Agencies Need to Implement Accessibility Measures When Designing Websites

Going beyond just meeting ADA compliance

Conceptual illustration representing a laptop painted on two hands.
Inclusivity means creating an online experience that all users can enjoy.
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Virtually every brand has a website, but many fall short when it comes to disability inclusion and accessibility.

While a handful of agencies and advertisers are leading the charge for online accessibility, there’s still confusion, misunderstanding and sometimes ambivalence that could easily shift with disability insights and best practices for developers, content creators and clients when building or updating websites.

The web was designed to give everyone access to information, but not everyone who goes online has the same abilities. To make a more user-friendly internet for everyone, including people with disabilities, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and web content accessibility guidelines, or the WCAG 2.1, have been developed.

Currently federal, state and local governments, public universities, schools, hospitals, airports and airlines are mandated to have accessible websites. Even if your clients aren’t on this list, having an accessible website still makes sense.

Adding a level of complexity are the thousands of ADA compliance lawsuits filed against everyone from mom and pop businesses to Fortune 500 companies if their websites aren’t accessible. Some brands have made compliance updates, while others fight to keep their websites segregated.

For example, Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling mandating ADA compliance updates to their website and app. None of the 2020 presidential websites are ADA compliant, and many Cannes Lion winners—even some with campaigns focusing on disability—don’t have accessible websites.

Simple and proactive website accessibility fixes will pivot brands from appearing in court to appealing to new users.

Furthermore, far too many tourism websites dedicate content to pet-friendly lodging, attractions and restaurants. While I’m a dog lover, I also know that people with disabilities and their families and friends want info about accessible tourism.

Some brands, though, are ahead of the online accessibility curve, such as grocery chain Albertsons. Grocery Store News reported on the brand’s improved websites and apps, which allow blind and visually impaired people to more easily interact online.

Simple and proactive website accessibility fixes will pivot brands from appearing in court to appealing to new users. To get started, here’s a 10-point introductory list that will allow a website to be more perceivable, operable, understandable and robust for all users.

Color contrast

Adjust color contrast for content clarity for people with visual impairments such as color blindness and/or low vision.

Fonts

Create live text for ease of scaling text size and font style for readability for people with dyslexia and other neurodiversity or visual impairments.

Responsive design

Ensure sizing and functionality across desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices.

Photography

Allow for representation of disability inclusivity in photos and provide legibility, proper alt tag descriptions and descriptions of in-photo text on the website.

Video

Provide audio descriptions and closed-captioning and allow for representation of disability and transcripts.

Hyperlinks

Allow links to provide enough of a description for those using an assistive screen reader so they understand where the link goes.

Buttons

Use buttons and clickable elements with color, style, text descriptions and hover states that can allow for ease of clickability when using a mouse or keyboard.

Menu

Provide logical UX best practices that can easily guide people to disability information.

Terminology

Ensure content uses disability-friendly words and phrasing.

Technical development

Use code for HTML tags, header hierarchy, title tagging and alt text and other coding best practices.

If an advertiser or brand has a physical location that meets accessibility requirements, such as ramps, braille signage, grab bars in bathrooms or other amenities, it makes sense that their website be accessible, too. And for purely digital brands, website accessibility means the chance for more users to engage and convert.

So, what’s the next step? A Google search for website accessibility will bring up dozens of options for downloadable software, automated monitoring and AI-driven compliance tools to audit websites, but I believe compliance software is only one part of the solution. Educating creative teams on accessibility and inclusion, welcoming customers with disabilities into the website development process and considering agency talent recruitment of people with disabilities as developers, content creators and other positions will ensure voices are heard throughout the process.

Lastly, don’t have your creative teams and clients check off the website accessibility compliance boxes. Instead, recognize the value, loyalty and passion that people with disabilities will bring when agencies and advertisers establish a creative commitment across the digital landscape and beyond.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 26, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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