What’s involved in creating an accessible website that is also ADA-compliant? Research skills, patience, creativity and a strategic mind.
And time with end users — lots of time with end users. Read more about how the Estipona Group attacked the issue below.
Last year, the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living reached out to us to build them a new, accessible, fully ADA-compliant website. Given the growing importance of ADA compliance for websites, and given that we are a group of technophiles who love learning new stuff, we responded with a resounding, “Hell yeah!”
Then we had to research exactly what we had committed ourselves to. Because we’re nothing if not impulsive when it means doing good and meaningful things for worthy clients.
First, we had to determine what “ADA-compliant website” meant to us and to the client. Who is the target audience? What types of devices do they use? How will we determine success? After some primary and secondary research, we settled on guidelines. Our audience was comprised of people who:
- Are unable to see / have low vision
- Have dyslexia / learning disabilities
- Have a physical disability
- Are unable to hear
- Use a mobile device
- Have limited bandwidth
- Have limited time
From there, we began our site build the way we usually do when we create websites — developing navigation and site structure and assessing content for the various target audiences. As we moved into the design phase, our process took on a new focus. In addition to aesthetics and intuitive design, our design needed to address the needs and challenges of the varied audiences described above.
The Secret Sauce of an Accessible Website: User Testing
After design and programming were complete, we had an extended period of time for in-person user site testing with representatives from our various audience. Input from visually impaired, learning disabled and physically challenged individuals was gathered and used to revise both layout and backend functionality.
The user testing phase was the most critical aspect of the entire process, because all users experience the website differently depending on their differing abilities, which device (and possibly which screen reading device), which operating system, which browser and what type of internet connectivity they have. All of those factors can have tiny impacts on the accessibility of a website.
Our goal: to make the website work as intended, no matter the technology used to access it, as much as possible.
Among our in-person testers:
- An iPhone 6 iOS user, in Voiceover mode, accessing with Safari
- A user with a MacBook Pro, accessing with FireFox
- A blind tester using a Windows HP Laptop and Internet Explorer, also in voiceover mode on an iPhone
- An employee of the Washoe County School District Assistive Technology Department, whose team conducts assessments, makes Assistive Technology (AT) recommendations and teaches students how to use their AT devices
- An Assistive Technician / Accessibility Specialist with the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program in the Office of Disability Resource Center at Truckee Meadows Community College
We then sought input from several blind and deaf virtual testers, using a variety of platforms, software and technology.
The outcomes of this feedback ultimately established our measurement for success. We identified and resolved obstacles, ultimately responding to the potential hurdles to a smooth website experience. And this measurement of success is long-term, as we also included a pop-up on the website that encourages feedback in case anyone runs into issues using the site.
Accessible Website Lessons
So what did we learn? First, we gained an incredible appreciation for all that people of differing abilities have to go through in order to access the information we take for granted on a daily basis. We were grateful for their time as they sat beside us (either in person or virtually) as our partner in this process; the fact that they allowed us to track their progress, anticipate their struggles and find solutions to their challenges resulted in the best possible website outcome.
Also, we discovered that as long as we were adhering to current web development standards and dealing with simple content (text and images), accessibility for screen readers is not typically an issue. However, the difficulties arise when you start introducing special functionalities, like our “settings” feature in the top bar or the use of web forms.
Those struggles were real. But we made it work.
The Key Accessibility Takeaway
Currently, no set standard exists for building a fully accessible website. Does this seem shocking to anyone else? Because we were definitely surprised to learn this, given the sheer number of people who have accessibility issues with traditional sites. Most people think “accessible” just means “works well with screen readers,” but this definition ignores many other disabilities beyond blindness. While it can be incredibly time consuming to build a thoughtful, accessible website with all disabilities taken into consideration, the current best practice is individual user testing representing segments of your target audience. Hopefully, a set standard will be developed by the ADA going forward so we, as marketers, can all start taking this into account as we build future, accessible websites.
So far, we have received no additional feedback from website visitors addressing user challenges. To us, that is true success: Audiences getting the information they need, when, where and how they need it, without obstacles.