What is the true cost of ignoring website accessibility compliance?

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According to recent statistics, nearly one in four Americans live with a disability. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that approximately 6.4 million Americans have a visual disability, 10.5 million a hearing disability, 20.9 million experience ambulatory disabilities and 14.8 million have cognitive disabilities.

The federal government realized several years ago that millions of people may have trouble taking advantage of its increasing number of online websites, denying them access to valuable information. That led to creation of two important items,Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and theWebsite Content Accessibility Guidelines(WCAG).

Those two actions address the ability of all Americans to have equal access to all federal website content. The section augments the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 255 of the Communications Act and the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

Section 508 compliance

Section 508 requires that all federal agencies use best practices in the design, redesign and implementation of all information and communication technology (ICT). Covered items not only include equipment, systems and programs, they include the information itself, such as documents, spreadsheets, charts and pictures.

The law allows for accommodations or equivalent issuances when it is not feasible to create fully accessible versions of a document or website. Examples of such accommodations include a building map in braille, closed captioning for informational videos and bilingual interpreters to assist non-English speaking citizens.

Section 508 also requires federal agencies to use "plain language" whenever possible. Often, the true meaning of laws, implementing regulations and other governmental communications is obscured by archaic word choices carried over from former versions of a publication, or other legal terms designed to protect the individual and the agency. Plain-language regulations strip away the jargon so the average citizen can easily comprehend the website and other publications.

The law also regulates the type of information the federal website can collect from individuals, how it can be used, the security measures taken to protect it and adequate user notification that the site is collecting the information. Everything from a simple customer satisfaction survey to online income tax filing forms must meet those standards.

Government contractors, financial agencies, health care agencies and organizations receiving federal funding also fall under the domain of Section 508.

Website content accessibility guidelines

The WCAG upholds four major principles: all content should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

Perceivable content addresses alternative text for the visually impaired, captions for the audibly impaired and issues of contrast so the end user can easily identify the presented material from background text or graphics. Depending on the end user's needs, the content should be modifiable to large print, braille, symbols or speech either within the website or through the end user's adaptive devices. The use of color as the sole identifier, such as highlighting the next section of a form to be completed, is discouraged since color-blind consumers may not be able to recognize the change, perceive the text as different from the highlight or they may otherwise experience an undue burden when using the site.

Operability speaks to the website's functionality and interaction with standard or modified equipment. If the site requires user input, the website designer should allow adequate time between keystrokes or other function keys before the session times out, or remove the timing altogether whenever possible. Animation, flashes and other sudden movements may trigger adverse user reactions or may be undetectable to some users. Finally, all information and links should follow a logical sequence, function properly and enable the user to skip duplicate content across pages.

An understandable website includes the ability to translate virtually all text into the user's native language, including abbreviations, idioms and colloquialisms whenever possible. Site layout should be predictable, with consistent navigation and minimal change (no pop-up windows or flashing banners). If the content includes a form, it should contain clear and concise instructions to correct input errors, regardless of assistive devices used by the consumer. In addition, the readability level for all content should be clearly marked. A grade school student researching climate change likely will not require the same level of sophistication as a graduate student doing the same research.

A robust website is compatible with all major assistive technologies, with an eye toward future assistive technological advances. The site should also provide labels for any forms or other information the user is expected to complete. The label should include why the website is requesting the information, whether the information is optional and how the user-provided information will be stored, handled and used by the site owner.

Why accessibility matters

The law requires that all federal websites adhere to the Section 508 standards and use WACG. Business owners, however, also risk lawsuits from civil rights organizations if their sites are found to contain excessive barriers.

Most brick-and-mortar companies adhere to government recommendations regarding accessibility, some even offering electric scooters so customers can navigate the establishment more easily. Signage is printed in several languages, often including braille. Many employ bilingual or multi-lingual associates to provide assistance.

A website should be held to an even higher standard, regardless of the nature of the company. Informational websites exist solely for the public consumption of content. A noncompliant one results in 25% of the population being unable to gain access to the information provided. Commercial websites also lose 25% of their revenue if they are noncompliant.

More than a simple numbers game, fully accessible websites show customers that a business is inclusive, that it is willing to invest the time and resources necessary to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, can obtain desired information or services.

Accessibility testing

Optimally, from the moment a website is conceived, accessibility should be foremost on the developer's mind. An accessibility consultant works hand-in-hand with developers to test each piece of content before the site's live debut. Upfront accessibility design issues are easier and less expensive to fix the earlier they are addressed in the design cycle.

On average, manual website accessibility testing takes one to three hours per page to complete. Depending on the complexity of the site, the number and type of documents and the site's purpose (informational or sales-oriented), manual testing is a daunting task. Automated testing, while considerably faster, still takes about one to three hours to complete the entire site.

Once the site is analyzed, noncompliant pages, documents and links require remediation. Manual remediation requires a thorough knowledge of computer coding and the rules governing the website's functionality, and a complete understanding of all underlying accessibility issues. Manual testing and remediation comes with a high price tag, not only for the expertise required to complete the project, but for the billable person hours associated with it.

