the online extensions as to the physical restaurant, the panel held.

As for violating Domino’s due process rights? The panel said the DoJ's promise to provide guidelines and technical support served as fair notice years ago that the DoJ views online extensions as public accommodations.

Robles Could Still Lose

Domino’s lost at the appellate level, but might yet win again at trial.

Observers say the panel’s opinion offers Domino’s a couple of lines of defense that just might carry the day.

First, Domino’s could argue that its website gives the blind like Robles an alternative way to order pizza without use of a screen reader. Robles need only dial the supplied customer-service telephone number that appears on the homepage.

Of course, that defense works only if the customer-service number is sounded out in an audio clip or video that autoplays as soon as the blind visitor lands on the page.

Second, Domino’s could argue that its website and mobile apps exist not mainly to sell pizzas but to instead educate the public about the pizza choices the restaurant offers. That defense is possible because the appeals court was silent as to how much inaccessibility users needed to encounter before it could be said an ADA violation occurred.

More of This Ahead

A case similar to this is currently before the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the second case, the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain seeks a reversal of the trial-court loss it suffered at the hands of a different blind man who found the grocery giant’s website inaccessible.

The lawyer for the plaintiff in the Domino’s case said in interviews that he expects in the years ahead to see lots more cases along these same lines.

You might even recall that Valet warned about this sort of development a while ago.

If you have questions about accessibility and about how to make it work most advantageously for you, please feel welcome to reach out to us. We’d love to be of help.

And be sure to ask about scheduling a Valet ADA Compliance Consulting assessment of your website’s accessibility health. It’s an essential first step in planning your journey to success with accessibility.

IMPORANT: Nothing in this post is intended to be offered as—nor is it—legal advice or counsel. If you're concerned about your accessibility status or risks under the law, we urge you to consult your lawyer.

Things That Can Cause You to Have Website Performance Problems

 

Website performance problems bedevil you. You realized this after it became obvious to you that people visiting your site never really do what you hoped.

Few ventured from page to page, meaning few discovered all that you offered.

Few read your content and absorbed your ideas or embraced your suggestions.

Few clicked the links and buttons you set out for them. Few completed and submitted your forms. Few asked to chat with your team.

Now you wonder how this happened, how you came to suffer website performance problems.

Website Performance Problems are Bad

Consider yourself fortunate to wonder such a thing. Often, website performance problems go unrecognized.

“A lot of times you don’t know there’s a problem until something major happens,” says Mason James, co-founder of Valet and its head of business development. “That becomes the tipping point. It’s then that people realize they need to start digging into it to find out what’s wrong.”

Valet performs website health assessments that get to the root of the problem. If you own or manage a poor-performing website, Valet’s diagnostics give you the big picture.

“Many clients come to us because there is a specific problem,” Mason adds. “For example, the trigger event might be that one of your execs loaded your site on her iPhone and had a terrible experience. Or you received a message from Google telling you that you lack a fully encrypted, secure connection.

“But sometimes you just have a feeling. The site feels like it’s running slow. It doesn’t appear to be loading as quickly as normal.”

Mason says there is a temptation to do nothing when the symptoms of a poor-performing website appear.

“In some cases, the urge to ignore the problem springs from a misguided hope that the situation will resolve itself given enough time,” he explains. “In other cases, people do nothing because they’re in denial. They delude themselves into thinking nothing is wrong, so why worry.”

Reasons for Website Performance Problems

Here are some of the most common reasons why you might have a poor-performing website.

Crawl errors. These make it difficult for Google and other search engines to properly index your website and its pages. As a result, your site turns up far from the top of the search rankings. Since people can’t find your site through Google, they don’t visit.

Mobile unfriendliness. Website performance problems arise from owning an online property that displays better on a desktop than on a phone. The big problem created by this: people bounce when they encounter difficulty utilizing a site reached via a mobile device. And when they bounce, you lose the opportunity to engage and convert them.

Messy navigation. The more links and menus you put on each page, the worse things get. A page bursting with page options looks daunting. Because it is. Too many choices paralyze the mind and can make visitors run for the nearest exit—assuming they can find it among all the clutter. And if paralysis doesn’t set in, confusion surely will. In any event, navigation overkill equals website performance problems.

Two Fundamental Sources of Problems

These two problems deserve most of the blame for your website performance problems.

