By Megan Dausch, CSP Mentor
You’re browsing the web, and you come across a website that is inaccessible. Maybe you can’t complete a transaction, fill out a form, or can’t activate the “submit” button. What should you do? This article will explore some tips and ideas surrounding advocating for accessible experiences. This post only presents one perspective, and over time, you will develop your own strategies to deal with accessibility barriers.
Find the contact information.
When contacting companies about accessibility, I always start by scouring their website to see if they have an accessibility team or accessibility contact. Sometimes, this can be found on their accessibility statement page. If you can’t find a contact by searching on their site, you may try using a search engine to locate the company’s name and accessibility. You could also try finding the company on social media if you can’t find a contact. Check out the company’s LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media pages. If you can’t find an accessibility contact specifically, try reaching out to their general contact channels to see if they can put you in touch with an accessibility contact, or share the accessibility issue there directly.
Plan before reaching out.
While meeting with an accessibility barrier is incredibly frustrating, and often might evoke feelings of anger, reaching out to software developers or web developers in anger may not lead to your desired outcome. Carefully think about how you would like to approach the situation. Sometimes, it helps to take a step back before diving into writing an email, as taking time can put emotions in perspective.
Offer resources and be specific.
Many times, lack of accessibility stems from lack of awareness. You may wish to link to resources like the following:
When writing your email, be as specific as possible. What assistive technology are you using? What web browser and platform are you using to access the website/app/content? What is the outcome you are looking for? What should your assistive technology be doing on this particular app that it is not? For example, are buttons not labeled? Do images not have alt text, so all you hear are the words image followed by random letters or numbers? It’s okay if you don’t know all of this information but being able to provide as much details as possible will help.
Consider taking a screen shot or creating a brief video of the problem.
Sometimes, it helps developers to see the problem in action. You might consider creating a video of the issue. One way to do this is to set up a meeting on your preferred virtual meeting platform, join the meeting, and share your screen and audio, if needed. You can then create a video walking through the accessibility issue.
You don’t have to advocate.
Remember that advocating for accessibility can be fatiguing. We often feel that we need to constantly advocate for accessibility, but check-in with yourself to see if you feel up to advocating. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the stress of advocating will outweigh the hoped for outcome. You don’t need to feel obligated to tackle every accessibility issue you encounter.
What if the developer is unresponsive or gives me the impression that they don’t care about accessibility?
This is a case you may very well likely come up against. Unfortunately, digital asset owners may tell you that they don’t have the budget, or that accessibility is not a priority for them.
You might consider sharing that people with disabilities make up a large market share. According to the CDC, 26 percent of adults have disabilities. Depending upon your comfort level, you may even wish to ask other folks in your networks who also have disabilities to check out the website or app. Sometimes, there is power in numbers, and if the company gets many requests to make their product accessible, they may listen.
If the company still won’t make their product accessible, see what alternative solutions you may be able to cobble together. While there are times when no other options are available, there may be an alternative app that does something similar, or an alternative website where you can purchase the product from. If you must use the product, you might also consider using a visual interpreter service, like AIRA or Be My Eyes, to see if you can get the information you seek.
Advocating for accessibility is not a straight path. If can be a time-consuming process. Education, creativity, empathy, and level-headedness are tools that will serve you well as you find your way along this road. Just know that you are not alone on this journey. Reach out to others, including your CSP Mentor, to both gain support and share advocacy experiences.