Making your website accessible benefits all users and therefore your business.
Accessible websites benefit a whole range of people, from older Australians and people with disabilities to those using mobile devices, and people in rural areas with lower bandwidth. It also improves search engine optimisation.
Australian law requires website accessibility, and businesses have until the end of the year to do something about it.
It is the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do.
And if you think your website is fine, try using it without your ‘accessibility aids’. Put your mouse in a drawer. If you wear glasses, take them off. Now, spend five minutes surfing your website using only your keyboard.
Can you open menus, reach all the links, complete the sign-up form and run the video? Can you read the fine print in the footer?
If you had problems, then so will users who are dependent on alternative input devices and aids.
There are serious business benefits to making your website accessible because:
• one in every five Australians has a disability; and
• access to the internet by people with a disability is rising, from 41 per cent in 2003 to 62 per cent in 2009.
Presenting yourself as an inclusive and non-discriminatory organisation will improve the user experience and encourage customers to return to your site.
And it’s a legal requirement, with website accessibility mandated by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which administer the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992.
Your website, whether you are government or non-government, needs to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to Level AA by December 31 2013.
The requirements include your public-facing website, intranet and extranet, as well as any web-based applications.
Full guidelines are available at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/world-wide-web-access-disability-discrimination-act-advisory-notes-ver-40-2010#transition
WCAG 2.0 was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and has three compliance levels – A, AA and AAA.
While many organisations may not be familiar with W3C or WCAG, they are usually familiar with ISO standards and understand the benefits of ISO Compliance. WCAG 2.0 is now ISO/IEC 40500:2012.
Failure to come up to speed with the guidelines could have some serious consequences for your business, with the outcomes of an inaccessible website ranging from the loss of business to those with better prepared, more accessible websites, to the risk of litigation.
In addition, your business may lose the trust and respect of its valued clients.
So, to make sure your website is accessible you need to know where you stand, determine where you want to be and work towards your goal.
Following these steps should get you there.
• Educate yourselves about the issues and compliance requirements.
• Conduct a technical audit of your website to determine current accessibility levels.
• Fix identified issues that deal with Level A of WCAG 2.0.
• Work towards the AA-level compliance to meet current requirements.
Finally, you can go one step further and pursue accreditation of your website. Accreditation involves additional testing by trained users who have a range of disabilities and are experienced in the use of their own assistive technology. It is great public relations and demonstrates a real commitment to inclusivity.
Vivienne Conway is director of Web Key IT, which assists businesses get the most out of their website.