Are your association’s digital products, services, and experiences accessible to everyone? Many associations see digital accessibility as a nice-to-have but not a priority for the moment. What about inclusion? Is that a priority?
Here’s something you may not have considered: accessibility is inclusion. But unfortunately, accessibility is the missing component of most diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans. That’s a huge oversight considering 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has some type of disability. When your association prioritizes digital accessibility, you open up your programs to more people and enhance the user experience for everyone.
The journey toward inclusion begins with evaluating the accessibility provided by the technology behind your association’s digital products, services, and experiences, including your:
- Content Management System (CMS)
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software or Association Management System (AMS)
- Online community
- Learning Management System (LMS)
- Job board or career center
- Virtual event platform
- Online meeting/web conferencing platform
Where can you improve digital accessibility? Start by assessing whether your existing technology includes the functionality we describe below. Make sure these system requirements are “must-haves” when selecting new technology.
Website and online community
When building or enhancing a website, find a website partner who follows Universal Design principles, a sustainable approach to website design that ensures an inclusive digital experience for everyone. Become familiar with the accessibility potential of popular content management systems, like Drupal or WordPress. Seek the same type of information for online communities, such as Salesforce or Fonteva.
Settle for nothing less than what those four software developers promise. The superior user experience provided by an accessible website or community will help you build a loyal audience.
An accessible website offers:
- Site navigation and form completion using only a keyboard or screen reader
- Contextual links
- Color contrast
- Captioned videos
- Image alt-text written for the user, not just for SEO
- Well-organized design, including page titles, headings, and sitemap
- Accessible forms for registration, membership, renewal, certification, licensure, volunteer interest, and purchases
WebAim WAVE, an evaluation tool that identifies many (but not all) accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) errors, will let you see how your site measures up. You can also use accessibility checkers for your Microsoft documents and Adobe PDFs too.
One of the pandemic’s silver linings was the shift to virtual events. Finally, the people who couldn’t attend in-person events had a way to participate in the conference experience. Regrettably, the virtual conference experience fell short of expectations for many attendees with disabilities.
Make sure your virtual event is inclusive from the start. During the registration process, ask for accommodation requests: attendees’ needs for captions, sign language interpreters, or alternative media (tagged PDF, Braille, and audio descriptions for videos).
Provide guidance (or requirements) to speakers and moderators for font size and color contrast in their presentations. If you have requests for alternative media, get session materials from speakers in advance so you can make those enhancements in time for the event.
During presentations, identify speakers for attendees using captions. Your platform must provide disabled attendees the same ability as other attendees to ask questions and participate in polls and chats. Require captions on all pre-recorded and on-demand videos, including anything speakers play during their sessions.
Understand the difference between live captions (Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART) and automated captions. Automated, AI-powered captions—or, as accessibility professionals call them, “craptions”—are notorious for accuracy issues. Use a live captioning team instead, especially if you’re delivering educational, medical, or legal content.
Closed captions are a better option than open captions. The viewer can’t adjust open captions, but they can turn closed captions on and off, and adjust their location and display format.
Beyond their necessity for many attendees, captions can also be useful for associations. You can scan the transcript for keywords, making it easier to find session content to repurpose for marketing or educational needs.
Budget for these accommodation expenses. Include these functionalities in your requirements for virtual event platforms. Ask to see a demonstration of these functions in action before you sign a contract.
Virtual governance and online education
Every member should have the same opportunity to volunteer for their association—one of the most transformational benefits of membership. A disability should not limit their participation. Likewise, all members and prospective learners should have the same access to online education—webinars, online courses, and other educational programs.
Find out what you don’t know about accessibility. Don’t worry if you discover you have much to learn; you can find lots of helpful resources online. These two organizations share an extensive list of resources for hosting accessible virtual governance meetings and online education.
Accessibility is inclusion
Accessibility professionals advise against surveying members or collecting data about disabilities. Many members won’t want to disclose this information. Instead, implement inclusive accessibility practices that benefit everyone by enhancing the user experience on your website, in your community, and at your events and meetings.
Build inclusive design into your processes and standard operating procedures. Apply the four principles of accessibility, aka the POUR Principle: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. Design communications, products, services, events, education, meetings, and volunteer experiences with accessibility in mind.
Your standard shouldn’t be complying with ADA, says Samantha Evans, CAE, certification manager at the International Association of Accessibility Professionals and the source for most of the resources shared in this post. ADA compliance is the bare minimum. Inclusion goes beyond compliance.
Accessibility and people with disabilities must be part of your association’s DEI statements and action plan. Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, said, “If disability is not on your board agenda, neither is diversity. Nor is innovation, productivity, brand experience, talent, risk, reputation…”
If your organization is ready to build an accessible digital presence, please contact us to learn how Fíonta can help.