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WAI: Strategies, guidelines, resources to make the Web accessible to people with disabilities

Contacting Organizations about Inaccessible Websites

Page Contents

Overview

Steps to help you report websites with accessibility problems are described on this page:

  1. Identify key contacts
  2. Describe the problem
  3. Follow-up as needed

Additional tips include:

Introduction

Your feedback to an organization can help improve the accessibility of websites for you and many other people who use the websites. Website owners have many priorities for changes and improvements, and the more an organization hears about accessibility from people who use their website, the more likely it is that accessibility will become a higher priority. Positive feedback is useful, as well as critical feedback.

Some website owners are not even aware of the importance of making their website accessible. Websites are required to be accessible in many countries by national policies. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that people with disabilities have a right to access information and services via the Internet. Also, accessible websites provide business benefits for website owners and benefits for people without disabilities.

This document provides guidance on encouraging organizations to make their websites accessible, particularly when you find accessibility barriers on a website. While most accessibility barriers are caused by poor website design, some accessibility problems might be related to settings in your web browser or assistive technology. For guidance to help you customize your particular web browser and computer setup so it's easier to use websites, see Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer.

Consider Your Approach

When contacting an organization about accessibility, consider what approach will get the results you want. The tone of your emails, phone calls, and other communications will impact how people react and respond.

Keep in mind that there are different reasons why websites are not accessible. Some organizations don't know about accessibility and don’t know how to make their websites accessible. Some are just learning about accessibility and trying to make their website accessible, although they might not be doing it well enough yet. And there are some organizations that choose not to make their websites accessible.

Often it is best when you first contact an organization to assume that they don’t know about the accessibility barriers on their website. Based on their response and what you learn about the organization's position on accessibility, you can adjust your approach and choose follow up actions that are likely to be most effective.

Asking Others to Help

If you are not sure about using websites and assistive technologies, consider asking someone to help you understand the problem you are having and help you communicate it to the website owners.

If you aren't comfortable contacting an organization with an inaccessible website directly, consider asking others to help. Advocacy groups of people with disabilities, of older people, or others, may be interested in contacting the organization about their inaccessible website.

Encouraging Accessible Websites

Consider also acknowledging and encouraging organizations that do a good job of making their websites accessible and easy to use by people with disabilities and older people. Positive feedback can motivate individuals and help the case for organizations to continue pursuing accessibility. Organizations not yet investing in web accessibility may be enticed by the accolades others get from their efforts.

Identify Key Contacts

It is best to figure out the person responsible for the web page or application that is inaccessible, or the person responsible for accessibility at the organization. If that is difficult, use whatever contact you can find. Look for links on the web page such as:

Some links will be email addresses, and some will go to online forms or other ways to contact the organization.

If you cannot find contacts on the website, other places to look include:

Describe the Problem

To help the organization diagnose and fix accessibility barriers, clearly describe where the problem occurred, what the problem is, what you were trying to do, and what computer and software you're using. Consider including a screen shot of the web page that has the problem.

Where is the Problem?

Include the web address (also called URL), or a description of the page.

e.g.

Example of a web address (URL):

Examples of page descriptions:

What is the Problem?

Provide details about what you were trying to do, and why it was difficult or impossible to do it.

e.g.

Examples of problem descriptions:

What Computer and Software are You Using?

Provide details about your computer and software. If you don't know, maybe a friend, relative, or colleague can help you. If not, you can skip this part.

Include:

If it is related to the problem you are experiencing, also include:

e.g.

Examples of detailed computer and software descriptions:

Even if you don’t know all the details, include what you do know.

e.g.

Examples of simple descriptions:

Note: Do not reveal personal information such as passwords, via email or otherwise. Do not provide any information that you are not comfortable disclosing.

Include Sources for More Information

Consider telling organization about the following resources to help them understand these web accessibility issues:

Request Reply

Ask the organization to reply to you, and include how you want them to contact you, for example, by email. If you are comfortable, include a phone number in case they want to learn more about the problem.

Follow-Up as Needed

Responsible organizations will follow up with you; however, sometimes you might need to follow up with them.