Automated remediation is less expensive because it can be performed much more quickly. With both types of remediation, however, all new information, documents and pages require ongoing evaluation to ensure accessibility compliance sitewide.

A better alternative

Fortunately, companies interested in creating or maintaining a fully accessible website have a new alternative.

Rio Global, a leading accessibility consultant, offers automated testing and remediation that meets the highest government standards. Throughout the consultancy process, Rio Global audits all outward facing sites, desktop and mobile, and provides thorough audits regarding accessibility issues.

Rio Global's accessbot.ai takes accessibility testing and remediation to a new and exciting level with continuous validation. Accessbot.ai analyzes an entire website in one to three minutes instead of hours. Quick and accurate remediation further reduce costs associated with accessibility issues.

Finally, because it is a continuous service, companies no longer have to worry about whether new content is fully accessible. Accessbot.ai continually validates and remediates the site, alleviating the need to wait for a consultant.

Accessbot.ai features

Rules engine

A resting web service sits on top of the rules engine. It enables rule modification, on-demand scans and scheduled scans. Its simple design is easy to learn and integrates seamlessly with previously installed systems.

In the cloud or on-site

For customers who are either uncomfortable with off-site hosting or whose regulations require that all services remain on-site because of security issues, accessbot.ai can be installed on a customer network within the firewall. Static installations require local update installation as the guidance changes.

Comprehensive and comprehensible reporting

Accessbot.ai reports website accessibility issues in plain language so the company CEO and IT personnel can easily understand the bot's functions at all times. The resulting reports are configurable to prioritize and define the issues the customer identifies as required information.

Accessbot.ai process

Definition phase

Before any website analysis, customers define their goals and roles regarding accessibility. During that phase, the company prioritizes which portions of its website require immediate attention, what can be converted most easily and the functions of each team member.

At that time, the company may consider additional training for customer-service personnel. The visually impaired may find the website cumbersome and require someone to read various portions. Bilingual and multi-lingual personnel can assist non-English speaking customers. Video chats with personnel fluent in sign language are an excellent choice for assisting the hearing impaired with questions they may have regarding the website's information.

Development phase

As mentioned, the development phase is the best time to involve website accessibility professionals in the project. Rio Global accessibility professionals detect bugs in current website pages and recommend fixes. They also design new pages that are completely accessible as soon as they are activated.

The development phase is designed to alleviate much of the stress and burden of the transition, placing the majority of the onus on the accessibility professionals. Rio Global associates work closely with the company's team, recommending appropriate courses of action and training company-identified personnel. They create a clear, smooth path forward, enabling the company to focus on its core mission while integrating accessibility issues into its daily functions.

Rio Global professionals review the customer's goals and time line regarding the accessibility project and make suggestions for improvement. A customer with an ecommerce website may want to move the shopping and checkout experience to the top of the project list, while an informational website may benefit from concentrating on document translation and cosmetic fixes.

Deployment phase

The release manager plays a key role in the deployment phase. Accessbot.ai detects remaining unresolved accessibility issues and fixes them for a smooth deployment.

The company may decide to add rules that anticipate future changes in Section 508 compliance during the phase. Such rules are easily incorporated through Accessbot.ai, as are reporting changes the company would like to prioritize.

Testing/quality assurance phase

Using the conventional manual method, the testing phase produces uneven results. Compliance issues may be missed because of manual errors, only to crop up during the testing phase.

The project can now be turned over to the company's quality assurance manager for scheduled or on-demand website-accessibility testing.

Release and analysis phase

Once the website has been released, Rio Global personnel meet with the company to determine the project's effectiveness. The entire group analyzes Accessbot.ai's performance, the ease with which all clients and customers can get access to website information and any improvements the team would like to implement.

After the analysis and fixes, the project is turned over to company personnel for the website's continuous monitoring, reporting and upkeep. Accessbot.ai will run scheduled reports, and the designated company personnel can run spot checks to ensure that the website remains compliant through internal changes and external regulatory changes.

Additional information

Companies interested in taking advantage of the fast, innovative and cost-effective website accessibility services from Accessbot.ai canvisit the Rio Global website.

Customer service and continuous improvement guide Rio Global's team. Accessbot.ai is its star product, offering scalability, configurability, customization, security, integration and ease of use. Whether Accessbot.ai is used as a cloud-based system or installed internally, companies relying on it know their websites and all collateral materials remain error-free and completely compliant with Section 508.

Accessibility consulting is the process in which a client hires consulting firms that can go through a system, test it for accessibility issues and submit a report. In short, accessibility means making sure the client website, web application or mobile app is user-friendly for all users.

Rely on the best in the business. Rely on Rio Global's Accessbot.ai.

In the IT industry, accessibility consultants:

  • Optimize search engines
  • Correct accessibility issues with the current website
  • Provide an engaging user experience while meeting accessibility goals
  • Help in the creation of accessible and Section 508 compliant websites
  • Need to strictly comply with the highstandards set by W3C for CSS, HTML 5, WCAG 2.0, XHTML, and the Section 508 standards
  • Provide solutions for client technical accessibility issues and answer questions during the remediation process