Deconstructing Accessibility Statements

Don’t read legal-ese? This will help you understand what accessibility statements actually say, and more importantly, why.

Black oval eye glasses on an out-of-focus stack of paper
Photo by Mari Helin on Unsplash

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In processing my answer to the questioner, I realized that I had the privilege of having been to law school which allows me to translate legal-ese into accessibility-ese (and vice-versa). So I told the questioner that I would write a comprehensive article rather than give them a quick two-sentence LinkedIn message about what should go into their accessibility statements.

Where should accessibility statements go?

The first question that needs to be asked and answered concerning accessibility statements is not what is in them, but where should they appear. Accessibility statements should always:

foo.com/accessibility.ext

where foo.com is your domain and .ext is the extension of your default framework such as accessibility.html or accessibility.php

Basic Accessibility Statement Components

At its highest level, an accessibility statement should contain at a minimum:

  1. A list of guidelines and standards the experience uses as an objective measurement of whether or not the commitment identified in step 1 is being met
  2. Accessible methodology for providing feedback.

Commitment

Expect some “weasel words” in most accessibility statement commitment sections. Weasel words is a colloquial phrase for language that makes it look like a direct statement is being made, when actually the language is vague.

  • committed to providing access to all individuals
  • actively working to increase the accessibility
  • dedicated to supporting customers with accessibility needs

Guidelines

This part is easy. WCAG 2.0? 2.1? and what level (A or AA, rarely does anyone try to meet AAA).

Feedback

You need to tell your users how they can report an issue where an experience is not accessible. And for goodness sake:

  1. if the feedback mechanism is chat, make sure you use an accessible chatbot (I like Olark — their chatbot is accessible, even if their site is pretty awful).
  2. if your company has multiple feedback channels, list at least two of them in your accessibility statement so the person reporting can choose the mechanism that best fits their preferred form of communications.
  3. If one of your channels is voice, make sure that your customer service reps are trained in taking relay calls. Or better yet, have a CSR trained in assistive technology and taking calls from users with disabilities.
Screenshot of Google accessibility help page showing email, chat, voice and online help
Screenshot of Google accessibility help page showing email, chat, voice and online help
Google offers several different modes of accessibility assistance

Can’t I use an Accessibility Statement Generator?

There are several of them out there. Plug in a company name, level of accessibility, email address, press a button and BOOM, you have an accessibility statement. It is my opinion that anyone who publishes an automatically generated accessibility statement needs to have their head examined.

  • Accessibility statement language need to be customized for each and every company
  • Accessibility statements should be reviewed by a lawyer with litigation experience who understands how the wording could be used against them in a lawsuit.
W3C accessibility statement generator screenshot from https://www.w3.org/WAI/planning/statements/generator/#create
W3C accessibility statement generator screenshot from https://www.w3.org/WAI/planning/statements/generator/#create
From https://www.w3.org/WAI/planning/statements/generator/#create

More Advanced Accessibility Statement Considerations

If you are going for a more expansive accessibility statement, consideration should also be given to:

  • Supported Platforms Matrix — Full stack information on supported hardware, operating systems, browsers, whether you honor mobile device accessibility settings, and supported assistive technology.
  • Best Experienced On — Full stack information on environments that have been comprehensively reviewed including information on whether the testing was done by an independent third party and whether or not the testing was done by people with disabilities
  • Testing methodology — How do you test your software?
  • References to applicable national or local laws

Known exceptions

The purpose of the “known exceptions” section of the accessibility statement is about avoiding user frustration. Legitimate accessibility exceptions do exist. For example:

  • Organizations may have one fully accessible path that provides complete access to information that is otherwise inaccessible in other paths. An example of this would be a complicated chart where the graph is inaccessible, but the data used to build the graph is available in a downloadable .CSV file that people with vision loss can load into Excel or Google sheets and process using whatever sorting works best for them. Another common example is an inaccessible calendar that allows you to type in dates from the keyboard, bypassing the inaccessible UI.
  • Third party advertising and plugins. This one is controversial because you (the site owner) have chosen to associate yourself, usually in a contractual manner, with third party products. And while you SHOULD demand that your vendor make them accessible, you can’t be continually checking to make sure that they haven’t broken something on their side.

Testing Methodology

This is where your accessibility efforts can really shine. In this section, you can highlight things like:

  • whether you have testers with disabilities
  • whether your testing is done by an independent third party
  • whether you do user research with people with disabilities

Supported Platforms Matrix

A supported platforms matrix is a grid that contains a list of the hardware, operating systems, browsers, and assistive technology where the experience is *officially* supported.

Best Experienced On

Best experienced on is a statement of which environments from the supported platforms matrix you feel is the best experience. Typically the “best experienced on” environment is where the most exhaustive testing was performed.

References

Add in Section 508, CCPA, GDPR, AODA or any other regulations that may also control your website content.

  • Organizations can’t achieve their corporate social responsibility / D&I goals if they exclude disabled employees or potential employees from being able to use their website or products.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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