Over a century before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, Louis Braille recognized the importance of disability inclusion in the way people communicate, stating simply, “We must be treated as equals, and communication is the way we can bring this about.”
Today, disability awareness is more important than ever – especially online, where the average person spends nearly seven hours of their day working, learning, connecting and communicating. Despite a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), many organizations fail to optimize their online channels for accessibility: The WebAIM Million project, which runs accessibility tests on homepages of the top million websites, found that 98.1% of homepages had detectable Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) failures. And failing to comply could make you susceptible to lawsuits.
Even if a customer or patient isn’t purchasing a service directly through your website or mobile app, these virtual venues are considered extensions of your physical facilities and must adhere to accessibility standards and requirements. The catch? These standards are in a constant state of flux, making total compliance a difficult target to hit.
Whether you’re updating web designs, revamping your social media strategy or doing a complete content overhaul, here are a few fundamental guidelines to help your organization communicate clearly, effectively and respectfully with each of its diverse audiences.
Make your content accessible to all
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that impact access to online content, including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech and visual impairment. To increase basic usability, ensure your website:
- Is crawlable by screen readers, which are programs that provide text-to-speech translations for blind or visually impaired users based on a site’s layout and content
- Tags images with alternative text, or alt text, so site visitors can listen to a description of the image – this practice can also be deployed on social channels by inserting a blurb in the caption to describe the image you posted
- Uses high-contrast imagery and fonts to increase legibility (white text on a light background, for example, is difficult for both human eyes and electronic readers to see)
- Can be navigated using the keyboard, allowing site visitors who don’t use a mouse to click through using arrow keys or a joystick-type device
- Produces text transcripts to help hearing-impaired users understand video and audio clips
- Uses clear links or call to action buttons that avoid vague terms like “click here” in favor of more descriptive language, such as “click here to fill out the form”
Some web accessibility best practices require more technical knowledge than others, but the good news is that many of the tips above can typically be executed by a member of your organization’s marketing or communications team.
Use technology to audit your efforts
Given the complex and ever-changing nature of accessibility guidelines, understanding how your website measures up can be a challenge. While they aren’t a foolproof or comprehensive solution, there are a number of free software programs and online tools, such as the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool and Google Lighthouse, that can identify errors within your web design by analyzing color contrast, text size and more.
There are also platforms designed to analyze specific features and offer targeted recommendations for remediation. Most web-based accessibility testing tools are simple to use and require little more than a URL to get started. Work with your web partner to make sure your site is passing accessibility tests.
Don’t neglect the human element
As sophisticated as these tools may be, nothing compares to the results you’ll get when a real, live person audits your website. Using WCAG’s robust checklist, you can manually comb your site to catch errors that an online platform isn’t equipped to capture. The downside is that this approach is time consuming, and if you’re like many health care organizations, you likely don’t have in-depth WCAG and website coding expertise within your in-house marketing team.
The safest approach for many businesses is to initiate a professional assessment. By working with a partner who specializes in digital communications, you can be confident that your online tools are ADA compliant, and most importantly, offer your customers and patients an exceptional experience.
For more on how Lovell can help your organization, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.