Web Content Accessibility: What it Is & Why Your Law Firm Should Care (Part 1 of 2)

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12 percent of Americans live with a disability.

If you’re part of the other 88 percent, you may take for granted the ease at which you can search the web for information and navigate through websites.

As a law firm, your website should function as a vehicle to attract new business for your firm. It should tell your firm’s story, highlight your experience and how you can help clients overcome complex legal issues. It should be designed with your target client in mind.

Unfortunately, most are designed without 12 percent of the U.S. population in mind.

Every web design decision you make – from the colors you use, your navigation and how you load and structure your content – may affect the ease at which people using assistive technologies can understand your website.

If web content accessibility isn’t on your list of website projects for 2018, you may want to consider adding it. This blog series will outline what website accessibility is, how to get started with accessibility and tips that Postali’s team of web developers learn as we continue our journey with building accessible law firm websites.

Web Content Accessibility: What It Is

Web content accessibility refers to tactics you can employ in your website design to make it easier for people with a disability to use. In order to provide clear direction for web developers on how to ensure their sites are accessible to those with disabilities, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has set forth a set of standards, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).

There are different levels of compliance for WCAG 2.0, ranging from A (the minimum) to AAA (the maximum.) The guidelines aim to improve a site’s accessibility in the following 4 areas:

  • Perceivable: This means providing information in a way that all users can perceive and includes things like providing text alternatives that can be changed into large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • Operable: All of a website’s functionality should be available from a keyboard. Additionally, content should be designed in a way that allows users enough time to read it and the site’s navigation should be intuitive.
  • Understandable: Web designers should make sure all information and functionality of a website is understandable, helps users avoid and correct mistakes and webpages are predictable in their appearance and operation.
  • Robust: Websites should be compatible with user agents like assistive technologies.

Why Accessibility Matters

It’s difficult to argue against the ethical reasons why you should take the time and effort to ensure your website is accessible to people with a disability.

For law firms, there are also very compelling business reasons. The Internet is a crucial step in our decision process, and the decision to hire an attorney is often prefaced with online research. Your website should be a vital element to your business operations, so why not make sure that everyone can use it to learn about your law practice?

    1. It gives you a competitive advantage.

Early adoption of accessibility standards can give law firms a significant advantage over the competition, especially for firms that focus on personal injury or elder law.

Making updates to comply with the accessibility guidelines requires web design expertise, and the process can be very time-consuming. Many law firms outsource their web design efforts but may have very little control over updating it. They may also build their website in-house but lack the time and proficiency required to make the updates.

If you can make your website accessible, you’ll likely be one of the first law firms in your area to do so. Not only does that mean you’re ahead of the curve on one of the most important new web design initiatives, but you’ll be able to expand your reach. If you’re the only accessible website, you will likely win the business of any web user who has a hearing, vision or cognitive disability because of the ease at which they can use your website even if they’re using as assistive technology like a screen reader.

    1. Someday you may have to comply.

If the ethical reasons alone aren’t convincing enough, it may someday be required to comply with the requirements. Many countries are requiring government websites to comply with WCAG 2.0. With continued support for the initiative, other industries may follow suit.

The Americans with Disability Act has set guidelines for “public accommodations” like hotels and restaurants, outlining the steps they need to take to accommodate those with disabilities. The ADA does not explicitly state that it applies to websites, but courts dealing with these issues have been split in recent cases. Recently, credit unions have been hit with several lawsuits over the accessibility of their websites. This is one of the first industries to face lawsuits over accessibility, but it likely won’t be the last.

In January 2017, the federal government adopted WCAG 2.0 for federal agency sites. With the growing dependence on technology and the increasing number of lawsuits surrounding accessibility, it’s hard to imagine that the ADA will not update their guidelines to address websites.

  1. It can help your SEO.

Even if it’s not required, it will likely be strongly encouraged. Google has invested time and resources into creating robust guidelines and help forums for web developers. When Google gets behind a web design trend that is aimed to make the web more user-friendly, it often leads to the search engine eventually giving a ranking boost to websites that comply.

In order to rank well in Google, you have to create a website that is user-friendly. We think a ranking boost for web content accessibility could likely happen within the next few years.

Another added benefit to accessibility is that it may boost your SEO efforts today, even without an explicit or direct ranking boost. Web content accessibility is all about making your content easy for a screen reader to understand. A search engine crawler functions in a similar fashion – by reading your webpage’s code and using the information to understand its content.

Many site improvements that benefit users with vision and hearing impairments also help search engine crawlers that are accessing your site. For example, website code like video transcription, image captioning and adding alt tags to images are also beneficial for SEO. While this should not be your primary reason for pursuing accessibility efforts, it certainly is a nice added benefit.

At Postali, we knew we needed to address accessibility with our law firm websites. As part of our blog series, we’ll take you through our journey with web content accessibility, share what we learn and offer tips for getting started. Stay tuned for the second post in this series, where we’ll recap a WCAG 2.0 initiative for a personal injury law firm.