Skirting of best practices. Best practices are proven ways of doing things for the attainment of superior results. For example, it’s considered a best practice to make your website accessible by visitors with disabilities. Another: search box in the header and signup box in the footer.

Mistakes in coding. This is a major source of website performance problems. Reason: coding touches every aspect of your website. It takes surprisingly little in the way of faulty coding to wreck things. A syntax error here and a transposition there. And before you know it, you’ve got security holes, slow loading speeds, instability, and a more.

So what can you do if you have website performance problems? Contact Valet and ask for a website health assessment. If you’ve been following our series of earlier posts, you already know that Valet is your go-to source for not just a site health diagnosis but also the remedies to make your site better.

Drop us a line here. Tell us you’re concerned that website performance problems may be hurting your business strategic ambitions.

Accessibility as the User Experiences It—Or Not

Your Goal: Accessibility for All

Accessibility means what it implies—unfettered web use.

Wanna know what it feels like to use a fettered web site? Just go online and try navigating your own website for an hour without the benefit of a mouse or trackpad.

Frustrating, much? Absolutely. But this is what people with impairments encounter on a daily basis when they visit websites lacking accessibility.

Don’t brush aside their dilemma. Impaired users account for some 20 percent of all who surf the Web. Since billions use the Internet, those who do so challenged by a physical or neurologic disadvantage represent a sizable population.

However, accessibility authorities note that no two impaired users are exactly alike. That means no two impaired users possess the exact same needs when it comes to using the Internet and visiting your website.

Twenty percent of Internet users have a physical or neurological disability that prevents them from freely navigating their way around websites. Website designers have an obligation to make sure their pages are built for accessibility by everyone. Photo credit: Gary Radler/Getty Images

lmpairments Most-Encountered

Since no two impaired users are alike, you might think the solution is to anticipate all possible impairment conditions that users may bring to your website. But that's likely to prove impossible.

For this reason, we at Valet recommend you instead configure your website to offer accessibility for users with the most often-encountered impairments.

Those accessibility impairments fall into six broad categories:

Let’s look at these one by one.

First, vision. The visual impairments include blindness, diminished vision, and various degrees of color blindness.

Hearing disabilities include deafness and an assortment of hearing impairments, such as age-related diminished auditory capacity (better known as older people who are hard of hearing).

And All the Rest

Mobility impairments as they  relate to web use refer mainly to an inability to use one’s hands. Lack of mobility can come from musculoskeletal injury or a brain condition or both.

Sources of musculoskeletal-related mobility impairment include birth defects, aftereffects of serious disease, and physical injury.

Typically responsible for brain-related mobility impairment are Parkinson's Disease, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, stroke, and other conditions that produce tremors, muscle slowness, loss of fine muscle control, and further problems related to motor control.

Cognition means the user suffers from cognitive disabilities. Of various origins, these conditions affect memory, attention span, developmental "maturity," problem-solving abilities, and logic skills.

Disabilities of the intellect stem from developmental disabilities and learning disabilities (among them dyslexia and dyscalculia).

Lastly, susceptibility to paroxysms. This is a medically correct way of saying the user may suffer a seizure if he or she spends time looking at a screen containing strobe or flashing effects.

Accessibility in the Trenches

To truly understand the issues of accessibility, try exploring it from the vantage point of those with accessibility issues.

We found eight articles that we believe will help you do exactly that. Listed in no particular order, the lowdown on each continues below.

