This is the concluding article in a series I’ve been writing on accessible web experiences. In the first article, “Why Do We Develop Accessible Web Experiences?” I discussed the “why” of accessible digital design. In “Building a Better Blueprint,” I covered creating personas, user journeys, sitemaps, and wireframes consistent with universal design principles. In “ARIA: 5 Best Practices for Screen Readers and Other Assistive Devices,” I shared techniques for making web experiences accessible for screen readers and other assistive devices. In “How to Talk to Your Clients About Why Website Accessibility Matters,” I offered some advice on how to discuss the importance of accessible website design with your clients. In this final article I’ll discuss how to respond to common questions and concerns that may come up when you’re talking with clients about website accessibility.
In my previous article in this series, I covered the three primary reasons — ethical, business growth, and legal — why your clients should care about website accessibility, and I explained how I make the case for website accessibility to my agency’s clients. These arguments are enough to convince most to invest in website accessibility.
However, some clients may have lingering tactical questions or concerns that you’ll need to address before they’ll commit to accessible web experiences. Here are some that I frequently hear from clients, and how I respond to each.
How do you explain the added cost of accessible websites?
My agency doesn’t charge an extra fee for building a website that is ADA-compliant, because every site we build is designed from the ground up for accessibility. It’s the same way we handle mobile responsive websites. Both are non-negotiable for us. If we build your website, it’s going to be responsive, and it’s going to be accessible.
This means it does take longer, and therefore will cost our clients slightly more, but that’s the only way we build websites, period. We can’t point to specific billed hours and say, “That’s where we made the site accessible,” because it’s all integrated into our total effort. I highlight this in part by including a line item for ADA-compliance on our invoices, and the cost is $0.
What if a client says they’d rather deal with accessibility later?
After-the-fact accessibility has two fundamental problems:
- It’s never as good.
- It ends up costing more.
In the early days of ADA compliance for the physical environment, wheelchair ramps were retrofitted onto buildings that had not been architected with accessibility in mind. These bolted-on remediations solved the problem of bare legal compliance, but the truly elegant transformations came when architects started designing buildings from the ground up with universal accessibility in mind.
They’re more cost effective too. Consider the cost of not building a house to code, then having to go back later to tear down sheetrock and alter framing. You may pay a little more on the front end to design a code-compliant house or an ADA-compliant website. But the cost and trouble of going back later to retrofit compliance is ultimately so much worse.
What if a client wants to use a plugin instead?
I once had a client from a major brand ask me for a quote to make their site accessible. So I studied their existing site and offered him a reasonable price for the remediation. He decided instead to go with a much cheaper plugin.
A couple years later, the brand hired a new digital director who got in touch with me and said, “Hey, I think this plugin might not protect us from litigation.”
He was right, and I told him why. I explained some of the deeper problems I’d seen with their website’s accessibility, and how the plug-in failed to address them. They needed a more fundamental rebuild. Then I gave him a new quote he agreed to, and we got to work.
To be fair, high-quality accessibility plugins can enhance your site’s compliance. They are, however, almost never a sufficient solution in themselves. They’re attractive shortcuts because of their ease and (sometimes zero) cost.
But plugins can’t write helpful identifying alt text for your images. They can’t add the right ARIA labels if your site doesn’t provide enough context to guide those choices. Plugins can’t fix a confusing navigation experience or compensate for a poorly considered user journey. They can’t rearrange befuddling content architecture.
When used as standalone shortcuts, plugins often render hacked, ugly, brand-inconsistent encounters for those selecting the separate-but-not-equal “accessible” experience. And, unlike truly accessible web design, plugins do nothing to create a better web experience for all.
Once you build me an accessible site, can I forget about accessibility?
Accessibility is an ongoing process, and your clients’ sites can easily slip out of compliance as multiple parties add new content and front-end features.
As your clients add new images to their sites, are they avoiding using pictures of text? Are they including descriptive alt text with each image? As designers build new creative assets for your clients’ sites, are background colors providing enough color contrast with overlaying text?
In order to keep a site ADA-compliant and accessible, your clients should educate all the people who contribute new material to the site. You can offer to help.
Consider creating an accessibility checklist to be used for all new content and features. Better yet, help your clients explain the “why” behind accessible content and design. Once their people understand the importance and spend enough time creating compliant content, accessibility should become second nature.
Remember the Why of Accessible Design
As I wrote when I started this series, accessible website design is about so much more than basic compliance and litigation avoidance. Let’s embrace a bolder vision of what the web can be, then work together to make it real. As the architects, developers, designers, writers, and agencies of the modern web, let’s empower all people with the abundant resources and capabilities of our connected world. Let’s make the web better for everyone.