In your organisation who is actually accountable for the accessibility of your website? If the answer is “not sure” or “it falls between four different people” or “something we’ve still to decide” or “nobody” then it possibly means your organisation hasn’t thought about digital accessibility properly.
A website which is not compliant with accessibility standards may well be illegal and failing a significant proportion of your users. In this post we’re going explore why having a named person as accountable for website accessibility is important for achieving compliance and improving accessibility on your digital channels.
Most organisations make someone accountable for an issue or area where there is a significant risk attached. There is significant risk attached to website accessibility, both from the chance of legal action and the related negative outcomes such as brand or reputational risk.
Making your website and digital channels accessible is a necessity, not a ‘nice-to-have’. It is a legal and / or regulatory requirement for many sectors (including the UK public sector) and is a growing focus for legal action In the US. The number of federal website accessibility lawsuits have tripled from 2018 compared to 2017; we’re still waiting for the 2019 results but they are likely to indicate another rise.
Having a named person who is accountable for this website accessibility helps to:
The obvious danger when you don’t have someone accountable for digital accessibility is that your website is not accessible to the required level and you risk legal or regulatory action.
Despite good intentions from individuals who want to do the right thing for accessibility, not having someone accountable can mean:
The GDS introduction to “Making your website accessible” states that accessibility is “the whole team’s job” and that
Accessibility isn’t the responsibility of just one person. Everyone on your team is responsible for making sure your service is accessible.
This is very true, in that the entire digital team – and the extended team of anybody who contributes to your website – can create content or carry out actions that can mean a website is no longer accessible. But the danger of making everyone “responsible” is not enough to guarantee compliance and make that happen. You need someone who is truly accountable and “where the buck stops” - a different concept to being just responsible.
Being accountable means a person taking ultimate responsibility for ensuring something happens and taking the blame if it doesn’t happen. Being accountable for digital accessibility might not necessarily mean that person carries out the required work on the website, but it does mean they need to have a mandate from senior leadership to direct others to prioritise that work.
When someone is accountable, there is likely to be the following in place:
There are no specific rules about who the accountable person should be but they should be of significant seniority, perhaps at the C-suite or Director level. For example, they may be the head of the department that manages the website, such as a Director of Marketing, or an individual who is generally responsible for areas of risk and has recognised authority within the organisation. For example, they may be part of, or responsible for, your legal and compliance function.
Again, its worth stating that the person who is ultimately accountable is probably not the person who is the “doing” person. It may be that there is a person who is mainly responsible for website accessibility because of their role – likely to be your website manager or product owner – and that this is written into their job description. However, the accountable person needs to be of a seniority level to recognise the risk involved and the importance of this issue.
A “RACI Matrix” can be a useful framework to consider the roles and responsibilities of all your stakeholders and team in website accessibility and its constituent tasks. A RACI matrix states who is:
In this way you may be able to define more precisely the roles of the digital team, as well as those in legal and compliance roles, your IT or user experience team and even your Diversity & Inclusion Officer. It will also spell out who is ultimately accountable.
Of course, making someone accountable does not guarantee website accessibility and compliance, although it is an important step. In the next article we’ll look at all the ingredients that need to be in place to support someone being truly accountable including reporting, measurement and tools.