Be Available for Follow-up

The website developers might need more information from you to help them diagnose and fix the problem.

Keep Records for Further Follow-Up

You might need records if you later decide to take further action. In particular:

Getting a Response

Different organizations have different cultures and systems for managing correspondence and handling feedback and complaints. Some organizations can respond quickly, while others take longer because of their size or internal processes. For example, some government departments and large organizations have a policy of responding to correspondence within four weeks.

Sometimes you will get a reply that is just an acknowledgement that the organization received your contact. This may be automatically generated, especially if you used an online feedback form. The organization should later follow up with a direct reply to your issue.

Sometimes organizations do not have expertise in accessibility and might not understand your feedback. They might assume the issue is with your browser or assistive technology.

If you do not receive satisfactory responses within a reasonable timeframe, consider taking further action, described below. Note that in some cases, the organization might fix the problem and not notify you.

Further Action to Consider

If you feel the organization is not adequately resolving the accessibility problem, consider what further action would be useful in your case, such as:


Sample Emails

Feel free to adapt these sample emails for your situation.

Email Template

In the template below, the [hints] in brackets are sections for you to complete.

Subject: Problem encountered on [XYZ website]

Dear [name or position of person you're writing to]

I had problems on the web page [web address (URL), or describe the page where the problem occurs
I tried to [describe what you were trying to do on their site].
The problem was [describe what doesn't work for you or what doesn't work the way you expected].
This meant I was unable to [describe what you had hoped to do on their website]>.
[optional: "I have no trouble on" [ describe a similar site that works for you].

Here is some information to help you diagnose and fix the problem. I use a [your computer operating system]
with the [name and version of your browser].
I also use [describe any assistive technology you use, or settings you changed - if this is relevant].

To learn about web accessibility please see "Accessibility - W3C" at http://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility.html [optional: include other references]

I look forward to your fixing accessibility barriers on your website. Please contact me [at the phone number or email address below] if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,
[your name and contact information]

Sample Email 1

Subject: Problem with Citylights' ticket page

Dear Citylights Marketing Manager,

I have encountered some accessibility barriers on your website.

I recently visited your ticket offers page (http://www.cl.example.com/tickets/mank.html) looking for tickets for Thelonius Mank. I couldn't use the page because the gray text on the black background is too hard to read.

You can get information about web accessibility from the web page
http://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility.html

As I am a CityLights' events fan, I would appreciate your attention to this problem - please let me know when it's fixed. If you would like me to supply any further information, please email me.

Regards, Maria

Sample Email 2

Subject: Accessibility of Citylights' news page

Hello Citylights Director,

Your news page (http://www.cl.example.com/news/news.html) is not accessible. I listen to web pages with the NVDA screen reader (version 0.6). I use Windows Vista and Internet Explorer 8.

My colleague told me that you had some heat wave information so I went to the news page, however there was something strange going on. I found a sentence about the heat wave and temperatures, but then there was something about the violin case man. Much of the page seemed mixed up and was confusing for me to listen to - it appears it was not written in a linear fashion so that someone like me using a screen reader can understand it.

Also, your news page doesn't have any headings. Headings are important because I use them to get an overview of the page and to help me navigate to the stories.

Please check out this web accessibility information from the W3C:

Please let me know when these problems are addressed.

Thank you for your attention. Noriyuki

Sample Email 3

Subject: Problem accessing Citylights' surveys

Hi Citylights,

Love your stories, but not your surveys! I can't use a mouse very much because my arms don’t work well. Usually I tab around web pages. Anyway, on your survey page I was only able to get to the question about how many cars we have when I tabbed around. When I did try using the mouse to answer the 'where do I live' question, I couldn't click on the words like I can on many other sites' forms, I had to click the little circle before the words.

In case it helps you diagnose and fix the problem: I have a WinXP laptop and use Opera browser version 8.

To learn more about these and other accessibility issues, check out www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility.html

By the way, making your site accessible will benefit Citylights too, see Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization (www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/Overview.html).

Please tell me when you've fixed these problems. Happy to help you further. You can ring me at 12-345-6789.

Best,
    Jasmine

[CC: Spinal Cord Injury Association]