Many of us know the premise behind web accessibility: building a website that can serve site visitors of all abilities, backgrounds, and environments. But when it comes to bringing that idea to fruition, the task of enhancing a site’s accessibility — and maintaining that accessibility over time — can feel overwhelming and more like a chore than anything else. It’s this mindset that inhibits progress and leaves accessibility initiatives to fall by the wayside. As a result, your site’s user experience remains subpar and your chances of being subject to a lawsuit increase by the day.
So what can be done to change the mindset? How can we look at such an undertaking through a lens that inspires positive change? After all, a project has more chance of success when started from a place of zeal and determination than one of doubt and idleness. As you’ve probably guessed, the answer is employing empathy. Considering the overall goal of higher education and adjusting your perception of exactly whom accessibility is for can help you change your thinking.
Modern higher ed has moved toward providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for students of all walks of life. Diversity and equity initiatives are prioritized on campuses across the country, helping to ensure that prospective and current students feel accepted and, most important, accommodated.
Naturally, the thread of diversity, inclusivity, and support should be woven through every aspect of an institution, including its website. Paired with visuals and strong messaging about your school’s commitment, a highly accessible website affirms your stance and encourages all visitors to explore and learn more. It’s an explicit illustration of how your institution strives to accommodate all students and learning styles.
When thinking about audiences who benefit from accessible websites, it’s common to picture someone who is blind, deaf, or has advanced dexterity limitations. While it’s essential to accommodate such disabilities, it’s also important to remember that there are an endless number of scenarios in which people may be physically, mentally, emotionally, or environmentally unable to explore a website with ease. To further encourage empathy and understanding, ask yourself the following questions:
Chances are, you can answer “yes” to some or even most of these questions. In that case, you or someone you know would have benefited from compliant web accessibility at one point or another. Being able to resonate with site users of all abilities, whether these conditions are temporary or permanent, is key to understanding how much priority you should place on accessibility initiatives.
With empathy and practicality on your side, you’ll have to solidify next steps that make the most sense for your institution. To start, you should encourage buy-in and education among leadership and anyone who is managing the web presence. You should also inventory the most urgent and persistent issues on your site in an effort to prioritize them.
Finally, with all of your priorities in order, you can start to make meaningful strides toward an accessible website. With incremental changes to your most trafficked pages, you’re on your way to improving the user experience for not just some, but all.
mStoner’s accessibility checkup will provide you with actionable information to help you comply with legal accessibility requirements, improve website performance for the seven major user characteristics, address major components of your .edu, and increase outreach.
Kaycee Woodford Director of UX As Director of UX, Kaycee Woodford translates research, analytics, client goals, and customer needs into solutions that deliver results.