The Importance of Building an Accessible Website Feature Image
The Importance of Building an Accessible Website Feature Image

The importance of building an accessible website

In the ongoing build up to launching Affirmative Recruitment, I’ve been faced with an array of considerations. Many are typical I imagine of most business startups in the digital age, but some are specific to running a recruitment agency and others are specific to my commitment to offering an accessible and inclusive business. Some combine all the above which has proved interesting!

As someone who is an advocate for disability inclusion, but who does not live with a disability personally, I would describe myself as a person people who:

  • Has an inclusive mindset,
  • Has a solid amount of knowledge about inclusion and accessibility, and yet:
  • Discovers things that I don’t know every single day!

So, whilst I am pleased to inform and share with others who have less knowledge and confidence than I do in this area, I regularly need to seek out people who have more expertise than me so that I can continue to learn and improve. Website accessibility is one of those areas that I had a general knowledge of but really needed proper advice on how to proceed in a real sense as I considered digital tools for my business start-up. 

As it turned out, getting help and advice was not as easy as I initially hoped, and I had to hunt for experts.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and Candidate Relationship Management (CRM) software

Before I get to website though I want to briefly talk about accessibility in ATS / CRM platforms. An applicant tracking system (ATS) and candidate relationship management (CRM) software are essential to effectively running a recruitment business and there are all sorts of options on the market at various price points. Anyone who’s been through the process themselves of looking into accessibility with these systems will not be surprised when I say that I encountered a lot of blank faces when I asked the accessibility question.  In fact of the four specialist recruitment platforms I enquired with, 100% of the software salespeople I spoke to had no knowledge of accessibility principles and told me they had “never encountered that question before”. These included Australian and international brands, top shelf price range to entry level. Granted all four committed to following up to understand what these were etc, but I couldn’t help noting that:

  • Enquiries about accessibility were evidently uncommon
  • Training about accessibility for the sales / demo staff was not provided

Closing out the ATS / CRM point I would add that these platforms are not web content based in the first instance, however most offer job board and candidate registration features, which should ideally be accessible either directly or through an integration with a host website. So being able to talk about accessibility shouldn’t be a surprise. And beyond this, shouldn’t the software be accessible for users at the agency or employer end? I’m not a tech expert so this was definitely an area where I wanted my third parties to advise and inform me. Perhaps some readers will be aware of providers who are exceptions to those I spoke with, so please feel free to comment or share with me directly. 

Website Accessibility

Getting back to website design, the knowledge I started with a few weeks ago was a broad understanding of WCAG, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This is the international standard for digital content accessibility, with WCAG 1.0 being written back in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). It’s widely considered to be the global authority on web accessibility, through various updates including the latest (WCAG 2.2) in October this year. It you really want to get close and personal with all the guidelines you can check out the W3C website. I personally liked the summary available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website: the main principles of WCAG. 

Speaking of the Commission, did you know that in Australia the Disability Discrimination Act requires by law that there is equal access for people with a disability to information and online services provided through the web, where it can reasonably be provided. This requirement applies to any individual or organisation developing a website or other web resource in Australia and includes web pages and other resources developed or maintained for purposes related to employment (and various other services).

So basically, it’s law that we should have accessible websites. In practice though it seems to be optional for most organisations, and in the case of website development, it’s not part of every offering. My experience searching for web developers revealed that knowledge of accessibility was pretty hit and miss depending on the search criteria I used and the person I eventually spoke to. Some developers needed to get back to me to discuss further, others offered an add-on widget to address accessibility (more on widgets in a moment), and others were 100% familiar with WCAG. The most comprehensive and top end pricewise offered ongoing compliance and auditing services. This research was really interesting, and it became pretty evident to me pretty quickly that website accessibility is not a binary thing. It’s not a case of Yes or No. There are evidently degrees. On reflection that of course makes sense, the WCAG themselves do have different levels. Still, considering that WCAG have been in existence as long as the internet has been a thing, shouldn’t all website developers be building all sites in an accessible way every time? 

I was hoping to find a base level of expertise in the web development industry which was universally applicable as a minimum standard, but I’ve learned it’s not that simple.

Accessibility Widgets / Assistive Toolbar

An interesting learn has been the variety of widgets / add-ons available, like assistive toolbars, which enable users to adjust a range of website features to suit their accessibility needs. One website developer which is very popular with recruitment agencies offered one as a free add-on when I enquired about accessibility. Unfortunately, a visit to the websites of a selection of their more prominent recruitment brands left me wanting as none seemed to have actually picked up on the tool. As an industry this tells me we need to push more actively for such features to be included as standard. Or that providers and developers promote them more effectively.

I’m still exploring this. Although an add-on could potentially make a real difference to the experience of many site users – for me these are both employers and jobseekers – the overall build, design and formatting of pages and content will still play a massive part, and this comes from the development. Maybe I’ll discover that a combination of both is best. If you’re impacted by website accessibility, what has your experience been?

Putting my money where my mouth is

I’d consider myself to be a tech-friendly person, but web development feels like a tech minefield. I might be asking the wrong questions sometimes, and I definitely misunderstand much of what is said in briefings etc. I’ve learned I need a trusted partner to work with and guide me through the landscape, and I need them to understand how important accessibility is to my offering. And they need to know more than I do about it! I’m not interested in personally converting web designers into more inclusive businesses, the market can do that in time. I will definitely choose to work with a business who has prioritised this already and with whom I share this common value.

So, after some earlier dead ends, some others which just left me feeling doubtful, and some more recent engagements which seem more promising, I’m still to decide who will build my website. But we’re getting close, and the process has been very educational. I have a shortlist of providers I’m working with. 

Being fully transparent, it was briefly tempting to save money with an off the shelf product that met my general business needs. Money is tight when you start up after all. But do I want to settle for an otherwise good recruitment product which is light on accessibility and a team who were merely committed to looking into it over time? Or providing me with a widget? No. Have I leaned that I’ll probably need to build a more bespoke site in order to offer an accessible and inclusive experience to my customers? Yes. Is it going to cost me more? Haha – Yes! 

With that accepted, accessibility has become my baseline. 

Now it’s about deciding what business functionality can be simplified to remain affordable but still operationally viable so that I can deliver the all-important services my clients and candidates will require from me. 

If you’ve enjoyed the content for this my first blog, please encourage your own organisations to consider website accessibility further, and perhaps talk to your web developers about doing more.

Moreover, I hope the days surrounding International Day of People with Disabilities 2023 provide you and your colleagues with some cause to celebrate, learn, share and recommit to a more accessible and inclusive world of work.



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