Posted: November 14, 2017

As a hospital marketer, you’re balancing the demands of many bosses and an array of goals — from promoting important service lines and highlighting superstar physicians to making sure your employees know about next month’s blood drive. You may not spend much time thinking about web accessibility until you get a stern note from your hospital’s legal department or compliance officers. If that happens, you could find yourself overwhelmed by acronyms without many answers. But instead of thinking of accessibility as a chore, you can work to incorporate accessibility goals into your everyday web and content processes with a few simple steps.

First, let’s define accessibility:
On a website, accessibility means giving all people, regardless of physical or cognitive ability, equal access to all of your website’s content and information.
Like a wheelchair-friendly ramp into a building entrance, accessibility standards make it simpler for users to find what they’re looking for on your website.

Striving for accessibility makes good business sense. About 15 percent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, with the prevalence of disability expected to grow as the population ages overall. This is a huge demographic that can be served well by your services and content.

Meeting accessibility standards also reaps benefits from a technical standpoint. Stewart Maurer, VP of marketing at Crownpeak, argues that the bots Google uses to crawl your website essentially function as blind users. Structuring your content to make the Googlebots’ job easier can help improve your search engine optimization and your website’s accessibility. In addition, keeping the experience of a variety of technology users in mind as you design your web experience helps support those using alternative web browsing technologies, like screen readers, as well as those for whom speedy internet bandwidth is a luxury.

Next, let’s sort through some of those legal acronyms. Several U.S. laws and international standards govern accessibility issues.

  • In the U.S., Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.
  • Section 504 of the same law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs or activities that receive federal assistance.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities, requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations, including all hospitals.
  • Both laws saw updates this year; Section 508 was revamped to adhere more closely to international standards for accessibility, while a federal judge confirmed the inclusion of websites in these standards by ruling that ADA standards apply if a grocery store’s website is “heavily integrated” with and serves as a “gateway” to a physical store.

In the age of global business, thousands of major websites voluntarily follow international standards. Adherence to the International Organization for Standardization’s Web Content Accessibility Guide (WCAG 2.0) is designated in three levels using four principles about information and structure, known as POUR.

  • Perceivable: information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive
  • Operable: user interfaces and navigation must be operable
  • Understandable: information and the operation of user interfaces must be understandable
  • Robust: content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by agents including assistive technologies

Beyond the four principles, WCAG 2.0 includes 12 guidelines and 61 success criteria.

With the alphabet soup of guidelines and standards in mind, where should you start? Maurer recommends making accessibility compliance part of your web process. Training your web team on accessibility guidelines is a great first step. Agree on goals for achieving accessibility compliance, and measure your progress to help motivate you. Automated testing tools, like an integrated Digital Quality Management solution, can help catch compliance violations as well as quality issues like misspellings, broken links, images missing ALT+text, and branding issues. Frequent testing can catch myriad issues.

As your website evolves, try adding a disabled user to your patient journey mapping and website user personas. How would a blind or deaf user navigate your website? Can they make an online appointment or refill a prescription? Walk through your desired conversion points and make sure they’re possible for a disabled user, someone using a web reader, or someone on a slow internet connection.

Remember, website accessibility may be critical for some users, but complying with these standards helps all users.

Want to learn more about how your organization’s website can provide better consumer experiences, included accessibility? Request a free assessment.