"Easy" Fixes Aren't Always Easy
Earlier this week, we had an interesting call with a customer. They said that they were making their way through an accessibility audit report that we had created earlier-- and progress at fixing the issues was moving slowly. Granted, our report left them with a LOT of work to make their site accessible. But, when we perform an accessibility audit, we always make sure to circle back with our customers and schedule a group call to clear up any confusion about the contents of the report. And, when we talked with this customer's development team of about 50 developers, they said that everything in the report was easy-to-understand and quick to fix. But now it wasn't. Something had changed. When they actually went to go fix the problems, the solution suddenly became difficult.
What happened to our customers to make our easy fixes suddenly not so easy? I think it really comes down to lack of general familiarity with the subject matter. I'll try to explain this with a simple example using the most basic accessibility problem that we're all familiar with-- alternative text on images. Say, our accessibility audit identifies several images without alternative text. We provide a screen shot with a code sample of the offending code. Then we show a corrected code sample with an alt attribute that includes the alternative text that is available to assistive technology. Simple right? Well, then the development team tries to correct missing alt text throughout their website and a few problems come up, like,
- What is appropriate alternative text? How descriptive does it need to be?
- I created an image with a <DIV> element-- but <DIV> doesn't support the alt attribute so what do I do?
- We've noticed that the title attribute seems to work on some things. Why can't we just use that instead?
An Audit Only Addresses a Snapshot in Time
The other much bigger problem with relying on an accessibility audit is that it only addresses a snapshot in time. Say our client decides that to use a new color palette for their overall theme and the color contrast of their fonts drops to 2:1. Or they move to a new responsive layout that doesn't probably allow enlarged text size and so contents in containers gets truncated or overflows (and obscures) other content on the page? These issues may be far beyond the scope of the original audit and leave our client exposed to accessibility issues that are potentially far larger than the issues that they originally had before our audit.
Clients Rarely Reach Out for Help
After working in the consulting world for the last 15 years, there is one thing I can confidently say: even your customers that trust you the most doesn't reach out for help. Yes, I've won more than my fair share of Requests for Proposals (RFP's) during my career but, when a customer reaches out with an RFP, the problem is usually very large and so the solution is terribly expensive. Customers will almost never reach out when the problem is "small." Instead, they will stumble through and spend far too many hours creating a solution that doesn't meet WCAG.
But here's the really crazy part. Even when a consultant sells the customer a block of hours, customers still rarely use them. And it doesn't seem to matter whether we offer them a non-disclosure statement (NDA)-- they just always seem to be reluctant to reach out for help. It's not until we've sat down with them over dinner and consumed far too much alcohol do customers seem willing to let down their guard and more freely allow us to help them. Not to reinforce a sexist stereotype, but it's not that different from watching my dad as I was growing up-- he would never ask a stranger for directions when he was lost, but he was perfectly fine asking (even demanding) that my mom help him with directions. There's something about a personal connection that breaks down the barriers. I don't think it comes down to lack of trust; instead, I think it's because people don't like to admit lack of expertise in front of people that they don't know well.
Training and WebAlign
So how do we get past this problem of clients being so shy about asking for help? I can't travel to spend personal time with our clients thanks to COVID-19. And, even if I could, I'd probably develop cirrhosis in the process. Instead, other consultants focus on online training, but that only solves a tiny part of the problem. Yes, it helps them fix today's problems (the ones identified in our audit report) but it does little to prevent tomorrow's problems.
Instead, we believe that our WebAlign solution offers the best of both worlds. There are over 70 unique, professional-quality training modules in WebAlign that focus on specific angles of the WCAG Success Criteria. Plus, our checklists continually requires team members to reinforce that knowledge in their day-to-day work. This gets back to our WebAlign as a micro-learning approach to web accessibility: checklists of targeted requirements bundled with short training modules specific to each checklist item is the fastest way to learn a subject as dense as WCAG.
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