When it comes to enhancing usability and accessibility on your website, do you ask your audience? Do they know how to get a hold of you when they run into a challenge or barrier? Do they believe you care and are listening to their concerns? I've read many times, "Clear communication between a business and its users is the key to improving experiences." When it comes to digital accessibility, this practice seems to go out the window. As a business, it's your responsibility to establish clear communication and maintain it. As a user, it's your responsibility to communicate when something isn't working the way it should or prevents you from achieving your goal. The blame goes both ways—to the business and the users—and something must be done to advance and innovate accessibility.
It's clear that users who face accessibility/usability issues would rather just go somewhere else.
Let's look at the issue from the business standpoint first. The common pushback for accessibility is that it costs too much or takes too much time. If you're releasing updates, making changes, or publishing new content, you're already dedicating time and money to your digital channels. Why not embed a level of accessibility into them? Instead of viewing it as a new initiative, bake it into the process. Reimagine the expectations on how long that next blog post will take to write and schedule, how long it will take to fix bugs, or how long a complete redesign will take. You'd be surprised at how little time, money, and energy accessibility truly takes once you get into it. Tools like Converge Accessibility's WebAlign make it much easier to bake accessibility into your design, development and test processes—and if you subscribe, you’ll probably see me on their weekly calls with subscribers.
As a business, you likely have a website with a contact us page and an input form for getting in touch. Why not create a feedback system along those same lines that’s dedicated to reporting bugs, usability issues, and accessibility challenges? The key here is to dedicate someone to respond and provide updates to the user on what is done regarding their report. If a user called or sent you a message notifying you of an issue they encountered, you have a responsibility to communicate what will be done to resolve it. The two-way lane of communication is critical and oftentimes left out, instead it is added to the release notes of an update.
Between communicating effectively and baking accessibility into standard practice, any business can remove a burden from its customers. This is a more proactive approach instead of relying on the consumer to self-advocate and self-accommodate.
If businesses had clear lines of communication and responded to the report, that could lead to a 32% increase in online users and potential sales.
Now, let's look at things from the end user standpoint. I took to social media to ask my community what they do when they encounter accessibility issues on a website. The prompt was, "Do you let them know?" or "Do you just go somewhere else?"
How do those two options affect the business?
- If a user lets you know, they are making a tremendous effort because they have selected you as their primary option. You should be proud of that.
- If a user goes somewhere else, you are left in the dark and only have analytics to show that your consumers are not completing desired engagements.
Now for the responses to the post. Of the 64 responses:
- 19% let the business know of the issue
- 51% go someplace else to find what they were looking for
- 13% didn't even know they could report accessibility issues
- 17% either continue using the site they are on or request assistance
Based on the percentages above, it's clear that users who face accessibility/usability issues would rather just go somewhere else. Why is that? The most common reasons reported all centered around the amount of time and effort required by the user being spent with minimal returns. Users explained that they either didn't get a response at all or would spend too much time reporting every issue they encountered.
While nearly 20% of users said they report the issue, a staggering 13% responded by saying they didn’t know how to. If businesses had clear lines of communication and responded to the report, that could lead to a 32% increase in online users and potential sales. If that’s not convincing enough, only 17% of users "tough it out" or ask a friend/family member for assistance.
Conclusion: Make it Easy to Report Barriers
Now that we've viewed things from both the business and user standpoints, what's the best way to remedy this issue moving forward? Providing a simple and easy way for users to report issues and barriers is the first step. Once that is in place, it's time to spark conversations and educate your consumers about the added feature. The best way to do this is through social media or newsletters. Not all your consumers will care to take notice, but the ones it applies to will appreciate your efforts and reward you with some great feedback. As the feedback comes in, you should have a clear process for what should be done with it, who needs to be notified, how it will be resolved, and how the changes will be relayed to the audience. This is all great for the business. For the users, it is key to create informative reports so that issues can be recreated and evaluated.
Another effective avenue is to bring users in and let them take part in improving the experience, not only for themselves, but for others who face the same issues and may be shy to say something about it. Your business needs to gain users' trust before anything can be done. Meeting in the middle is the first step, but the business carries the primary responsibility. After all, the customer can always go somewhere else.
Until businesses and users can effectively communicate in a safe and open manner, digital accessibility will continue to fall behind the rapid advances in technology. As a business, clear communication both internally and externally is critical. It is equally so for users to confidently report issues and know they will be resolved. When it comes to accessibility, "The customer is always right" is truer than ever before. If you don't experience accessibility issues in your daily life, you will never know they exist. That is, unless you listen to the feedback of those who do.
If you are ready to be proactive and embed accessibility into your content development lifecycle for the benefit of your users, feel free to inquire about a baseline web accessibility audit and to find out how WebAlign can help guide your efforts.
About the Author
Hi, I am James Warnken.
I am a 24-year-old, visually impaired/legally blind online accessibility specialist with a deep background in digital marketing and design. I have recently obtained my IAAP CPACC certification and am currently pursuing the IAAP WAS certification to become CPWA. Over the last few years, working in marketing and online accessibility, I have realized that I have a very unique perspective compared to most. Living with a visual disability, 7+ years in the tech/marketing space, and now almost 2 years in the digital accessibility space. My mission is to educate, guide, and connect organizations so that they can own their accessibility initiatives instead of relying on overlays, third party providers, or hoping that it solves itself.
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