Digital accessibility is about ensuring all people have equal access to online information and services. That means being inclusive for everyone not only on your website, but across all of your digital platforms and experiences. If your organization hasn’t considered it before, it’s time to evaluate your digital accessibility strategy from a holistic approach - at every point along the customer journey. That means in addition to your website, you should be evaluating the accessibility of all your digital experiences, including your software providers.
Unfortunately, the accessibility of the software you use is out of your control. Or is it...? While you can’t do the accessibility work yourself, you can ensure that every single software vendor you work with is prioritizing accessibility as a part of their development process. As retailers, banks, and financial institutions use a multitude of platforms to provide omnichannel experiences, it’s more important than ever to ensure accessibility is a priority across all channels. Whether an appointment scheduling software that your customers use to book a remote meeting or a virtual queuing solution that your employees use to manage capacity, you must consider both internal- and external-facing software as a part of your overall digital accessibility strategy.
Digital accessibility matters
While web accessibility is not a new topic for enterprises, it continues to become more important as digital experiences become more popular. But by having more services and options available online, there is a higher risk of using or working with vendors who don’t take accessibility into consideration. That’s why accessibility guidelines continue to change, and at times, seem increasingly complex. With 1 in 4 US adults living with a disability and approximately 1 in 5 people in the UK living with a disability, creating digital experiences that are accessible for all is not only the right thing to do, it means you can reach a wider audience.
Accessibility guidelines across the globe
Accessibility guidelines have existed for many years - dating back to the 1960s when there was a focus on accessibility in buildings. In 1999, the first set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) - known as WCAG 1.0 - was published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Since then, each guideline has been created with the intent to build a better online experience for all users.
WCAG 2.1, the latest version of W3C’s guidelines, is internationally recognized and widely used by governments as the standard for compliance. With Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US and the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, there are also many government regulations in place. With the ever-increasing need for online services, governments will likely continue to adapt their regulations to ensure people can access the information they need online. Staying up to date with these accessibility guidelines and regulations will be key for you and your software vendors.
Your business does not operate in a silo
While the focus of your digital accessibility strategy has likely been on website accessibility, it is not enough if you truly want to provide an inclusive, engaging experience all the way through the customer journey. Your business is a hybrid of experiences - from in-store interactions to virtual appointments to your social media channels (yes, even social media is something you need to consider for accessibility), and you should be providing a consistent, engaging, and accessible experience across it all! Your omnichannel world needs to be an accessible omnichannel world. Digitally, you should consider the accessibility of:
- Websites (including forms, widgets, and plugins)
- Mobile apps
- Payment processing partners
...and more! It’s likely that software is playing a big role in your digital offerings, which is why it’s critical to think of software accessibility as a part of the customer experience. So do your software vendors prioritize accessibility? It’s time to find out! Here are some questions you should be asking your current and future software vendors:
- Is accessibility a fundamental part of their development process?
- What guidelines or standards do they follow for accessibility?
- Are they currently meeting guidelines?
- How often do they check to see if they are meeting guidelines?
- How do they test the accessibility of their product?
- If they aren’t meeting certain standards yet, are they working to be more compliant by a certain date?
- How do they keep up with changing accessibility requirements or recommendations?
And with all of that said, it’s important to note that no software (or website) can claim to be “fully compliant.” Accessibility compliance isn’t pass or fail, it’s more of a spectrum due to the complexity of meeting the needs of each and every user, which is why no one can truly be 100% compliant. Not to mention that accessibility guidelines are ever-evolving! Currently, WCAG 2.2 guidelines are in the working draft phase and will continue to change over the years.
Regardless, your software vendors should be making the effort to be inclusive and as compliant as possible. Accessibility is also not a “one and done” project - it is an ongoing initiative that should take precedence in your software vendors’ development processes as they release new updates, features, and products.
If not now, then when?
As the saying goes... there is no better time than now, especially given the increase in internet usage due to COVID-19. And as we’ve seen over time with digital accessibility, it’s likely that lawsuits will become more frequent and regulations will become more stringent.
While you might not have control over the development process, by investing in the right software partners who take accessibility seriously, you can mitigate the risk of lawsuits, reach a wider customer base, and provide an ideal customer and employee experience across all of your digital channels. Not to mention, this will give all humans - regardless of ability or disability - the opportunity to do business with you.
So when it comes to your software vendors, keep your accessibility standards high.