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Accessibility Statement: What Is It, And Who Uses It?
On an increasing number of web sites you can find the phrase "accessibility statement". Sometimes it is very visible and hard to miss, in other cases we can barely find it. Did you ever read any of these accessibility statements? If you ever did, do you read it on all sites where you find them? In this article I will explain what is the accessibility statement, and give you a couple of points to decide if you need it on your web site.
The purpose of the accessibility statement
The accessibility statement does not have one particular purpose. It can serve different functions on different web sites. You can use it for any of the following reasons:
In an accessibility statement you can make your site visitors aware of the fact that you do care about accessibility, you plan to create and maintain a web site which is accessible to people with disabilities, and to any other groups.
State standards compliance
Your country, state or organization may require you to follow a particular set of standards or guidelines, for example Section 508, or WCAG. The accessibility statement is the place to assure your site visitors that you do comply with those standards, and if for any reasons you do not, explain the shortcomings, and why you do not comply.
Instructions for users of assistive technologies
It is mostly relevant when you run a web application, and aside from making it accessible, you have implemented extra features for users of certain assistive technologies. For example, if you have provided a set of scripts for the users of the JAWS screen reader program, in the accessibility statement provide instructions on how to download these scripts, how to use them, and how these scripts will enhance user experience. This does not suggest to to provide scripts instead of accessibility features.
Address issues which are currently not accessible
In certain instances your site or web application might not be totally accessible, This could be a result of several things: you are developing with a technology which does not allow you to provide an accessible solution and for some reason you must work with this technology, or you already have a roadmap of making your site accessible, but you are still working on it. The lack of accessibility does not mean that it is enough to state it in the accessibility statement, rather, it should be an interim solution while the accessibility problems are being resolved.
Who reads the accessibility statement?
It is not a rhetorical question, even though sometimes it feels it could be. Accessibility statements are not read very often. When a site is easy to use, fully accessible, and functionality is obvious, people won't feel the need to read it. Also, it depends where is the accessibility statement posted, if users can find it easily. Often times, it is similar to the "about us" or the "mission statement" pages. People don't necessarily have to read these pages in order to use your services, but they can be extremely useful to those who would like to learn more about your company, your team, or your philosophy. If the accessibility statement contains information that you feel users of assistive technologies, or people with disabilities should read, make a point to direct your visitors to this statement. One good place for example to reference the accessibility statement is the help section of your site or web application.
Thus, regardless of what the accessibility statement contains, you can see that it should be able to address anybody whom you expect to visit your site. Make sure that your accessibility statement is not too technical, unless your audience in general is. If you cannot explain your commitment to accessibility in simple terms, then probably you still need to work more on accessibility.
Where should you post the accessibility statement?
If you provide information to users which they should read before using your site or services, make sure it is easy to come across while looking for the rest of the information you provide. If your accessibility statement belongs into the same category as your "mission statement", you can either include it among the pages about your site or company, or many people place it close to the privacy, copyright and disclaimer statements.
Do you need an accessibility statement?
Logically this should have been the first question to ask, however, it is difficult to answer without understanding what is involved in creating an accessibility statement.
Ideally, nobody should write an accessibility statement. All web sites and web applications should be completely accessible. Furthermore, all applications should be intuitive and easy to use, regardless of the technology your visitor uses to access the site. However, this is unfortunately not the case yet, and while we do not live in an ideal world, there might be a reason to use accessibility statements.
If your site is either completely accessible, or relatively simple, there might not be a reason to include an accessibility statement. However, an accessibility statement can always be a selling point of your web site. There are many web sites which are not accessible, or only partially accessible. People with disabilities, just like anybody else, are looking for a positive experience, they want to find information or use applications, and not spend time on figuring out how a site works. The simple fact of posting an accessibility statement on your site tells people that you do care about accessibility, even if they won't read it.
If you sell products or services, especially to
the public sector, you might want to provide any possible way of assuring your customers about accessibility, after all, they need to make a purchasing decision based on current legislation, which in more and more countries calls for accessible products.
Personally, I do not use an accessibility statement; I hope that the Even Grounds web site is easy to use, intuitive, and given that it is an accessibility consulting company, it should by nature be accessible. If you find it otherwise, please let us know.
How to write an accessibility statement
Depending on what you need to cover in an accessibility statement, you might just be able to download a simple one to use it, of course as long as it is intended to be reused.
By addressing all the above issues which relates to your web site, you should have a quite extensive accessibility statement.
You can also hire an accessibility consulting company to review your web site, your company's values and draft one for you.
One thing you should make sure of: the accessibility statement is not used to make your site appear to be batter than what it is. While claiming false information will not have a legal consequence in many cases, it will hurt your site's reputation when users find out that the accessibility statement does not reflect the accessibility of the site. It is ok to have a site which is not 100 percent accessible. However, it is not appropriate not to commit to improving a site's accessibility where it is needed.
When it comes to accessibility statements, there is no right or wrong. Currently accessibility legislations do not require one. You or your company needs to decide if your site would benefit from writing one.