A keyboard with a accessibility keyMaking your website accessible to people with disabilities is important for 2 main reasons to the public sector. First, it’s about equality: simply stated, everyone should have equal opportunities to access public information on your website. On your way to achieving transparency, you want to make sure no stakeholders of yours feel like they aren’t important to you. Second, it will protect your organization from potentially harmful media coverage, or even costly lawsuits.

From the Private Sector to the Public Sector

Consider the fact that hundreds of organizations have already been sued in federal courts because their websites didn’t meet accessibility guidelines, including such industry giants as Sears, Brooks Brothers, Footlocker and Home Depot. More than 7 in 10 websites tested in a recent study by Business Disability Forum did not meet accessibility standards.

In a recent article, Accessibility Works drives home this point:

“Website accessibility lawsuits and threatened claims have become big business…More law firms are filing lawsuits or sending demand letters alleging individuals with disabilities are denied access to a business’s goods and services due to inaccessible websites than ever.”

The public sector generally isn’t far from the private sector when it comes to trends and issues.

That said, those from the public sector could soon be in the crosshairs of the judicial system or under media scrutiny as their private counterparts.  These are just 2 of the reasons you should take the time to make your website accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. That might seem like a daunting challenge, but you can meet that challenge if you approach it in a logical, organized fashion.

How Can I Make My Website Accessible?

There are three core elements (O-A-T) that you’ll need to gather:

Obtain and review WCAG Website Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) for important information about the standards for accessibility. This should be your “bible” toward web accessibility.

Appoint or hire someone to develop and manage a sound plan to obtain web accessibility. They should be held accountable.

Train in-house staff and keep detailed records, since the person you appoint to be your website accessibility manager might move on to another job. Always have a backup plan.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, here are 6 practical things you can get started with to ensure your website is accessible:

1. Choose the right content management system:

If you’re planning to re-do your website, choose a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal that supports accessibility.  You also need to make sure the theme or template you choose is accessible. Check the theme’s documentation to find out and get tips for creating accessible content, plugins, widgets and modules.

2.Use headings correctly:

People who use screen readers depend on heading structure to navigate your website.  Update your headings as recommended by WCAG to make sure your content is properly organized and easy for screen readers to interpret.  For example, use H1 only for the main title on a page, and don’t skip any heading levels, as this makes screen readers think content is missing.

3. Make images accessible with alt text:

Alt text refers to the words that pop up when you hover over an image. They tell visually impaired people what’s in non-text images and graphics.  If an image is purely decorative, you can omit alt text—in all other cases, include it.

4. Make sure links describe what they’re about:

Screen readers can’t interpret the words, “click here” as there’s no context.  To solve this problem, use language for your links which describes what those links are about, and where they’ll take your site visitor.  For example, if a link takes someone to an article, you could use the title of the article as your link. Start looking through your site where you can easily change “click here” to something more meaningful.

5. Document attachments:

Not all PDFs are created equal. Scanned documents should be avoided, as it is actually considered one image per page and screen readers will see this as a blank page. It’s best practice to create a PDF directly from the source electronic document. Just remember: don’t scan!

6. Don’t use captchas:

Captchas are those security tests which are used by businesses to determine whether the user is a human or a machine.  They’re typically a succession of squiggly numbers and letters which robots can’t read, but humans can. Unfortunately, they’re usually inaccessible to users with disabilities.  Instead of using captchas, use alternative security tests, like test questions, honeypots, spam filters or heuristic checks.

Conclusion

Making your website accessible to everyone who visits it can be complicated, but it’s something the public sector needs to take seriously, not only to provide site users with a better experience, but also to comply with the law.  If you don’t have someone on your team who can effectively make your site accessible, work with a professional website developer who understands accessibility standards and possesses the technical skills to make the necessary changes to your site.