Building your business case for Web accessibility

* The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides wide array of resources to help you develop an accessible site for your organization.

If you've read my articles for any length of time, you know that I am an advocate for accessible Web sites. An "accessible" site is one that is designed to be usable by anyone, including people with disabilities, the aging, users of low bandwidth connections, and users with devices such as cell phones or handheld computers.

I recently sat in on a very interesting and helpful presentation by Judy Brewer, the director of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the Word Wide Web Consortium (W3C). I'd like to share a bit of Ms. Brewer's wealth of knowledge with you.

On its Web site, WAI provides a wide array of resources to help you develop an accessible site for your organization. One of the resources is called The Business Case Resource Suite for Promoting Web Accessibility. This suite is really a strategy tool that can help you compile an effective, customized business case to take to management to request the resources and authorization to make your organization's Web site accessible. The tool takes into account that no two organizations are starting from the same point, or have the same needs or resources. That is why it is highly customizable - to fit your specific circumstances.

The tool suggests there are four primary factors to consider in your business case. When you go to management to ask for support, you'll likely lead with one major factor, but throw in a few others for good measure, depending on your specific circumstances. From the WAI Web site, the four factors are:

* Social Factors, which address the role of Web accessibility in equal opportunity for people with disabilities; the overlap with digital divide issues; and benefits to people without disabilities, including older people, people with low literacy and people not fluent in the language, people with low bandwidth connections to the Internet and older technologies, and new and infrequent Web users.

* Technical Factors, which address interoperability, quality, reducing site development and maintenance time, reducing server load, enabling content on different configurations, and being prepared for advanced Web technologies.

* Financial Factors, which address financial benefits from increased Web site use and direct cost savings, and cost considerations including initial costs and ongoing costs.

* Legal and Policy Factors, which address requirements for Web accessibility from governments and other organizations in the form of laws, policies, regulations, standards, guidelines, directives, communications, orders, or other types of documents.

Each of the links above asks a series of questions to help you determine how important those factors are in the business case you want to build. For example, under Financial Factors, there is the question, "What is the main goal for the organization's Web site?" If the main goal is to increase online sales, there are tips on how to build your business case with an emphasis on increasing Web site use for sales purposes. Your CFO can certainly relate to that reason for undertaking Web site changes that will incorporate accessibility features.

Ms. Brewer suggests you go through the factors one by one, and figure out the most important rationale(s) for your business case. Then you can select "canned" but customizable materials on the WAI Web site to help you build your executive presentation. For example, create a one page quick summary of the main points you want the CxO to grasp. Use text from a sample business case on the WAI Web site. Show examples of accessible sites. If possible, invite someone with a disability to demonstrate what he or she experiences when using your current Web site. Nothing drives home a point faster than watching a user or customer struggle.

Selling management on the idea of making your organization's Web site accessible is the easy part. Once you get the go ahead, there's the challenge of implementation. WAI has you covered there as well. WAI's Implementation Plan for Web Accessibility includes such actions as:

* Establish responsibilities.

* Conduct initial assessment.

* Develop organizational policy.

* Select software.

* Provide training.

* Develop the accessible Web site.

* Promote organizational awareness.

WAI wants you to be successful with your accessibility project. Visit the organization's Web site early and often to find all sorts of free resources.

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