Integrating Accessibility into Marketing & Tech

By Dan Anderson, Bill Fuchs


Despite recent progress, there is a long way to go in integrating accessibility into the fabric of the marketing and technology ecosystem. The more we understand about the barriers that come between people with various disabilities and online content, the stronger the moral imperative becomes to intentionally build sites and digital tools that are truly accessible.

It's the right thing to do — for disabled individuals, for a fully-inclusive society and for business. This Disability Pride Month, let's applaud the progress made and continue to expand web accessibility to make the virtual world better for more and more people.

Technical Advancements Offer Options

Sixty-one million adults (or 26 percent ) live with a disability — a demographic businesses can't afford to ignore. Transcribed audio, program-readable page structure, adequate color contrast, mouse-less navigation and other aspects of accessible web sites are hugely helpful to anyone suffering full or partial loss of sight, hearing, mobility, or cognitive ability, on a temporary, permanent, progressive or situational basis. Inaccessible web content excludes and fails to serve a significant portion of your potential audience, but intentionally accessible design and application can benefit just about everyone.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are international standards for making web content "directly accessible to as many people as possible, and capable of being re-presented in different forms to match different peoples' sensory, physical and cognitive abilities." Administrated by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), WCAG forms the basis of standards and regulations, against which accessibility compliance is measured. WCAG begins with four foundational principles: Web content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust to be classified as accessible.

Accessibility requirements fall under the purview of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and legal repercussions in the U.S. are generally limited to class-action lawsuits — which have been on the rise since at least 2018. In addition to the costly penalty of the lawsuits, violations cause reputational damage by excluding disabled customers, alienating their advocates, and perpetuating equity gaps.

Increasingly, essential functions including healthcare and finance, are best conducted online, and lack of access to these services impacts people with disabilities more than others. For example, a small errand may require planning for transportation, assistance, and other logistical considerations, while digital tools can facilitate anything from finding a doctor to navigating insurance networks, paying bills and receiving benefits.

Navigating Uncertainty to Implement Accessibility

There is no one way to do web accessibility right. Guidelines are not prescriptive, so folks with the best intentions expecting a clear road map may be frustrated. A gray area is necessary because web accessibility needs to be applied to a range of situations. That means there won't be a quick fix, but rather ample opportunity for innovation.

Challenges will certainly arise, especially when considering that content is consumed on many different devices and platforms. Characteristics introduced with any new hardware-software interface will impact accessibility; enabling third-party content inevitably opens the door to non-conformance. This gets even more complicated when you get into regulated industries like financial services and healthcare.

Accessibility should be baked into the project plan from the beginning. Consider accessibility implications at every development stage, from strategy, user experience design, graphic design, content creation, site development, and maintenance. You can retrofit a set of rules onto a finished product, but it won't work as well as considering the accessible dimensions of performance and design from the start. Building accessibility compliance from the get-go also saves you unnecessary spending on the tail end of a project. For example, designers should consider color contrast ratio requirements and work from a brand-approved color palette, instead of having to modify their work after the fact.

Incorporate accessibility into existing content. Evaluate pages with both automated and manual accessibility checks. In addition to laptops or desktops, check pages on screen readers, mobile phones and tablets. Check every requirement for the designated WCAG level. Log any non-conforming issues, prioritize them, plan remediations, and get started to make every element accessible.

Build in accessibility beyond the website. All digital content, email marketing, digital communications with customers and social media have accessibility dimensions. Consider WCAG as a starting point, seek diverse ideas and perspectives from the disability community and embrace the creative possibilities and innovations to come on the road to accessibility.

A Few Considerations to Get Started

Text: Check to make sure that all text:

  • is visually legible at all zoom levels, font sizes and spacing
  • meets color contrast ratio minimums compared with the background
  • is available and intelligible to a screen reader.

Audio and video: Provide transcripts and subtitles for all audible media.

Images: Include graphics in html format whenever possible, and add text to meaningful images that describes content, points out relationships and other visual meaning, and explains what the image conveys.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Dan Anderson is the VShift managing director of technology.

Bill Fuchs is the VShift QA and accessibility lead.