Accessibility strategy for small businesses

(Read 320 times)

Some brief thoughts on how to make a small business more accessible, at least digitally. Don’t take it as a project, it is a program, a journey.

Larger organizations and businesses, especially those that are obligated to be accessible have usually already done the initial accessibility program plans and are already implementing accessibility into multiple parts of their organization. But what can a small business do to be more effective and to make products and services more accessible? Well, before we begin, please don’t use accessibility overlays to start with accessibility. They can even make things worse for users and they are often negatively impacting website performance. I would also be careful when it comes to privacy protection of your users as overlays might collect data about people with disabilities, a giant potential problem for EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Even if we think we at least show a good intention it is better to spend the money more effective, please do the right thing and at least use some time to inform yourself about accessibility and don’t try to deal with organizational problem with technical means.

The solution is to have enough knowledge and dedicated time to fix existing issues based on their severity for end users and at the same time make sure that new content is accessible from start. This may seem overwhelming for people new to accessibility, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post I will provide some practical tips that will make your small business more accessible.

What needs to be accessible?

Well everything digital that is exposed to partners, customers and employees. In the eyes of the law it depends on your country and type of business, but to prevent discrimination and to make the right decision we need to think all of digital surfaces.

It’s often a good start to just map what kind of digital surfaces we have. Sure, a website, maybe a mobile app. But it goes beyond that:

  • social media and advertising,
  • document templates and documents like contracts and invoices,
  • chat, email and other communication channels,
  • other digital surfaces.

You should also map what kind of digital tools you use internally, so that you can employ people with disabilities. With one out of five or even one out of four, again depending on the definitions and geography, chances are that even small business already employs people with disabilities (not all disabilities are visible). Taking care of your employees is important as you probably already know. And taking care of all of your employees is

How do we know what is not accessible?

To know what is not accessible you need to first understand the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It’s not a simple task, and even conforming to WCAG doesn’t necessarily guarantee accessibility, but it’s a very good start. WCAG comes in multiple versions and at the time of writing it is still version 2.1 that is the official recommendation. In some weeks or months we will get version 2.2, so I can actually suggest checking WCAG 2.2 out (opens in new window), and later please also check WCAG 3.0 (still very early draft), that will make it possible to be even more proactive.

Some people prefer check-lists and there seem to be a lot of them out there, but on the end we really need to refer to WCAG and check-lists sometimes oversimplify it, so my suggestion is to really read through latest WCAG and then use WCAG quick reference (opens in new window) as a checklist. It offers some filtering that makes things a bit simpler and you should probably only select A and AA conformance levels as AAA can sometimes be quite limiting.

We should involve people with disabilities in our accessibility efforts and we should involve them as early as possible. But we should also do our best before wasting their time. Simple accessibility remediation should be done way before inviting people with disabilities, because otherwise we risk wasting a lot of time to just get the basics into place. An example is alternative text or keyboard accessibility on interactive elements. If we find about them when we finally involve people with disabilities we did it wrongly. Basics must be fixed before we invest into testing with real people.

Also, use automatic tools to check for accessibility failures. They are no replacement for manual testing, but can help with discovering up to 30% of WCAG issues. Automatic tools can’t really say that we are accessible, but they can quickly discover where we have obvious accessibility issues in the code.

A combination of internal resources, automatic tools, cooperating with accessibility specialists and people with disabilities is the best way to make things more accessible!

Who needs to take care of accessibility?

Actually this deserves the famous “it depends” answer. But to make it a bit more practical I often suggest that everybody involved in production have their role in making things accessible. Often we may think that accessibility is only a domain of developers and designers, but in reality we need more than that to make things accessible. We often need the whole company to cooperate and sometimes roles overlap;

  • designers of all kinds, user interface, content, user experience, print,
  • developers, primarily front-end, but in some cases also back-end,
  • content providers – everybody making content,
  • procurement responsible – buying inaccessible products and services has a direct impact on our overall accessibility,
  • actually anybody that creates content or has a say in product and service development.

Sometimes multiple roles cover same surfaces, for example design, develop and content that are often mixed together at the end and demand cooperation. A lot of things may be out-sourced, so cooperation maybe don’t happen all the needed time and we need to make sure we can reach out to out-source providers multiple times, so that we can fix some things that we weren’t able to prevent.

Often we have a lot of existing content, so we need to have support available after they delivered it to us. That can be a part of procurement, to make sure we can get back to the providers and fix things more efficiently.

Do third parties also need to be accessible?

Yes. This is an absolute yes. When we depend on third parties and use them in our product or service we need to make sure they are also accessible. Just trusting sales and marketing in this can be a problem when we don’t get accessibility statements that indicate proper accessibility evaluation was actually made. And most often all of them have at least parts that are not totally accessible, so beware of accessibility statements that claim 100% conformance.

It’s best to have accessibility as a part of procurement processes, long before implementation. In some cases it can be that we only have a single provider and inaccessible at the same time. Then we need to make it clear for them that it is our priority to use accessible products and services and also be honest about it in our accessibility statement.

Do we need accessibility statement?

Again an absolute yes. Such a statement is not a sales and marketing over-promising document but a sincere, honest accessibility self-evaluation for people with disabilities to know what they can expect, especially where we need to improve things and what can we offer while we improve them.

Developing an Accessibility Statement (opens in new window) provides excellent resources and even a tool to generate a statement, but to be able to do so we need first to map and audit products and services.

How to make sure we stay accessible?

Even when we make things accessible, following the previous steps, we risk to create new accessibility barriers the day after if we don’t have the knowledge, tools and processes in place to prevent it. On-boarding of new employees and quality assurance of out-sourced resources are key, besides internal processes that are needed for continuous accessibility.

On the other hand we may also need to conform to new versions of WCAG when they are officially recommended or at least when they are required by the legislation. So we also need to follow up on changes on that level.

Conclusion – it’s a program, not a project!

To summarize – we need to integrate accessibility throughout the organization, we need to train people that are involved in all stages of products and services and we need to make sure procurement integrates accessibility as well. It’s a journey and not a destination, we can also say. It may look overwhelming at first, but it is manageable and organizations of all sizes can make it when they put some efforts into it.

Author: Bogdan Cerovac

I am IAAP certified Web Accessibility Specialist (from 2020) and was Google certified Mobile Web Specialist.

Work as digital agency co-owner web developer and accessibility lead.

Sole entrepreneur behind IDEA-lab Cerovac (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility lab) after work. Check out my Accessibility Services if you want me to help your with digital accessibility.

Also head of the expert council at Institute for Digital Accessibility A11Y.si (in Slovenian).

Living and working in Norway (🇳🇴), originally from Slovenia (🇸🇮), loves exploring the globe (🌐).

Nurturing the web from 1999, this blog from 2019.

More about me and how to contact me: