AbilityNet recommends that every site should have an Accessibility help page. Whether you have a fully accessible site or not they provide a useful stepping stone on a user journey, they offer practical help to your customers and show them that you have thought about their needs.
As a minimum we recommend that they include:
- a statement about the accessibility of the site,
- an explanation of any special accessibility features and links to tools such as My Computer My Way
- contact details for feedback.
Why do you need an accessibility help page?
Of course we want every site on the web to be accessible but you can have an accessibility page even if your site isn't accessible. It's not a legal obligation - more of a way to deliver a better customer experience. Having an accessibility help page doesn't make a site compliant or accessible, but a good accessibility help page can make your site more usable and could encourage people to choose you instead of the competition.
An accessibility page gives you a chance to warn people if you know there are parts of the site with accessibility issues or which have been difficult to adapt. It also gives you chance to offer alternatives, such as a customer support telephone number.
Help as much as you can
Imagine a relatively wealthy, recently retired couple planning their first luxury cruise. They don't consider themselves disabled, but when thinking about a cruise they have all sorts of questions about the facilities and adaptations which may help make the experience more comfortable.
Like many older people they are comfortable using a tablet computer to browse websites but often have a problem with small text, scrolling images and forms that are hard to use.
Of course it also makes sense for the site to be accessible. The law says it should comply with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines but in a competitive market it needs to be designed and tested with the needs of these customers in mind. Some of the target market will be using assistive technology, whether that is voice over to compensate for a visual impairment or an alternative mouse due to arthritis.
Just as the people joining the cruise will remember the help they get from attentive staff, their first experience of the company may well be a website which also caters for their needs and makes them feel welcome. It makes sense for the cruise companies to think about accessibility and making sure that people have the help they need to use their site - or risk seeing them switch to a competitor.
What to include in your accessibility help page
1. Compliance statement
Many sites use the accessibility help page to state that they comply with WCAG 2.0, which is the internationally-accepted minimum standard for web site accessibility. UK law requires AA compliance, so the statement is seen as fulfilling a legal obligation. Even if the site is fully accessible this is helpful, as it reassures the site user that common features should be available to all, but there is more to it than that.
Of course it is best to be working towards compliance, but where you know something on your site isn't fully accessible it is an opportunity to provide alternatives. Imagine how frustrating it is to be trying to use a service which the site owner knows cannot work for you - where it may well be better to offer customer support by phone.
Not sure how compliant your site is?
Speak to your web team, or ask an external expert like AbilityNet to conduct a test and provide some suggested wording. Or you can conduct simple single page tests using something like WAVE from WebAim at wave.webaim.org - you just enter a webpage address and discover how many accessibiliy issues it contains.
Some of them will be easily solved, like adding Alt Tags to images, whilst others may be more difficult to unpick, but at least you know where you stand and have an idea of the barriers your customers face.
2. Help with accessibility features
Think about the customers that may need your help to complete their user journeys. Many will be using a smartphone or tablet instead of standard browser and desktop PC and most will not know about the ways in which they can adjust their device to suit their needs.
Somewhere in the settings they may well be able to increase text size, add voice output or increase colour contrast - that may make the difference between sticking to your site or going elsewhere.
That's why we recommend a link to My Computer My Way, a free tool that explains all the accessibility features built into common desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. You can link to it for free, but if you don't want to people to leave your site it's also possible to embed that information within your site, branding it to your look and feel - there's more details about this elswehere on our site.
You may also have specific tools that help people use your site.
For example AbilityNet uses BrowseAloud, which reads content to people who are dyslexic or have others reasons for needing help with reading content. We link to the software in various places on our site and we include details in our accessibility help page.
3. Feedback mechanism
A final part of the jigsaw is to encourage feedback from customers. Make it easy to get in touch so that people choose you instead of your competitors - and listen to what they have to say about their experience.
Of course this is good practise for many other reasons but in terms of accessibility it encourages people to highlight issues they have using your service.
You can also tell people about other ways of using your service, such as email or phone, or even face-to-face alternatives.
Where to put your accessibility help page link
Make it easy to find. A common place to put a link is in the bottom menu, in a small font size alongside with various corporate information. Although convention means many people will look there it is better if you can place it at the top of the page in a more prominent position, or both.
To help people using screen readers it could be one of the first links, so that they don't have to tab through endless content to find it, or put a link next to any extras you offer such as style switchers.
- Review your accessibility help page
Take a look at your current accessibility page and see how helpful it is. It may contain a simple statement about compliance, but does it help some one use your service? Does it encourage them to choose you instead of a competitor?
- Update your help page
It may take some time to sort out the compliance of your site but it should be easy to put in a few links, such as My Computer My Way. And it won't take long to add a feedback method, whether that is an email address, a telephone number or a new form.
- Watch the video
This article is based on a webinar run by AbilityNet in September 2013. Watch the video of this webinar on Vimeo, although at the time of writing it had not been captioned.
- You can also view the slides from the webinar on Slideshare.
Mark Walker, AbilityNet