  1. THE TOOLS PEOPLE USE. This article describes the equipment impaired users rely on to access your website. The discussion centers around seven tools in particular and explains why you need to design your website for compatibility with each of them.
  2. SHOW AND TELL. Washington State University created a mock website to illustrate the typical web design problems that inhibit access by people with disabilities. As soon as you arrive at the home page, WSU throws down the gauntlet and challenges you to spot all 18 of the accessibility problems they intentionally embedded there. Happy hunting!
  3. IN THEIR OWN WORDS. Watch this two-minute video to find out what online life is really like for the differently-abled. The consensus: websites inhospitable to those with disabilities get bypassed in favor of welcoming websites. Pay heed, marketers.
  4. VISIONARY APPROACHES. Spend a few minutes with this enlightening Gizmodo piece explaining how the blind access the internet and it quickly becomes apparent that text-to-speech software only scratches the surface when it comes to creating site accessibility for the sightless. I found myself particularly caught up in the part about the conceptual difficulties of using left-right reading tools.
  5. READ IT AND WEEP. The YouTuber who created this minute-long video of her screen reader reeling off the contents of the New York Times home page makes that point that even the biggest and best online properties fall short of the mark when it comes to accessibility.
  6. READY TO VISIT YOU. Ever wonder how the blind navigate the Internet? This YouTube video introduces you to a blind person in possession of a truly dazzling set of keyboard skills. He exemplifies the ability and eagerness of the disabled to visit and engage with accessible websites.
  7. COLORING OUTSIDE THE LINES. Smashing Magazine offers some great information about an impairment not always recognized as accessibility related: color blindness. According to the magazine, color blindness affects 4.5 percent of the population, but 8 percent of all men. One of the accessibility issues for the colorblind revolves around their inability to see links highlighted in color. The article suggests you solve this problem by underlining links. It helps too to label your site’s colors in text. Read the article for more colorblind accessibility tips.
  8. A VERY SOUND WAY OF THINKING. Think it's no problem for a deaf person to visit a website brimming with visual wonders? Think again. The fact is, without accommodation for hearing impairments, many would-be visitors find themselves prevented from enjoying sound-effects, music clips, podcasts, and video soundtracks. This article gives you a day-in-the-life portrait of a deaf person who attempts to engage with online content.

Plenty of good reading and viewing in each of those articles. However, you can easily find much more just by conducting an online search of your own.

The thing you should take away from all these writings is that the diversity of medical issues affecting millions of users greatly complicates efforts to make websites truly accessible.

We at Valet understand very well the difficulties of creating accessible websites. We know the challenges you face trying to open up your site to the differently-abled.

Which is why we encourage you to reach out to us. We welcome the opportunity to share with you our ideas about website accessibility—along with our technical expertise in configuring your website so that more people can use and enjoy it.

Just drop us a line at hello@valet.io. Anytime.

Web Accessibility is a Problem Only If You Allow It to Be One

Let's say you have full use of your body and all its senses. If so, you’re unlikely to give much thought to whether your website meets minimum standards of accessibility.

Being able-bodied makes it easy to assume that everyone who comes to your site just happily clicks away. Simply by plopping into a chair or sofa and effortlessly consuming the awaiting cavalcade of sights, sounds, and tactile feedback.

But in real life, that isn’t necessarily so. Therefore, as the owner of a website, you can’t in this day and age be cavalier about accessibility. This also includes the content creators and the like.

Why You Can't Ignore Accessibility

For one, the law won’t let you.

For another, the realities of doing business online today demand you make your site accessible for everyone. From those who have impaired vision or hearing to those who have little or no use of hands or arms. Or who have any number of physiological or neurological disorders limiting their ability to engage with your web pages.

Benefits of Becoming Accessible

You may be surprised to learn that there is a potentially sizable return on investment. One that you'll find after making your website more accessible to the disabled.

SEO

Indeed, accessibility and SEO are intertwined—improve the former, and the latter naturally follows right along. And who doesn’t want better SEO?

Design

Accessibility can also save you from making bad design decisions. Not just decisions that might cause visitors to go “Ewww” in response to what they see. But also bad decisions that could actually cause your search rankings to fall.

For these reasons (and plenty of others), we at Valet believe a strong business case exists in favor of making websites accessible.

A website lacking accessibility prevents people with physical or neurologic impairments from utilizing it—effectively locking them out of opportunities to learn things, sign up for services, or buy promoted products.

Even Statistics Back Accessibility

Consider: 51 percent of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants are online. That’s at least 3.4 billion people roaming the ether and visiting websites.

Approximately 20 percent of that same 7.6 billion have impairments. That’s roughly 1.52 billion people.

Granted, not all of them use the Internet. But enough do that it ought to give you pause. Think about the massive number of people who cannot freely use and enjoy the Internet without some form of assistance.

Many of these differently-abled individuals might actually be in your target market. The statistical odds certainly favor that possibility.

The Other Type of Accessibility

This isn’t to suggest that website owners and operators, in general, are without awareness of accessibility. It’s just that their awareness isn't typically focused on it. It's instead focused on a type of accessibility different from the one being discussed in this post.

