As fears over drive-by website lawsuits grow, a growing number of us are undergoing audit and remediation processes. The number of companies offering accessibility services is growing. But how do you know if you’re hiring the right one? With everyone jumping on the bandwagon of accessible audit and remediation, it’s hard to know who to trust, or what you’re getting.
As a company founded, and run, by digital professionals who live with disabilities, we are approached nearly daily by companies that want us sell their newly-developed accessibility services to our clients. Many of these companies specialize in industries that don’t relate to digital accessibility. Most we’ve encountered have little knowledge about what digital accessibility means for people who live with disabilities, and little incentive to learn the craft. For them, digital access is just another lucrative way to generate revenue.
Janet Peters, Project Coordinator for the Great Lakes ADA Center at the University of Illinois, (the digital accessibility expert who mentored me when I began my accessibility career in state government) describes it this way, “These organizations aren’t really interested in making websites or software accessible to the user, they are interested in making money. They often have no background or track record in accessibility and usually hire no one, or only a limited amount individuals living with disabilities, to consult regarding the developing and delivery their products.”
To help you get a better handle on finding a reputable company that can help guide your accessibility efforts, we came up with some questions and proofs to request, that should help you make savvier purchasing decisions.
Questions to ask and proofs to request from accessibility audit and remediation vendors:
- Know what Section 508 and/or WCAG 2.0 is?
WHY: Don’t assume that they do just because they say so. Not everyone in this field understands the measures that apply.
ASK FOR: A sample report of their work. This will usually tell you if they are providing one-size-fits-all answers to questions that can vary widely between websites and software.
- Have an understanding of the different levels and requirements, particularly for WCAG?
WHY: Again, don’t assume that they understand everything about these standards. They may simply be telling you what you wish to hear.
ASK FOR: Sited examples of the differences between levels A and AA; reputable accessibility vendors will have loads of these to report from their own work experience.
- Have experience in completing Section 508 VPATs?
WHY: Understanding how to complete a Section 508 VPAT is not a simple undertaking. It requires understanding the legislation and how digital accessibility works.
ASK FOR: References of other organizations they have complete VPAT’s for. This will give you an indication if they are capable and provide quality VPAT reporting.
- Include professionals living with disabilities in their audit and remediation process and service delivery?
WHY: The most experienced web/software developer or engineer that has never lived with a disability cannot begin to grasp that experience. While being able to use a screen reader can help a sighted person understand the challenges of an inaccessible website, it can’t mimic the real experience of being blind.
ASK FOR: A list of professionals living with disabilities who could be assigned to your project. Many organizations employ a handful of individuals living with disabilities, but most of them do not manage their testing processes or implement their projects. Know if the people assigned to work with you have life experience of living with disabilities. It makes a huge difference in the validity of the guidance and results you’ll receive.
- Are the audit report documents you’ll receive structured for accessibility?
WHY: If an organization doesn’t understand how to construct an accessible report document, can they really be trusted to understand how to construct an accessible website, software product or mobile application? You may also wish to release your testing report to a client who lives with a disability OR you may need to use the report to provide some type of due diligence documentation. An inaccessible report doesn’t send a confident message about the approach you took.
ASK FOR: A report sample and have it verified for structural accessibility elements, including navigational structure, alternative text tags and color contrast.
Deeper questions to ask:
- How is “success” or “failure” determined for the criteria?
WHY: This will show you how your own website or software will be measured. Understanding this helps you know what kind of product you’re receiving.
ASK FOR: A sample report; it should demonstrate this for you with an explanation of the report’s construction as well as sample examples.
- Are remedies provided for “failures?” If so, are the pulled from a repository or are they customized for your website or software?
WHY: Remedies are your road map to accessibility. They are one of the most important pieces you’re purchasing with an accessibility service. If the remedies are crafted to your particular website, software, and situation, it’s likely that you’ll be able to apply more effective remedies. If you’re receiving the same pat answers all of their customers receive for remedy recommendations, it’s much more difficult to achieve a truly accessible outcome.
ASK FOR: Request examples of remedies the organizations has recommended for tougher accessibility issues. Compare this to the sample report they provide to you. See if they answers are the same, or if they differ.
- Have their eye on what is happening with WCAG 2.1, or the next version of this guideline?
WHY: You need an accessibility vendor that is keeping their eye on changes in the measurements and law.
ASK FOR: Their take on the differences between what is currently being used, and where the standards and laws are moving to.
- Have staff who have worked in government before and experienced regulation procedures, like a federal audit?
WHY: This question can help you determine if the company can provide you with adequate documentation to prove “due diligence” should you be audited. This experience can really come in handy if you need to provide proof of the accessibility work on your product or websites in a legal situation, even if it’s years down the road.
Certifications are not always certain
Certifications for services/individuals delivering accessibility audits and testing, aren’t a guarantee of quality. That’s because the method of certification may not necessarily teach true accessibility. Most recently, WeCo’s Accessibility Specialists sought to be certified through a highly esteemed government program. Because all of our Accessibility Specialist live with one or more disability, the entire certification program was inaccessible to them because it wasn’t compatible with screen reader and speech recognition software. That told us that the certification offered in this program probably wasn’t going to be extremely accurate in teaching trainees principals of accessibility that would apply to real life use. Thus, we focus our training on certifications which model good accessibility within the learning platform.
The most important take aways we can give you about purchasing accessibility services is:
- Educate yourself about the industry and services
- Determine what you might need before you shop
- Ask lots of questions so you can be certain that you know what you’re receiving