In the last few days, a number of clients have reported an email via their website contact page from "Amy", who claims the website is not accessible or compatible with a screen reader.
In all cases, the email address and content is the same. Interestingly, we haven't received the email to OUR website yet!
Whirlpool users report this email is probably spam, generated via an organisation (possibly in Missouri, USA) who are trying to drum up business by creating fear and then offering to "help". It's quite likely, based on the dodgy Gmail address and number of people reporting receiving this email, that they haven't actually tested the website in question.
Without getting into the ethics of spammers using the "visually impaired" as the basis of a scare campaign, and acknowledging that we are by no means accessibility experts, here are a few points worth noting:
- Achieving full W3C/WCAG compliance is an extensive and expensive process, into the tens of thousands of dollars for a large site. That's not to say you shouldn't do it but for perspective, while Australian government websites are apparently required by law to make websites compliant to an A rating, they hire somebody to manage that for them (and they're not all quite at 100% compliant anyway).
- In Australia the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 basically means you can't discriminate against people with disabilities - but this doesn't mean every single website must achieve full W3C/WCAG compliance.
- Accessibility is one of those functional website design considerations which is best taken into account in the beginning of a website project. It's always going to be more time-intensive/expensive to retrofit a website after it has been built.
- Unfortunately, functional requirements often directly conflict with visual design requirements. It's a balancing act to deliver a website that looks pretty AND behaves nicely, particularly if a client wants a website with a particular "look and feel" that will negatively impact accessibility.
What Can You Do?
One of the easiest-to-fix accessibility issues on a website is images that do not have an alt tag. The alt tag is a descriptor which appears if an image can't load for whatever reason, but more importantly it can be read by a screen reader for visually-impaired visitors. In November 2018, Instagram introduced the ability to include alt tags on images, and Facebook has been automatically adding alt tags since 2016.
Most website platforms enable the creation of accessible websites out of the box, by providing an alt text field. However, automatic generation may be done using the filename, so if images are not correctly named to start with, the alt tags may end up describing an image as "IMG1234", which is unhelpful to a screenreader. The quick and easy solution is to:
- Accurately name your images; then
- Check the generated alt tags once an image is added, to ensure they accurately describe that image.
Obviously accessibility is a whole industry and there is a lot more to read and do than we can describe here. Google has some information about Accessibility in their Web Fundamentals series which is quite informative. However, if you need to ensure your website is compliant then we recommend hiring an Accessibility manager or agency to manage this process for you, and we will be happy to work with them to assist in achieving the requirements.
If you'd like to test your site and identify any discrepancies, this site was recommended in the abovementioned Whirlpool thread, and this site is recommended by AWIA. Let us know if we can assist in resolving any glaring issues.