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Today, digital accessibility is not only a legal requirement but also a prerequisite for good user experience (UX).

To create a website that meets modern demands, serving relevant content is not enough. You must also ensure your website measures up to industry accessibility standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Having a website that complies with the international standard for accessibility, defined by WCAG, with an inclusive and enjoyable user experience protects your digital reputation. Without a properly compliant website, your company is vulnerable to accessibility-related lawsuits and may even miss out on a huge chunk of potential customers.

Our recent Digital Labs event featured Siteimprove and joint customer Cuisinart, who shared practical insights and advice on how to make your website more accessible and inclusive for all.

During the webinar, our speakers discussed best practices for building accessibility into your website and how the powerful combination of Optimizely and Siteimprove helps make this process easier. Below are some key highlights from the session.

First, meet the panelists:

  • Mary Rodgers, Head of Marketing Communications at Cuisinart
  • Nicolai Munch Andersen, Senior Product Strategist at Siteimprove
  • Deane Barker, Senior Director of Content Management Strategy at Optimizely

Whether you’re dealing with urgent issues or planning for the future, here are five tips from the panel to help you effectively improve your website’s accessibility and UX.

1. Start early

When it comes to incorporating digital accessibility, Nicolai Munch Andersen from Siteimprove advised companies to start as early in the website development process as possible rather than putting it off until it becomes a mammoth task down the road.

Of course, for some companies that are already having accessibility issues, a clean-up process is necessary. This was the case for Cuisinart, as shared by Mary Rodgers earlier in the session, and Nicolai commended her and her team for the great progress they were making on the project under such challenging circumstances.

Deane Barker from Optimizely also maintained that there’s no too early time to address accessibility in a project, explaining how there are two aspects of accessibility that businesses should take note of – namely the technical and editorial aspects of a site.

To build an accessible website, he made it clear that it’s crucial for the developers to first understand the motivations behind it. "You need to sit with your developers before the project starts and explain to them the emphasis on accessibility, so that they bake accessibility into the logical processing of the site.”

On the editorial side, Deane stressed the need for editors to receive a series of accessibility trainings to help them realize its importance and how to incorporate it when creating content.

2. Use the right tools and technologies

Cuisinart was in the process of replatforming their website to Optimizely when the need to meet ADA requirements suddenly became urgent due to legal exposure.

Granted, accessibility has always been on Cuisinart’s radar, but the lack of systematic processes for ADA compliance, coupled with their migration project, made this a complex situation to deal with.

With a six-month timeline to show significant progress in making the website compliant, Mary Rodgers from Cuisinart explained how she started by looking for a tool that can help her address this specific issue. “So one of the things that happened was obviously finding a vendor partner. This is an area of marketing that I had literally no experience in at this point.”

She cautioned against relying solely on widgets to meet accessibility standards. “If you truly want to be compliant, a widget is not going to do that for you.”

Cuisinart uses Optimizely as their main platform and Siteimprove as an integration to get recommendations on how to optimize their website for accessibility throughout the development process.

The intuitive design of Siteimprove’s tools helped streamline the entire process and made it much simpler. “It was very easy to set up the tracking with Siteimprove,” said Mary. “Basically, that was done pretty quickly.”

Transitioning to Optimizely’s easy-to-use platform has also enabled Cuisinart to regain control over their website as they no longer have to rely on any one company to make updates to the site. “Our team can do so many things in the Optimizely platform. It's amazing.”

3. Get user buy-in for successful implementation

In essence, digital accessibility is not a one-off fix but a process, so people are just as important as technology in ensuring a website’s accessibility.

To drive the necessary cultural change, it’s crucial to get buy-in from other dependencies and departments in the organization, such as design teams, product teams and marketing teams.

Deane described this as a social engineering problem. “It's tough to do accessibility if you don't have buy-in from your editors, and something like Siteimprove can really help your editors get some visibility and some quantification to the problems that you're facing. And so it really is a social and human engineering problem at its core.”

Mary also stressed the need to align expectations across the company. “When you get into big format projects like this, you know it's hard work. But if you align at the beginning and set expectations so that the teams that you are involved with understand what has to happen, you can be very successful at it.”

For those who need to make a case for web accessibility and convince organization leaders of its value, Mary gave the advice of researching your customer base to identify groups that you’re unable to serve when your website has poor accessibility. "Show them that you're not able to serve your entire customer base, and what you would get if you could.”

4. Integrate across multiple platforms

As there are many different parts to a website project, ensuring that all elements are properly integrated and compliant is vital for ongoing success too.

“When you add new pages, you're actually adding a new opportunity to break your compliance,” Mary said as she shared how bringing in agency and technology integration partners helped her team address this issue when they realized their score with ADA was starting to be affected as more things were being added to the site.

With the integration between the Siteimprove and Optimizely platforms, Mary’s team could also test new changes for ADA compliance before deploying them to the live website, reducing the risk of any accessibility issues that will compromise compliance.

Additionally, Nicolai noted how Siteimprove’s integrations for Optimizely have proven to be instrumental in helping joint customers deliver higher quality and error-free content. "We can see that the overall quality of what's being released by our customers that use those integrations rises over time, so it's good.”

Another advantage of having seamless integrations across systems and platforms is that it leads to significant efficiency gains since tighter integration allows processes to be automated.

"My team knows I'm all about automation for improved business processes,” said Mary when laying out her plans of integrating Cuisinart’s product information management (PIM) platform into Optimizely in the near future to introduce more automation into the company’s day-to-day business operations. “The idea there is we will then be able to automatically feed new products to the Optimizely platform without having to go into the platform ourselves and do that work.”

5. Document your processes

In her final tip, Mary recommended businesses to do documentation when starting to implement accessibility for their website.

“We literally started documenting every part of the process that we use for both Optimizely and Siteimprove, because there's so many aspects to the website,” she shared, stressing the importance of knowing where everything is and how to do the things that you need to do to keep your business moving forward.

Echoing Deane’s earlier point about training, she cautioned, “Don't let any one team member be the only person able to do anything related to any of these platforms. Make sure that your entire team knows how to add an item to the site, add a part to the site, change this and that.”

Considering how tasks and responsibilities are often divided up in most organizations today to make work productive, documentation is especially crucial for managing risks and maintaining compliance. “As long as it's documented, anybody can go in and take care of it.”

To learn more about how Siteimprove’s integration for Optimizely helps improve website accessibility and UX, watch the fifth edition of our Digital Labs event series. Click here to access the recording.