5 Steps to Creating Your Accessibility Policy

November 14, 2016 Policies

Last month, the Department of Justice announced that it has reached an agreement with Miami University to address the University’s non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Consistent with past accessibility agreements (e.g., Florida State University, Ace Hardware, H&R Block, etc.), Miami University has agreed to pay compensation the student who raised the accessibility lawsuit, as well as to ensure its websites and learning management systems conform with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0 AA standards.  If you look at the agreement details, you will also find that the University has agreed to develop an accessible technology policy.

Many organizations find it difficult to make websites and technology conform to WCAG standards.  Achieving conformity involves accessibility expertise and staff education in tactics that make content accessible.  Additionally, a machine cannot simply perform this compliance.

However, in my many years of consulting and speaking with accessibility-focused lawyers, I have found that if you have an accessibility policy in place and are actively taking steps towards compliance with the ADA, you will likely avoid lawsuits or DOJ interaction. An accessibility policy is simply an expression of what your organization believes with regards to accessibility and how you will develop digital in order to uphold the accessibility goals that you have specified.

If you don’t currently have an accessibility policy, here are the steps you should take to create one.

  1. Identify accessibility expertise within the organization. If you don’t have the in house experience, partner with an external agency that focuses on accessibility.  They can advise you on WCAG levels, the current state of your websites and technology accessibility, and any required actions and resources to conform to the ADA requirements.
  2. Consult with your legal counsel and determine whether you should create an accessibility policy or whether an accessibility statement is more appropriate. These may seem like the same thing, but  they imply different intent and capability, and can be quite different legally.
  3. Ask your legal counsel for help to identify the legal pitfalls of non-compliance (e.g., exposure). This conversation should lead you to identifying the appropriate level of WCAG compliance for your organization.
  4. Speak with your management to inform them of the opportunities and obligations of having accessible technologies and what risks you face if you fail to do so. With your input, they can make the decision to accept the pitfalls of not being compliant or to allocate appropriate resources to ensure your organization can meet its accessibility commitment.
  5. Document your organization’s policy with the assistance of your accessibility expert or supporting agency vendor, and legal counsel.Once your policy has been documented, you will need to distribute it and help your staff adopt it into their daily digital jobs. At last you will have taken an important step to thinking about the ADA and accessibility and have created a goal for the organization. As I said, that and demonstrated effort towards achieving accessibility are likely to put you ahead of your peers and help you stay clear of conversations with the DOJ.

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