When imagining the average internet user, you probably picture someone quickly scrolling through Facebook, sharing photos on Instagram, and skimming articles on their phone. Most websites and apps are developed with this user in mind; one who has no problems accessing content and rapidly jumping from page to page.

While many people fit into the mold of this “typical” internet user, many others require various types of support, such as screen readers or closed captioning, to access web content. Most public sites are not required to offer support that would allow blind, color blind, deaf, or other users with disabilities to enjoy their content, and this leads to the creation of websites and apps that are inaccessible to many users.

Government websites, however, are required to meet certain accessibility standards in order to maintain what is known as 508 Compliance. This refers to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which mandates that all electronic and information technology (EIT) created by federal agencies be accessible to all users, both able and disabled. But the question is, how do these agencies make their technology accessible, and what process do they have to follow?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all approach that will make your website 508 compliant, and there are surprisingly few resources available for those who want to make their content more accessible.That’s why we wanted to outline the process we used on the HUBZone project to make it easier for other developers to build accessible software in the future.

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Getting Web Accessibility Right

Making your application accessible is no easy task, but when nearly 1 in 5 Americans have some form of disability, it’s clear that this isn’t just another requirement to be checked off the list: it’s the right thing to do. Increasing accessibility ensures that millions of Americans are not excluded from the countless online government services and resources that we all depend on. And, as an added bonus, improving an application’s accessibility also tends to improve its usability, making it more user-friendly and intuitive overall.

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So now that we understand why we should make our applications accessible, how exactly do we do it?

  1. Plan for accessibility up front, don’t tack it on at the end 
    • You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Sure, you tried to make it look nice, but a pig is a pig. Similarly, if your application has been built without accessibility in mind, it doesn’t matter how much you dress it up at the end — it’s still going to feel awkward and out of place.
  2. Keep it simple 
    • Web and mobile technologies evolve quickly, and while new whiz-bang animations and techniques like scroll-jacking are exciting, it’s important that you don’t let yourself get carried away. These techniques are rarely implemented with disability in mind, and often make it difficult, if not impossible, for users with disabilities to navigate your website.
  3. Use existing libraries with good out-of-the-box accessibility support 
    • Because the HUBZone map is a US government website, we based our process on the US Web Design Standards. These Standards were created to help streamline web design across government sites, but their suggestions for meeting 508 compliance standards can help non-government developers and designers as well. Bootstrap and Foundation are two additional libraries that can help you build clean, simple designs that are accessible to users with disabilities. While all of these libraries offer a great starting point, it is ultimately up to you to ensure that your code and designs meet accessibility standards.
  4. Use an analysis tool 
    • Emerging tools and resources have made it easier than ever to build accessible applications, and free web-based analysis tools like HTMLSniffer, Tenon.io, Accessibility Valet, and Accessibility Checker make it a piece of cake to test your site and see if your code can be read by assistive technologies.
  5. Do in-person testing 
    • As useful as analysis tools are for sniffing out your big-picture accessibility problems, nothing can beat feedback from an actual person. This is why you’ll want to make sure to plan for in-person Usability Testing with users with disabilities.
  6. Make improvements as you go 
    • There’s no point in doing Usability Testing if you’re not prepared to incorporate user feedback into your next development phase. In order to provide a user-centric product, it’s important to solicit frequent input from users and build software that is responsive to their concerns.

Developing 508-compliant software is a complex process, but by following these steps, you’ll have a strong foundation for an accessible and user-friendly application. Interested in learning how Fearless can build accessible software for you? Contact us here!