Accessibility & Website Compliance

By Nick Adkins

Recently there’s been a growing concern over website accessibility. We are often asked what it takes to be compliant with the current WCAG 2.0 and (upcoming) 2.1. Here at Wallop, we’ve crafted a thorough three-step process to meet this demand for travel and hospitality clients.

Our accessibility work and testing meet the agreed level of compliance for the WCAG in design, structure, and content, with the goal of making the website accessible to everyone regardless of physical or cognitive disability. Depending on the circumstance, our accessibility work is built into our websites and works with the assistive devices and applications that people are already using (e.g: JAWS, VoiceOver), rather than relying on a third-party plugin.

Websites are rarely static, and constantly evolving with updates to the content or new features (or both). This means that over time, accessibility issues will develop. Whether you are the sole editor or have a team of editors for content, it’s the responsibility of the author/site owner to ensure that new content is compliant with the level of accessibility you’ve set for your site. But not to worry, there are some simple ways to ensure your site remain compliant over time.

One of the most important methods in keeping websites compliant is to have your content editors to use a tailored reference to guide their work. These references would be provided by your agency through an audit, would address specific content scenarios from your website. You can also create them using the vast number of articles and tutorials that are on the web. Just make sure the reference you use is designed to conform to the WCAGs.

Another method is to have your website audited periodically at predetermined intervals by your agency or developer following an audit and execution on the recommended work. The check-ins work off of your previously completed audit, and catches new content or feature that have accrued since the initial audit. These check-ins also incorporate new recommendations from the WCAG as it evolves with the desired level of accessibility for your site.

Lastly, ask a lot of questions! If you are thinking of adding new features without an assurance about accessibility from the author or developer, your agency is there to provide recommendations that will make your new features compliant. It’s always best to keep accessibility at the forefront of your processes in order to get in front of any potential lapse of compliance before it occurs.

Can I be certified for accessibility?

A question we often hear is whether a website can be “certified for accessibility”. It’s important to note that this is largely a legal question, because there currently is no formal certification process that recognizes the accessibility of websites. Without going into too much detail, the rules around accessibility (in the US) are governed by the Americans with Disability Act, Title II. This is a law that was written a long time ago, and the Department of Justice has not defined or clarified rules around accessibility for the web. So instead this has been happening haphazardly by the courts, who have delivered varying interpretations. This has led to an explosion of frivolous class action suits by enterprising lawyers, with a number of our clients being targetted.

A “badge” may sometimes be provided by a company, and it may look official-ish. But it doesn’t guarantee compliance, nor protect you from liability or risk. But any action with the intent of making a website more compliant would presumptively reduce exposure, as it shows you are committed to making your site compliant. For example you can do this by adding an accessibility page to your footer that explains the work you’ve done to be compliant, and how much you value accessibility. But the best remedy is to make your website compliant to the rules of the WCAG, because ultimately that’s the closest thing to an “official” governing body on the web, and where the Department of Justice will eventually create its guidelines around. While you cannot “officially” be certified as “accessible at Level A, AA or AAA of the WCAG”, you can make an optional “conformance claim” to W3C as long as each page and section (header/footer) meets certain criteria.

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) provides a range of optional badges at w3.org/WAI/WCAG2-Conformance. Badges do not represent a review or validation of conformance by W3C or WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative), but are “meant to promote accessibility on the web and are used on sites to indicate a claim of conformance to a specified conformance level of WCAG”.

It’s important to remember that above all, we’re trying to do two things – make the website accessible to everyone, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, and to show that your organization supports inclusivity. So while the majority of brands are doing compliance are doing so in the interest of mitigating legal exposure, doing this work paves the way for a more inclusive web, which is a much larger and important goal that we can all get behind.