Sources:

Original Article can be found here.

Working on a website can be difficult. Adding new media and updating pages is chore, even though you know your company website needs to evolve and become more accessible to the many users you are trying to reach. Maybe when you first built it, accessibility wasn’t even really discussed. But now you’ve taken a step back, looked at your customer base with a desire to include everyone and you’ve realized just how important it is to make your site accessible. However, the thought of building a robust site that can do all the things you want it to do is overwhelming.

What is Web Accessibility

A practice of designing and coding the website in order to provide complete compatibility in accessing it by people with disabilities. In addition, it is a way to improve search engine optimization only an ADA Compliant Web Designer will help you to make your website Compliant. Is your website compatible? By going through the checklist below, you can get the answer.

Assessing Current Web Pages and Content

  • The website must include a feature like a navigation link at the top of the page. These links have a bypass mechanism such as a “skip navigation” link. This feature directs screen readers to bypass the row of navigation links and start at the web page content. It is beneficial for people who use screen readers to avoid to listen to all the links each time they jump to a new page.
  • All the links should be understandable when taken out of the context. For example, images without alternative text and links without worded as “click here”.
  • All the graphics, maps, images, and other non-text content must provide text alternatives through the alt attribute, a hidden/visible long description.
  • All the documents posted on the website should available in HTML or another accessible text-based format. It is also applicable to other formats like Portable Document Format (PDF).
  • The online forms on the website should be structured so assistive technology can identify, describe and operate the controls and inputs. By doing this, people with disabilities can review and submit the forms.
  • If the website has online forms, the drop-down list should describe the information instead of displaying a response option. For instance, “Your Age” instead of “18-25”.
  • If the website has data charts and tables, they should be structured so that all data cells are associated with column and row identifiers.
  • All the video files on the website must have audio descriptions (if necessary). This is for the convenience of blind people or for having a visual impairment disability.
  • All the video files on the website must have synchronized captions. People with hearing problems or deaf can access these files conveniently.
  • All the audio files on the website should have synchronized captions to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • All web pages should be designed so that they can be viewed using visitors’ web browser and operating system settings for color and font.

About Website Accessibility Policy and Procedures

  • One must have a written policy on website accessibility.
  • The website accessibility policy must be posted on the website at a location where it can be easily found.
  • The procedure should be developed to ensure that content is not added to the website until it has been made accessible.
  • It should be confirmed that the website manager has checked the code and structure of all new web pages before they are posted.
  • While adding the PDFs to the website, these should be accessible. Also, the text-based versions of the documents should be accessible at the same time as PDF versions.
  • Make sure that the in-house and contractor staff has received the information about the website accessibility policy and procedure to confirm the website accessibility.
  • It should be confirmed that in-house and contractor staff has received appropriate training on how to ensure the accessibility of the website.
  • The website should have a specific written plan if it contains inaccessible content. Also, it should include timeframes in place to make all of the existing web content accessible.
  • A complete plan to improve website accessibility should be posted along with invited suggestions for improvement.
  • The homepage should include easily locatable information that includes contact details like telephone number and email address. This is useful for reporting website accessibility problems and requesting accessibility services with information.
  • A website should have procedures in place to assure a quick response to the visitors with disabilities who have difficulty in accessing information or services available on the website.
  • Feedback from people who use a variety of assistive technologies is helpful in ensuring website accessibility. So make sure to ask disability groups representing people to provide feedback on the accessibility of your website.
  • Testing the website using a product available on the internet is helpful, These tools are of free cost and check the accessibility of a website. They may not identify all accessibility issues and flag issues that are not accessibility problems. However, these are, nonetheless, a helpful way to improve website accessibility.

Checklist of Action Items for Improving the Accessibility of a Website

In addition, while considering the above suggestions, the following checklist initially prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Federal Agencies provides further guidelines on ways to make websites more accessible for persons with disabilities.

This practical advice, as well as another checklist, are available at:

Satisfying all of these items does not necessarily mean that a website complies with ADA, but it will improve the website’s accessibility and decrease the risk of litigation. Again, an Expert or Web Accessibility Consulting & Services provider should be engaged to conduct a comprehensive review of your website.
Nothing brings you closer to reality than actually facing it. This is the premise of my latest attempt to spread awareness about Web Accessibility.
For better understand, here is a link in which a practical example is shown to make the websites’ user experience better by following the guidelines. Also, it tells the issues affecting various users on the internet with solutions.
You can make your website ADA compliant in an easy way by consulting the professionals, who can do this job effortlessly. Also, you can get a quick website audit from To Be ADA Compliant that offers complete web accessibility consulting & services in California, USA.

Resource: https://dev.to/chinchang/an-interactive-and-practical-introduction-to-web-accessibility-22o1