28 Oct 2023 | Accessibility
Website accessibility is an area where increasingly there are regulatory requirements and compliance is necessary; in some countries like the US, it is a legal requirement. An accessible website is also a moral obligation; a website that is not accessible effectively discriminates against people living with disabilities, representing a disconnect with most organizations’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEI&A) commitments.
Despite this, a very high proportion of websites are not accessible and therefore not compliant, even though many organizations believe that their website is accessible and may even have allocated a budget to make it so. Despite money being spent, current approaches to making websites accessible are simply not working.
Why is this? AAATraq’s own data has allowed us to uncover the root cause of this situation. It is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what compliance is, with ongoing content management issues contributing to the vast majority of websites that are not accessible.
What is website accessibility?
Website accessibility makes digital and electronic information and related information technology accessible to people living with a wide range of disabilities including visual impairment, hearing loss, cognitive disabilities and more. Website accessibility is usually achieved by coding your content management system (CMS) and your website content in different ways, while also ensuring your content meets various criteria that make it possible for people with disabilities to successfully access it, sometimes using assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Some countries have already brought in laws that require your website to be accessible. In the US the most important of these is the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act of 1990. Other acts include Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 relating to government and public sector organizations, as well as a growing body of state-level and industry-specific regulations. In the UK one of the main pieces of legislation is the Equality Act of 2010. The level to which a website needs to be accessible to be considered compliant with the majority of this legislation is usually by conforming with the AA-level of the WCAG 2 guidelines, an independent and authoritative set of accessibility guidelines that are highly technical but have effectively become a global standard for website accessibility.
How high is the level of the lack of compliance?
The level of the lack of compliance is exceptionally high. In AAAtraq’s latest audit of websites across multiple sectors, we found that 94% of websites fail to comply with regulations such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, effectively discriminating against people with disabilities. The authoritative annual WebAIM report on the accessibility of the top 1,000,000 website homepages draws similar conclusions, with the 2023 report finding that 96.3% did not conform with the WCAG 2 guidelines. This figure has remained remarkably constant - only reducing 1.5% over the past four years.
Understanding compliance: the three areas that need to be focused on
To fully understand compliance around website accessibility we need to consider three elements of your website and its ongoing management, all of which can lead to non-compliance:
- Content Management System (CMS): The software platform where content is added to create your website.
- The page templates, default layouts and CSS (styling) that sit within your CMS and define the default structure and design of the content and pages on your website that are then viewed through a user’s device (PC, mobile etc.)
- Content management: the ongoing process of adding new content to your website in the form of text, images and other media to display information, items to buy and more.
The main issue that leads to the vast majority of non-compliant websites is a focus only on the accessibility of the CMS and the templates. This is a one-time fix that happens when a new website is launched or goes through a new iteration. But teams fail to appreciate that ongoing content management leads to non-compliance. In fact, it’s the biggest issue and responsible for 90% of inaccessible websites. Yet it gets very little attention.
The accessibility of your CMS and templates
When a new website is launched or upgraded, your digital agency should ensure your CMS and the related templates and CSS styling within it are accessible to the agreed level - usually conforming with the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. The responsibility for the accessibility of the CMS, templates and CSS should be part of the contractual agreement signed with your agency. This leads many digital marketing teams to believe that on launch day they have a fully accessible, compliant website.
Nine out of ten websites fail on accessibility due to content management.
But it’s not only your CMS and templates that need to conform with the AA level of the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Every single piece of content added to your website also needs to conform, meaning that whenever new content is added to your website there is always a chance that your website is no longer compliant with accessibility-related legislation. This means that there is a need for ongoing testing and effort to ensure compliance as a regular stream of new content is made live. For example, an image I add may have issues with colour contrast. It might not include alt text that assistive technologies such as a screen reader can interpret. Likewise, a link I add within a page might not be fully accessible with link text. Videos, PDFs and audio also need to be accessible. And the list goes on.
A review of US litigation and Cabinet Office complaints reveals nine common content-related accessibility failures that appear in 91% of cases including alt text, form labels, contrast, headings and more. Here, the ultimate responsibility for accessibility will be for the organization that owns the website and manages its content -; it is likely to be you, NOT your digital agency. It also means that sometimes content that is added to a website even before it is launched may mean it is not accessible, right from day one.
Why understanding compliance is critical
Understanding what compliance is by breaking it down into areas relating to your CMS, templates and content management means you can approach compliance with open eyes and take the necessary actions:
- Have clarity on accountability for compliance relating to your CMS and templates and reflect this in your contracts with vendors, agencies and other partners.
- Have awareness of your organization’s own responsibilities relating to website accessibility and ongoing content management so you can then commit to the right training and support.
- Be in a position of strength to take the right approaches to ensure content added to your website is accessible - using ongoing training, testing and risk protection relating to achieve compliance and reduce the risk of legal action and the related prohibitive costs.
And perhaps most importantly, it also means that you have a website that does not discriminate against people living with disabilities and who can now read your information, engage with your content and buy your products.
How the ACM improves website accessibility
Multiple challenges with ongoing content management make it very hard to ensure your content is accessible. This is particularly the case in organizations with a large, sprawling digital estate where there is devolved publishing across multiple content owners. It can be somewhere between extremely difficult and virtually impossible to train and support a group of publishers to add content that meets highly complex accessibility standards and must be applied across multiple sites.
AAATraq’s intelligent ACM solution takes a different approach. It removes the need to train content publishers by directly alerting publishers of issues with accessibility as they add content, all within the browser. They do not need to be trained and are guided to what needs to be done to make their content accessible. This revolutionary approach supports website accessibility and reduces the chance of non-compliance by directly addressing the main problem around content management.