Using some real-life scenarios, we share strategies to help get your team on board with accessibility and the issues that can be avoided by utilizing these strategies.
Website accessibility is always a work in progress. Whether you’re a member of a large company with outside consultants or a small agency – it’s vital that everyone associated with the team is committed to accessibility. When one or more team members aren’t mindful of accessibility, it’s surprisingly easy for organizations to become doomed to pushing that accessibility boulder up the hill for all eternity — just to have come rolling back down (and spending a lot of money in the process).
Strategies for organizations with many hands on deck
It’s not uncommon for organizations to deal with multiple content creators, from public relations (PR) staff to web agencies, to tech teams (in-house and outsourced), to hiring writers to create content. Outside consultants can allow agencies to focus on company goals without juggling too many balls in-house – and that’s a good thing! However, what happens when the company adopts web accessibility standards or is required to comply for any number of reasons? In a perfect world, the stars align, and all the content creator planets fall into perfect orbit around the accessible organization. However, that isn’t always the case.
If you’re an entity working with a lot of content creators, consider the following:
- The trickle down effect: In larger organizations, the folks adding content to the website often aren’t writing it. Consider who’s work ends up on the website and make sure they’re keeping accessibility in mind. This may require accessibility training for more staff than those directly managing your website.
- Third-party planning: If you’re working with a PR firm (or other third-party entity), ask about their knowledge of accessibility. A PR representative may recommend you add a feature to the website or create a post for you to publish. However, if they’re not familiar with standard accessibility practices, their recommendations could boost your image, but decrease accessibility compliance. If they don’t adhere to accessibility best practices, it may be time for a conversation.
- Utilize tools you may already have: Many popular programs (like Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat) have built-in accessibility checkers. As your team is getting used to being mindful of accessibility, these accessibility checkers can be incredibly useful while a team is learning to recognize best practice.
Ultimately, UNDERSTANDING is critical. When a person knows WHY something is an issue, they’re more likely to successfully avoid it than someone who is simply TOLD not to do something. Therefore, we always encourage teams to commit to basic accessibility training and learn about its cause and effect as opposed to blindly following the fundamentals.
Strategies for when caught between consultants
When you have a new or existing consultant (for example someone working with you on sales growth or search engine optimization (SEO)) who doesn’t yet know much about accessibility, and you are also working with an accessibility specialist, it’s possible to get caught between the consultants.
However, it could prevent your website from being accessible if the gap isn’t bridged. Fortunately (and unfortunately), we’ve been there and have suggestions for handling a situation where a trusted team member doesn’t seem enthusiastic about accessibility:
- Educate yourself as the site-owner: We’ve seen a number of situations where a client was caught between a long-time associate (SEO specialist, on-site webmaster, friend who used to dabble in websites) and an accessibility specialist. In these situations, it is SO important you as the site owner know what the disagreement is about to make the most informed, unbiased decision.
While both parties [hopefully] have your best interest at heart, it’s your company, blog, or organization and its fate depends on you. We’ve witnessed instances of site owners who had blind faith in a more familiar partner who didn’t yet understand accessibility, which led to their site being more inaccessible later. Ultimately, the legal responsibility for being accessible lies with the site owner.
- Encourage teamwork: If your associate seems standoffish, sometimes it takes a little nudge. Whether it’s reassurance or expressing an expectation, sometimes consultants need to be reminded they’re part of a team. Everyone who works with clients does well to be reminded that outside consultations can be a way to enhance the site’s growth and make it even more wonderful. A beautiful, accessible website truly takes a village.
We’re not telling you to ignore your trusted associates, and definitely not telling you every accessibility specialist is always right. But as far as awareness goes, accessibility specialists are still the new kids on the block in terms of being associated as an integral part of a successful website. Many are welcomed onto a project with open arms. Still many are shunned and not taken seriously by people who haven’t recognized accessibility as a need (for whatever reason). Suppose you’ve decided to push towards accessibility and feel like you have a team member who’s resisting. In that case, you may want to have a one-on-one chat and help get that person on board before a positive and progressive project turns into resentment.
Strategies for dealing with designers and developers who are accessibility beginners
We can NOT stress this enough: everyone has to start somewhere. We talk to people almost every day who sheepishly admit they’re only now getting on board with accessibility. They’re struggling with the overwhelming nature of it all. And you know what? That’s OK! No one is born with the WCAG success criterion downloaded into their brains. We know many people who want their website to be accessible but are struggling with their in-house designers and developers being mindful of accessibility. Whether they’re ready and willing or being resistant, we have some suggestions for you:
- Training: Yes, training – seems simple, yes? If you have in-house developers and designers, the most effective way to encourage them to embrace accessibility may be to initiate one of the many affordable accessibility courses available today (personally, we like to suggest Deque University). While budgeting for these courses may seem intimidating, it will most likely save time and money in the long run. Many of the big accessibility lawsuits in the media could have been prevented by running their employees through an accredited accessibility training program.
- Ask for assistance: If you’re struggling to identify possible accessibility issues while remediating your website, there are many affordable accessibility consultants who would be happy to help with a project and help educate your designers and developers. There are tons of forums, social media groups, and meetups filled with accessibility specialists who freely offer advice and suggestions for a project when you feel like you’re in the dark. It’s better to ask for help than to cross your fingers and hope you’re doing everything correctly.
- Encourage tools and checklists: HUNDREDS of accessibility tools and checklists are available using a simple Google search. These are a GREAT way for designers and developers to use while learning accessibility to help keep them on the right track. Here are a few of our favorites:
- WebAIM Contrast Checker – Perfect and informative for making sure your colors have enough contrast
- Accessibility Insights for Web Chrome Extension – Our favorite feature here is the reading order checker!
- Axe by Deque browser extension – An excellent automatic checker with tons of neat tools
- Google Lighthouse browser extension – A powerful little browser tool that will run an accessibility report on your website. It will also check SEO and performance (you can check for desktop AND mobile)
There are, of course, many more tools available than the ones mentioned. We encourage you to find the ones that work well for you while navigating the sometimes murky waters of accessibility.
Every team is different, so it’s nearly impossible to solve issues with blanket statements. But if accessibility is important to you (whether you’re a client, run a blog, part of an agency, or a high-level manager), doing what you can to make it important to your team is vital to a successful web project. We can tell you more horror stories, we can throw statistics around, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to figure out what methods work the best with your team.
Accessibility is important and goes much deeper than simply being compliant or trying to avoid a lawsuit. But if team members or consultants don’t share that same “all-in” mentality, it can sometimes be a challenging process. If you take anything from this post, it’s that persistence and knowledge are mandatory. Training is way too affordable to overlook; and, if you’re not taking accessibility seriously, neither will your team.
How did you get your team on board with accessibility? Are you still struggling with the transition? Share your stories in the comments below!
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