The Equality and Human Rights Commission continues to push website accessibility further up the digital agenda to improve compliance. We ask the question: what is the actual cost of website accessibility?
Back in September 2018 .gov published accessibility guidelines to support new laws surrounding website accessibility. The guidelines state that all public sector bodies are now required to adhere to digital accessibility regulations, meaning that if you’re a public sector organisation or higher education facility you must make your website or mobile app more accessible by making it ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.
There are costs to consider related to website accessibility. The real cost comes down to human rights and equality. Web-users with certain disabilities are suffering as a consequence of brands and organisations not producing accessible digital media. Rightly so, the Government are trying to put things right by ensuring public sector organisations follow the rules and publish content and media that can be consumed by all.
The visually impaired, colour blind, hard of hearing or deaf users are the ones who are losing out. They rely on technology, for example screen readers, braille keyboards and other automated tools, to help them consume web content. They also rely on the Government, business owners and brands to create digital experiences and content that follow best-practice accessibility guidelines, allowing their supporting technology to work.
The Government created a task force that sits within the Government Digital Services (GDS) who have the responsibility for educating and auditing those institutions that are not adhering to the law. The Equality and Human Rights Commission are working closely with the GDS to support enforcement where needed. It’s reported that over 10,000 public sector websites have been reviewed by the GDS, highlighting that there’s much work to do to improve and retain compliance.
Website accessibility is often overlooked when maintaining or planning a new website. As a web design agency based in Cambridge, we work with several higher education facilities, helping them interpret the guidelines to ensure their content conforms to minimum W3C AA standards. This type of work typically starts with an accessibility audit whereby we provide a report that highlights accessibility flaws along with recommendations on how to put them right. Inevitably, this requires additional design, development and training to ensure content editors comply with the rules when publishing their latest work.
Building a website to meet W3C accessibility standards takes more time. Many extra steps and checks are required throughout the build process. This extra compliance inevitably comes at a cost. When we’re scoping a new project, accessibility requirements are always one of our first questions. It’s always better to plan for it upfront than apply it retrospectively.
Sometimes the extra time and cost associated with accessibility compliance can be prohibitive for a smaller project or business. As with our own website, we may not tick all the compliance boxes or meet single-A standards, but we’ll always work towards compliance through best practice which improves the user experience for all.
This topic of website accessibility raises several important questions. This is a topic that cannot be ignored. Is there room in society for digital ignorance and can the needs of those less advantaged continue to be ignored? For brands that trade online via ecommerce, should it not be compulsory for them to provide a fully accessible digital experience? Finally, how long do those with disabilities have to wait before the accessibility rules apply to the private sector?