Why independent and understandable reporting is essential for tackling online accessibility

Apr 19 2023

Each year there is an alarming increase in the level of litigation relating to online accessibility. In 2022 there were 3,255 claims filed in the US (opens in a new window), a year-on-year rise of 12%. These are the just the results that are in the public domain – there are thousands more ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) demand letters that are settled out of court.

In parallel, the related costs that organisations in the US are having to spend also continues to grow exponentially. Current approaches to compliance are clearly not working and most organizations are burying their heads in the sand by failing to take appropriate action to manage the risk (opens in a new window).

One of the main problems is that management simply do not understand the level of risk that they are exposed to because their website is not compliant with legislation (opens in a new window) such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To gain this understanding, it is essential to have independent, immediate, understandable and continuous reporting that accurately reports the risk:

  • Independent: truly objective, without bias caused by conflicts of interest that can under-report the risk
  • Immediate: you need to understand the risk position at a given point in time – an audit that takes weeks or months will be invalid by the time it is complete
  • Understandable: clearly shows the level and area of risk in a non-technical way to alert decision-makers to take action, but also shows progress
  • Continuous: needs to provide ongoing assessment as the risk needs to be continually managed.

With an accurate risk assessment, organizations will prioritize actions to support compliance and plan to cover the risk of incurring costs. Let’s explore each of these three areas in more detail.

Independent

A critical element of understanding your level of risk is making sure any advice or assessment you receive is truly independent, avoiding reporting which may have inherent bias caused by potential conflicts of interest.

Consider an inspection of a new building to make sure it meets regulations relating to accessibility. Of course, a site inspection would never be carried out by the builders themselves who had carried out the work, as it would be open to bias and would never stand up to scrutiny as being objective.

The need to have an independent building inspection or assessment is obvious and clear, however, often exactly the opposite takes place when it comes to online accessibility. The people reporting the level of risk are usually the people who may have carried out the work, or are responsible for the technology involved:

  • A third-party digital agency or implementation partner
  • Content Management System (CMS) vendor
  • And even sometimes the in-house digital or IT team who are responsible for accessibility.

All of the above groups may tell you online accessibility compliance is covered by their work or their solution and there is no risk of litigation or incurring related costs. Most commonly, this is a misunderstanding of the level of risk but at times it can be “convenient confusion” driven by an underlying lack of accountability relating to online accessibility.

The answer to this is to have a fully independent and immediate solution that assesses your level of risk.

Immediate

One of the main problems with assessing risk using something like a more traditional content audit or hiring an external expert is that it can take a long time to complete. If an assessment takes weeks to carry out it will be inaccurate by the time it concludes. Any assessment of risk must be immediate, and therefore accurate when the level of risk is reported.

Understandable

One reason why more executives don’t understand the level of risk is that online accessibility feels like a very specialist area which takes a lot of time and effort to interpret, comprehend and learn. Unless reporting is understandable for a non-technical audience, it can be overlooked, ignored or misinterpreted.

For non-specialists with little understanding of WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), a detailed assessment report on online accessibility, that list all the issues which are required to be fixed, can feel like it is written in a completely different language. The detail can be very confusing, overwhelming and disengaging for executives.

Interpretation of the report is then left to technical specialists who may have a different or biased view of the risk; again, it means that your reporting isn’t truly independent because it’s your digital agency that is communicating the level of risk exposure on work they have carried out.

Reporting must be easy to interpret for a non-technical audience so they can:

  • Understand the level of risk
  • Track improvement and progress
  • See when the risk is rising.

For example, AAAtraq’s assessment tool (opens in a new window) that audits a site for accessibility compliance is designed for clarity with:

  • clear colour coding with the relative status
  • a simple overall compliance score indicating your level of risk that allows you to compare it at any given time
  • simple visual reporting over time to chart progress.

Progress chart showing change over time

Continuous

A common misconception about online accessibility compliance is that it is a technical issue (opens in a new window) that can be fixed like any other IT problem and then it goes away. Actually, it is an issue that needs ongoing attention because of constant change to websites due to new content being added, updates to your Content Management System (CMS), content displayed from third-party sources, and potential regulatory changes. Because of this your exposure to risk can rise and fall as your team tackle and fix specific issues.

Websites need to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Continuous, independent reporting means you can far more easily keep on top of any issues and reduce the risk.

Get a free instant assessment of your website’s risk

When it comes to online accessibility compliance, most organizations are trapped in an ongoing cycle of high-risk exposure and potentially high spend. Having independent, understandable and continuous reporting is essential to break that cycle. To get a free, instant assessment of your level of risk, there’s no sign-ups required or personal details required, https://AAAtraq.com/check/ (opens in a new window)

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