Why Government Agencies Should Care About Website Accessibility
As technological progress marches forward, organizations must take care to ensure that their digital services are available to people regardless of ability. Accessibility is especially critical for government, because if a person with disabilities can’t get to a website, they could miss out on critical government services—including those that might directly benefit them.
As a result, public sector organizations must make sure that their digital platforms can be used by anyone. To better understand how organizations can effectively achieve this, Martin Lind, Vision Vice President of Services at Granicus, spoke about key ways to improve accessibility during a breakout session at the 2018 Granicus National Summit.
Lind started off the conversation by explaining how web accessibility is similar to providing a wheelchair ramp—with one key difference: “It’s a lot easier to make your website accessible than to build a wheelchair ramp,” he said. “However, it’s also much easier to make it inaccessible with a single click of a mouse.” This means public sector organizations must be extra vigilant in maintaining accessibility.
Similar to data security, accessibility is a spectrum ranging from non-compliant to compliant. “It’s really hard to be 100 percent accessible,” Lind said. “But you want to keep moving toward the compliance side of the spectrum, because you can always be more accessible.”
So what does this look like in action? Lind emphasized that the biggest risks on your website are often the easiest fixes. Below are a few examples:
Do: Use headings to label different sections of content and to outline the page. Screen readers can skip from header to header and Google uses it to determine content.
Don’t: Use bold or italics or underlines in headings as screen readers will normally ignore these stylistic elements. Additionally, don’t choose the heading number based on the design you like best, start with H1 tags and move down from there.
Bullet points, numbers and tables
Do: Only use numbers to sequence steps in a process, use bullets for everything else. Screen readers need a top row in each table that describes the content for every column, this allows every cell to be associated with a row description and a column description.
Don’t: Use tables for design, or copy and paste bullets, numbers or tables from another application without putting it in a plain text application first to strip out stray code and wonky formatting that will trip up the screen reader.
Do: Use alt text or alt tags to add an image description to each image. The screen reader can only read this text. However, you don’t need to add alt text to images that are purely decorative, the screen reader will just skip over the blank value.
Don’t: Be too short with your alt tags. Instead of describing something as “a flower in a field” try something more like “a yellow daffodil in a field of green grass under a cloudless blue sky.”