Bryan Lindenberger

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Compliance and Accessibility: A Communications Approach for Your Marketing Team

Web accessibility for persons with disabilities is a major issue for colleges and universities. There have been lawsuits where materials were not accessible to – for instance – visually-impaired students using audio readers. Many small colleges or university departments do not have a department or staff dedicated to working with students with disabilities and thus did not have an understanding of the problems faced or even the technologies used. They bring in web development staff, part of the marketing department, and the word that always comes up is “COMPLIANCE.”

But compliance is fraught with legal issues. Going to your marketing team to figure out ADA and Section 508 compliance is like hiring lawyers for your next banner or brochure.  A better approach for your marketing team is one of usability. That is, accessibility, across the board for all audiences.

One example alt text, used to tag images, which audio readers read back to the visually impaired. In an attempt to comply with ADA or Section 508 regulations, a higher up at the college buys some software, scans the site, and finds to his or her horror that nearly every image is flagged as “non-compliant.” Your web person then spends the next 3 days writing alt text for every photo.

No harm done, right? Good deed done, compliant, and it may even help SEO!
But this is what your next visually-impaired student prospect hears from his or her audio reader:

“We take a holistic approach to learning offering many degrees and certificates in education. Here is a picture of a professor in a red jacket assisting a student in glasses. Among our degree programs, we offer….”

Amusing, but also potentially baffling to the person you thought you just went out of your way to help. From a marketing perspective, you just announced that you care more about complying with regulations than actually understanding and assisting your students with disabilities.

If there is one takeaway for everyone on your marketing team – web development, writing, and graphic design – I hope it is this: everything in a website that you find somewhat confusing, cluttered, distracting, unclear, or annoying goes tenfold for someone with a disability to the point where he or she shuts down and clicks off-site.

So what do you watch for to make your media more accessible? For starters:

  • Broken links – jarring to most users, it can feel like being thrown into strange, dark room for someone lacking sight
  • Complex and confusing graphics or text – does it take you more than one glance to understand the material? For someone with a cognitive disability, it’s a scramble of words, letters, and colors, so keep it clear, concise, and simple
  • · Flashing, spinning, moving – how are carousels still a thing? If you find them slightly distracting, or that half of them rotate too slow and the others too fast – imagine someone easily distracted or who is simply a slow reader
  • Overuse of dropdowns– unless you have the hand of an eye surgeon, you have probably become frustrated many times trying to navigate dropdown menus with a mouse at your desktop or stylus on your mobile device. Imagine someone with Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, ADD/ADHD, or simply in a hurry!
  •  Scan to image file? Really?! – What if I told you after all this discussion, the vast majority of “web issues” related to lawsuits take place on White Board, Black Board, library resources, etc.? Every student has had a professor scan required reading material to an image file and post it. While annoying to most of us, you just supplied a blank document to the visually impaired, and that end of term paper depends on it.

By addressing these and similar issues first, you’ve not only become accessible for the few, you’ve become more accessible for everyone! Disability is not a binary. It’s a spectrum. For every blind person, there is an army of visually impaired; for every person with Down’s, there is a room full of persons with reading disabilities. Don’t think of it as compliance: think of reaching the most people in the simplest and effective means possible. Think of it as good marketing.

Originally published at LinkedIn where I am seeking fulfilling opportunities.

Bryan Lindenberger
works in digital content development, including over eight years in higher education and nonprofit.