REMODELING FOR ACCESSIBILITY
In my previous post about accessibility and hospitals, I explained why it’s so important that both the digital space and the literal space be accessible and free of barriers. I emphasized the physical structure of the hospital and “building it right” from the start. The reality is many of us don’t have a chance to “start fresh.” Rather, we “remodel” to make a space or design aesthetic work for us.
Using an analogy from the literal space, let’s say a hospital was built in the 1970s. Retro orange fabric in a waiting room may be swapped out today on the couches for a more crisp and modern fabric. That slight design change gives that room a whole facelift. Or from a comfort perspective, getting rid of metal chairs for more ergonomic, cushioned chairs can impact the overall patient experience. On structural remodels, a new “wing” may be added onto a hospital. Or a non-load bearing wall may be torn down to make way for a new layout configuration — perhaps to make it easier for a wheelchair to get through the space. And these cosmetic updates are analogous to a theming refresh of a website.
You see, accessibility isn’t “too late to fix” if you didn’t address it in the beginning. It’s really not the end of the world. You wouldn’t tear down the whole hospital just to change the carpet & wall paint color, would you? But now that you are aware, you do need to incorporate accessibility into your planning, whether you are starting fresh or remodeling.
You can use that same approach for “remodeling” an existing hospital website to make it more accessible by updating a few elements. There are website accessibility professionals who guide and inform on the minimum guidelines for an accessible online experience. These professionals help ensure that when it comes to final “review” of the site for compliance, there are minimal issues.
Section 508 Compliance and WCAG
That being said, a CMO and/or CTO of a hospital or healthcare system must take into consideration the minimum requirements for online compliance, and factor in whether or not the hospital receives government funding. If it does, then at minimum Section 508 Compliance must be observed. However, Section 508 was written in 1998, and it quickly fell behind as the standard for best practices for our modern technology because computing power has advanced at an accelerated rate. A Section 508 “refresh” has been in the works for several years and it was finally published in January 2017.
Because of the limitations of Section 508, a group of thought leaders and accessibility experts came together under the Web Accessibility Initiative (part of W3C) to create the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an international standard for website accessibility. There have been two versions written since the first one in 1999, the latest in 2008.
The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines set a gold standard and set your site up well for conformance with Section 508 as well. WCAG is by no means a substitute for confirming Section 508 compliance, but it should establish confidence in your coverage. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are constantly “in check” with recommendations to keep up with best practices.
Here are some questions that can help you perform a high-level analysis at any stage of a site building, or audit, to help assure accessibility compliance:
- How is the color contrast of the site? Will someone be able to read the text easily?
- Can users navigate the site with only a keyboard? Are the menus accessible via keyboard? Will a keyboard user be aware that there are children menu items? (Versus relying on a mouse-hover behavior to expand children links)
- Do images have alternative text for users who cannot see the images? Or when there’s a slow browser connection?
- Does the site have pop-up behaviors? Will users who cannot see the screen be made aware of the pop-up? And not only assess if they are able to access the pop-up, but also determine if they want to interact with it? How about close it? Have you ensured that there are no keyboard traps?
- Are the videos provided with closed captioning, or an associated transcript file? (You can check out my YouTube post on how to caption videos.)
- Are forms accessible by keyboard? This is useful for people with hearing loss as a way to contact the hospital as opposed to a phone call. Can the forms be filled out using only a keyboard, and not a mouse? Test filling out a form without using a mouse at all.
- Do the buttons have large click targets? This is useful for someone who, as an example, may have Parkinson’s or hand tremors.
When thinking about your own digital platforms, the key takeaway is that you don’t need to wait for a significant strategy overhaul of a website to improve the experience for someone with a disability. Small incremental changes over time have a much greater impact than doing nothing at all. Compartmentalize it into smaller bite-sized pieces by asking yourselves what is one thing that can be done to make the experience better?