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Maintaining Your Site’s Accessibility Well After Launch

This post is adapted from a presentation at Drupal GovCon in November 2023. As Forum One’s Accessibility Lead, Jeanette ensures that our public sector and nonprofit clients receive unwavering support in prioritizing accessibility for all users.

After all the work to ensure your new website is accessible and in compliance with Section 508 and WCAG standards, you shift into day-to-day operations, and… things change. Standards shift, old habits take over, and new staff may not understand how to maintain accessibility. 

It takes intention and planning to maintain a website’s level of accessibility as you make content and development updates over time. But with the right effort, you can ensure your accessible site grows even better for your audiences. 

Anticipate barriers to accessibility 

Why is it so difficult to maintain accessibility standards? There are a few common reasons:

  • Web managers and content creators fall into old habits. People on your team might be used to putting text over images because for them, it’s an efficient way to highlight information. Even if you’ve explained that this, or any other habit that falls out of compliance, it can be hard for users to change. 
  • The new design system has gaps. Your redesign likely standardized new colors, heading and feature styles, and everything else you thought you’d need for content. But, a new feature crops up, and all of a sudden content creators are straying, introducing new colors and styles that haven’t been reviewed and don’t meet standards. 
  • Staying static because of “clearance” Conversely, sometimes text or features stay in place too long, with staff feeling that “we can’t change because it’s already gone through clearance.” But this can lead to outdated or unaligned content when standards change. 

Effective accessibility planning

To counter all these barriers, you need a plan: 

  • Review and update your design system. Survey your content creators and pressure-test your design system—do you have adequate styles for all your content needs? Where are people “freelancing” and creating new styles or processes that are out of compliance? Adapt your design system to support all user needs. 
  • Educate and engage. If you didn’t create design documentation before launch, do it now. Include the rationale for components, so people can understand why the processes and styles are the way they are. Most users will want to support accessibility standards: they may just not know what they are. Explaining “These colors were specifically tested to work for all our audiences” encourages participation more than “This is the color palette.”
  • Have an accessibility governance plan. Plan a monitoring and auditing strategy that includes who owns both day-to-day compliance and a more systematic audit, annually or at a pace that makes sense for your team. 
    • Decide if you’ll use ongoing monitoring tools, like SiteImprove, Deque, or others, which have built-in scans for accessible content. 
    • As new content or features are added, ensure updates are being tested for accessibility. Consider who is in charge of code, content, design, and third-party tools that are incorporated into your site.  
    • Create training practices to onboard new staff and content creators, and documentation practices to ensure practices are consistent and verifiable. 
    • Remember to review your governance plan annually too, not just your website content.

Evolve your practices as standards change

Keep in mind that accessibility guidelines and assistive technology will change. What was considered an “accessible” website five years ago would likely not meet the standards today. Build assessment, learning, and flexibility into your planning to respond to the changes ahead. As your work changes, processes will have to change too. 

Don’t go it alone. 

My team and I are here to support you in your quest for improved accessibility. Whether you’re looking to kick off a big redesign or want to check in on how your site is doing since it last launched, we’re here to help. Get in touch below!

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