Just as companies are settling down after the changes required by the GDPR, new regulations by the EU are already on the horizon. New rules regarding accessibility will apply to anyone wanting to do business with government-related entities. This will probably extend to more business down the road.
As with GDPR, it may require some work, but it’s for the greater good. In this case, will make the internet more friendly for people with impairments. This blog explains what is happening and how it may affect you. We’ll outline some helpful tools and explain how we used them to update SuperSaaS.
New EU accessibility guidelines are coming
There are new accessibility rules being enacted by the EU under the name the European Accessibility Act. Website Accessibility (sometimes abbreviated as a11y) is a measure of how easy to use your website is to all people, including those with disabilities or impairments. These rules will be codified and go into effect on November 23rd, 2019.
These rules will assist those who have impairments use your sites and applications. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness, low vision, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and more.
It is likely these new guidelines will affect your website
The rules will be required for any business or party that serves as a vendor, partner, or associate to a government-related entity. While you may think this may not concern your business, there are many ways in which it could. Entities beholden to government procurement rules include schools, post offices, cabinet offices, certain hospitals, and many more.
These changes have been a long time in the making. They were first inspired by an update to an American accessibility law called Section 508. This formed the basis of the proposal for the current version of the European Accessibility Act that was first introduced in 2015 that will take effect next year.
As social responsibility becomes more of a factor in how customers choose whom to do business with, it can be anticipated that many more business will follow. This means it may make business sense as well as being the right thing to do when it comes to implementing the accessibility requirements.
Helpful tools exist to get your website compliant
It’s a lot of work to become familiar with all the requirements in the official legislation. The easier alternative is to use one of the checklists. The “VPAT”, originally developed for the US regulation, is the most well known and the one we would recommend.
The VPAT checklist is a helpful template that gives you line-by-line instructions on what you need to do to gain compliance with WCAG and Section 508. Another useful reference is the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is a collaborative effort to create universal standards for accessibility. It is important to note that there are many updates and editions to both of these checklists. Make sure you are using the most recent version of each.
It gets even easier than reading the checklist thanks to developers who have created additional tools that make checking your site for compliance hassle-free. Plugins exist that you can install in the Chrome browser that can quickly scan your pages for instances of non-compliance. These plugins include Axe, the more modern choice, and Wave, an older one. When you run a web page through one of these plugins it will flag any accessibility errors it detect on the page, like a missing “alt” tag, so you can fix them and rerun the plugin.
If your website is built using a framework or content management system, it is very likely that using the latest version of the framework will address many issues for you. But it is likely that some issues will remain. If you have experience in building and maintaining your own website, this could mean implementing these changes yourself. If you need a little help with your site, you can contact a developer who can update your site with these necessary changes.
Achieving compliance at SuperSaaS
Even though implementing new rules takes some effort, we feel that these changes make the internet a better place. It is because of this, combined with the requests from our customers, that we upgraded SuperSaaS to make it fully compliant before the new accessibility guidelines come into effect.
It turned out to be less work than we thought initially. The SuperSaaS website contains several hundred pages that would be tedious to check one-by-one. The SuperSaaS development team created a tool that scans all pages on our site and runs the accessibility checker on each page, flagging the problems on each one. Another advantage of this is that we can quickly re-run this tool to check new pages for compliance.
A side benefit is that being one of the first online scheduling systems to upgrade our compliance status gives us an advantage over competitors, just like we were GDPR compliant a long time before the deadline. There are many US agencies and schools that require this type of accessibility because of the Section 508 legislation. If you are the first in your business to be compliant you automatically become the de facto choice for potential customers who need this.
At the end of the day, it’s all about customer satisfaction. We were very happy to receive positive feedback from visually impaired customers. It makes a large difference to those who have impairments that they can have the same services provided for them as any other person. This is why accessibility is not just the required thing to do for our customers, but most importantly, it is the right thing to do.