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

Promoting and Advocating for Web Accessibility

This is only an initial draft, and should not be quoted or referenced. [change log]

This page describes approaches for promoting and advocating for Web accessibility. It examines considerations involved in selecting approaches, contacting organizations, explaining that there are barriers on sites, and following up. It also includes links to resources that may be useful in promoting and advocating for Web accessibility.


Page Contents

Much of the Web is still inaccessible to people with disabilities. This can be for many different reasons. Sometimes it is because of a lack of awareness of the need for Web accessibility. Sometimes it is because of developers not knowing where to start; or not following accessibility guidelines carefully; or not using software that can help them develop accessible Web sites. Sometimes it is because an organization is aware of the need, yet lacks a commitment to accessibility.

There are many approaches that one can choose when promoting and advocating for Web accessibility. The best approach in a particular situation may depend on the reason for the lack of accessibility, some examples of which are given above. It might also depend on factors such as an organization's obligation to ensure accessibility of their Web site. For instance, if an organization has legal or regulatory obligations regarding Web accessibility, their lack of awareness about the need for accessibility would be of concern.

Approaches for promoting and advocating for Web accessibility can include everything from basic information and awareness-building all the way to legal advocacy. There are also many intermediate approaches, such as giving feedback on specific accessibility barriers; promoting a commitment to Web accessibility training for the organization's developers; advocating for user testing that includes people with disabilities; or initiating a dialog towards development of a comprehensive accessibility policy for the organization.

Selecting an Approach

Factors such as the extent of barriers, the urgency of needed access, the organization's obligations, your potential contacts -- these may all affect how you choose to approach an organization. Other factors may include how much energy you want to put into getting any particular Web site accessible, and what your long-term goals might be with regard to many other sites that you may want to impact.

Extent of barriers

How severe and widespread are the accessibility barriers on the site? How much of the site are you having difficulty accessing, or how many errors are appearing when you use a Web accessibility evaluation tool? Are the accessibility barriers on the site preventing you and/or others from carrying out of key functions on the site -- for instance searching for information; understanding graphics, audio, or video; or completing key transactions?

Organization's interests and obligations

Is the organization that maintains the inaccessible Web site already obligated by law or regulation to maintain an accessible Web site? Does the organization have a policy for corporate social responsibility -- and if so, does it include anything about disabilities -- or if not, should it? Does the organization have a Web accessibility policy that they are not fully following? If there is no obvious obligation, are they aware of the commercial or social relevance of accessibility for their Web site?


If you're outside of the organization, is there a clear contact on the Web site for feedback? Or do you yourself work within an organization that has an inaccessible Web site, and have an interest in becoming a more effective proponent for Web accessibility? If so, which of your contacts within the organization might be helpful in helping you promote Web accessibility?

Documenting Problems and Communication

How much do you want to document the accessibility problems, and your communication efforts in trying to resolve these? You don't have to be a Web accessibility expert to give feedback or file a complaint on Web accessibility, but the more you can document, the more it may help. And even keeping minimal documentation on your communications about the site may prove useful later.

Documenting barriers

Documentation of specific problems may increase the chances that the right barriers will be fixed more quickly, and it may help you measure their progress in addressing the problems. It might also help identify whether the barriers are occurring due to problems between your browser or assistive technology, and their Web site. 

Where do you run into problems on the site?  What tasks are you trying to do on the site when you run into problems? This kind of information may be helpful to them. Have you tried using accessibility evaluation tools on the site? Evaluation tools won't identify all problems, since some accessibility barriers are best identified manually; but they can identify many problems. Some evaluation tools allow you to link to or to attach the evaluation results, and if so, you can send that information to the webmaster.

Documenting communication

Documenting communication is helpful in tracking who is reportedly aware of the problem within an organization at a given time, and what they have said they will do about it.

It may be helpful to keep a record of your emails or phone calls -- when you contacted them; whom you spoke with or heard back from and when; what they said; what changed, etc.

Contacting Organizations


Web site problems are usually reported by email. This has the advantage of letting you easily preserve a copy of your correspondence, and the organization that receives them usually also keeps a record of these reports. 


Telephone contact might let you better assess how much they understand about accessibility, and how likely they are to try to fix the site once you have given them specific information about the barriers. 


Face-to-face contact, if available, lets you assess the interest and commitment of those with whom you are talking, and explain problems and resources for implementing Web accessibility solutions in more depth.  Sometimes it also helps in developing a dialog with potential internal proponents for Web accessibility.

Explaining Problems


In cases where accessibility barriers stems from a lack of awareness, it can be helpful to include in any communication not only what the specific problems on a Web site are, but also some basics about Web accessibility. For instance, Introduction to Web Accessibility gives people a general understanding of Web accessibility; Implementation Plan for Web Accessibility and Improving the Accessibility of Your Web Site walk developers through practical steps; Web Content Accessibility Guidelines describes what makes a Web site accessible; and Core Techniques for WCAG 1.0 provides techniques for solving specific accessibility problems.


Explain what kind of problems you encountered on the Web site: if you found specific accessibility errors; what kind of browser or media player you are using; and which assistive technologies, if you are using any. If possible, be specific about what you are asking to be changed. Ask for them to follow up with you to confirm that the problems have been addressed.

If an organization has a clear obligation to have an accessible Web site, you can point them to that information in  Policies Relating to Web Accessibility. Regardless of their obligation, an organization may be interested in Developing a Web Accessibility Business Case for Your Organization.

Following up

Did you hear back from them, and are they trying to fix the site? Have they already fixed the site? If so, congratulations.

If they requested more information, that may be a step in the right direction. Can you give them any more specifics? Do you feel that it should be clear from the information that you first sent? Sometimes a problem may be less apparent for someone using a different operating system, browser, or for someone who doesn't have access to the assistive technology that you are using -- so they may indeed need more information. 

If an organization has not repaired their Web site or responded after significant time has passed -- or if they have responded but still not repaired the site, you may want to consider additional approaches. Many different approaches are used by different individuals and organizations to address Web accessibility problems that have not been resolved through initial dialog. These include getting others involved in providing feedback; publicizing unresolved accessibility problems on a site; filing a complaint if there is a relevant body to report the problem to; legal advocacy; etc. Many factors may go into the selection of a best approach at this stage, including the extent of the barriers; the type of Web site; the obligations of the organization that owns it; and hopes for impact on other sites.