The type on which they’re likely focused has to do with mobile versions of a website. Whether a website will be responsive to visitors using the latest mobile device.

The type most are NOT thinking about has to do with whether everyone can access their website. Like if a blind person who independently visits their site will be able to “see” posted images. And this can only happen if the site owner or manager made the effort to make this possible. Because only if the alt-text descriptions of those images are added will this blind visitor even know they’re there.

Eventually, most website owners and managers will get it. They'll recognize their responsibility to configure their websites in ways that allow access by users possessing different combinations of senses and physical capabilities.

Leading the Charge to Accessibility

Most website owners and managers will sooner or later catch on. Because that is the direction in which things are headed, thanks to a spreading movement to make accessibility the norm. At the forefront of this movement are U.S. institutions of higher education.

They are leading the charge because of two federal laws. The first is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). And the second is Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Both these statutes require post-secondary schools to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity. The opportunity to participate in and fully benefit from the programs in which they are enrolled.

Included in these laws are provisions. These require the schools to do all this by making reasonable affirmative accommodation for disabled individuals.

A quick online search of the phrase “university web accessibility policy” yields page after page of links. They take you to school-generated statements of compliance with these federal laws.

How good a job the universities have actually done in hewing to both the letter and spirit of the laws is a matter of opinion. However, there is no disputing the fact that achieving compliance can be a challenge.

Jeremy Felt can attest to that. He is the senior WordPress developer at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Not long ago, he delivered a presentation in which he described the hard work of bringing his school into compliance. He explained that WSU was pressed to act in response to complaints lodged through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights.

The Origins of Accessibility

As discussed, website accessibility is a serious concern for legal, social, and economic reasons.

However, you may be surprised to learn that this concern did not materialize overnight. Indeed, the issue traces back to the earliest days of the public internet.

When the commercial Internet was still in its infancy, World Wide Web inventor had this to say about accessibility:

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.

Timothy Berners-Lee

Prof. Berners-Lee was also the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). And at the time that he made this statement, there weren’t a whole lot of people using the Internet. In 1997, he launched the IPO for the Web Accessibility Initiative. And only about 1.7 percent of the world’s population was active online.

Sadly, much of what Berners-Lee hoped to accomplish languished during the decade that followed,. Even as multiplied millions swelled the ranks of online users.

However, Berners-Lee’s vision did not end up consigned to the dustbin of history. It has resurfaced, brimming with new energy and purpose.

Thus, as urged by Berner-Lee, in the development community today, a vibrant, ongoing discussion is taking place. Discussions about how to make the interwebs accessible.

This conversation inspires more and more leaders from each software niche. Encouraged to integrate accessibility into their development practices and into their dialogues with clients.

Your Role in Promoting Accessibility

Do you say you’re interested in joining this conversation but aren’t a developer? No problem. You can still participate. Even by simply talking with the Internet builders in your orbit. Ask them to help remove all barriers preventing those with disabilities from using the Internet.

Or, if you’d like to engage on a larger scale, there are ways to do that too. There are hundreds of conversations taking place in forums, chat channels, and other places. Where you can learn (and contribute ideas of your own) about how to make accessibility a website core-feature rather than an afterthought.

As an aside, you’ll be interested to know that WordPress is busily incorporating greater accessibility within its source code.

Conclusion

Here at Valet, we’re all about website healthcare—and we view accessibility as a critical component of that.

That’s why we regularly and enthusiastically take part in those developer-community conversations.

We participate because we want to be on the cutting-edge of accessibility solutions. We also do it because we want to be able to pass those solutions along to you.

As a business owner, you shouldn’t have to worry about the details. Everything down to the nuts and bolts of making your website compliant with accessibility law. You shouldn’t have to worry about your competitors getting ahead of you in the quest for greater accessibility.

Those are worries you can and should hand over to Valet. It's one way to keep yourself focused on your core activities.

Really, web accessibility is a problem only if you allow it to be one.

Do you have questions about accessibility? Or about how to make it the most advantageous for you? Please feel welcome to ask us. We’d love to be of help.

Contact us at hello@valet.io.

And be sure to ask about scheduling a Valet ADA Compliance Consulting assessment of your website’s accessibility health. It’s an essential first step in planning your journey to success with accessibility.