Accessibility statements are an ideal place to empower visitors to your website. Most accessibility statements are too technical, and don't necessarily address the needs of the visitor. Those that do address the needs of visitors often have the information lost in a myriad of other information that is unlikely to be understood by the average visitor to the website. What should and shouldn't be included in an accessibility statement?
Author: Gez Lemon
This article has been kindly translated into French by Monique Brunel.
An accessibility statement typically shows an overview of the accessibility features implemented on a website. Unfortunately, most accessibility statements concentrate on the technical aspects, which will mean very little to most visitors of the website. The technical aspects will make sense if your website is aimed at web developers and designers, but if your website is aimed at the general public, the accessibility statement should highlight how to get the most from your website in a way that is understandable to your target audience.
The first and most important part of an accessibility statement should demonstrate your commitment to accessibility, and provide a means of contacting the website for people that may be experiencing problems. For example:
Juicy Studio is committed to ensuring that this website is accessible to everyone. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the accessibility of this site, please contact me, as I am continually striving to improve the experience for all visitors.
The focus of the rest of the accessibility statement should be about empowering your visitors, illustrating how to get the most from your website and how to overcome any accessibility barriers that might be present in your content.
A lot of accessibility statements start with a section about conformance. Conformance is an important aspect of accessibility, but the chances are that conformance will be of little interest to your visitors; they can either use the website efficiently, or they can't, and that's likely to be all your visitors care about. If you feel compelled to mention all guidelines and recommendations that you follow, consider putting them in a glossary at the end of the accessibility statement to save those who are not that interested having to wade through a bulky section on conformance.
You may have gone to considerable lengths ensuring that your content is accessible, and it's quite likely that you would like to tell your visitors about the steps you've taken. It's not unusual to find the following in accessibility statements:
- Link phrases make sense when read out of context
- Tabular data is marked up correctly
- Form controls are explicitly associated with their prompts
- Style sheets are used for presentation
- Font-sizes are specified using relative units of measurement
These may well be commendable features, but what do they mean to your visitors? Surely a visitor that gathers a list of links from a page would realise whether or not they made sense out of context without a statement to that effect? Similarly, a visitor is likely to realise whether or not tabular data is marked up correctly, and whether form controls are explicitly associated with their prompt without you stating it; particularly as they primarily benefit a particular section of your audience that may not necessarily understand the implications of the statements, but would definitely notice if those features hadn't been implemented. Whilst these steps might improve the accessibility of your content, they may not mean that much to your visitors, and will likely discourage them from reading the rest of your accessibility statement.
When you write about the accessibility features you have implemented, also provide instructions that illustrate how visitors to your website can make use of them. Rather than write a statement that the document is semantically correct, explain how your visitors can use these rich semantics to improve their experience on your website. For example, if you have used headings correctly, explain how visitors to your website can navigate using headings alone. Visitors using recent versions of screen readers can navigate using the following keystrokes:
- H to cycle forwards through the headings
- Shift + H to cycle backwards through the headings
- 1 to navigate to the next level 1 heading (or a number between 1 and 6 to navigate to the next heading on this level)
- Shift + 1 to navigate to the previous level 1 heading (or a number between 1 and 6 to navigate to the previous heading on this level)
- INSERT + F6 to provide a list of all headings
Also, keep in mind that people with disabilities are not always using an assistive technology due to the cost. Opera has excellent keyboard navigation that is invaluable to visitors with motor difficulties. In Opera, the following keys can be used to navigate headings:
- S to cycle forwards through the headings
- W to cycle backwards through the headings
To truly empower your visitors, and to ensure they get the most out of the Web in general, it's essential that you explain how they can make use of the accessibility features that you have implemented. If you have included relative links to enhance navigation, explain how they can be used by visitors to your website. As well as being beneficial to visitors using text-only browsers, these features are also exposed to graphical browsers such as Mozilla and Opera. Explaining how visitors can adjust the font-size is far more beneficial than stating that font-sizes are specified using relative units of measurement. If you have provided a style sheet switcher, explain how to use alternate style sheets with user agents that support style sheet switching, along with your implementation of style sheet switching for user agents that support style sheets, but not style sheet switching. If you have included a
longdesc attribute for complex images, explain how visitors using assistive technology can access these descriptions. If you have marked up abbreviations and acronyms correctly, explain how they might be beneficial to your visitors, along with tools that can be used to expose abbreviations and acronyms. Similarly, explain how visitors can make use of definitions if you've used them, along with all other accessibility features that you've implemented.
This is the one section that is very rarely included in an accessibility statement. The primary reason is that authors are unlikely to want to admit that, despite their best efforts, some sections of the website are inaccessible. The point of this section isn't so much about admitting to your failures, but providing advice on how people can gain access to parts of the website that may otherwise be inaccessible to them. For example, if a section of the website relies on some technology that may not be accessible to all visitors, this is where you can point users to the accessible version of that content.
The most important thing is that visitors to your website can report problems they might encounter, and learn how to get the most from your website.