Accessibility goes mainstream: creating effective websites through BS 8878, WordPress & Website In 1 Day

“Jonathan Hassell … is a great and persuasive communicator and what he talks about goes deeper than accessibility… it’s about why inclusiveness and user-focus are fundamental to good business.”
Neil Allison, University of Edinburgh

It’s always great to get positive feedback, especially when someone really appreciates the importance of what you’ve been trying to say…

This link between inclusion, user-focus and effective websites is something I’ve been highlighting for quite some time.

The link between BS 8878 and effective websites

The feedback I’m getting from across industry is that the BS 8878 web accessibility standards I created are proving useful as a framework for producing effective websites, rather than just accessible ones. As Andy Shield notes, much of the guidance in BS 8878 often reflects mantras promoted by people outside the accessibility field. And that helps harmonise accessibility, effectiveness and quality:

“BS8878 has given us the framework to help reduce the cost and improve the quality when delivering accessible products our customers want to use.”
Rob Wemyss, Head of Accessibility for Royal Mail Group

BS 8878′s user-centred way of thinking about accessibility is proving a great way of focusing website creation around the important things – ensuring websites are effective in communicating their purpose to their target audiences.

And this is slowly opening up organisations to accessibility who have been resistant before. As I noted in the same exchange with Andy Shield:

“The reasons for people to not ‘do’ accessibility are more to do with balancing the cost-benefits of accessibility with all the other things they are trying to sort: SEO, multi-platform production, social media and the like. So it’s important for people who work in accessibility to know how their discipline and set of values can actually help products be successful, not just with disabled users, but with all users. That way product managers will welcome accessibility, rather than pay lip-service to it.”

Why effective websites are essential for small businesses

This focus on the purpose of a website and how it converts visitors into customers, clients or leads is even more important for small businesses than large organisations, because an SME can stand or fall on how well its website attracts the leads it needs to survive.

According to Neil Collard, Strategy & Planning Director for e3 in his great seminar How shopping for shoes helped change the way we sell financial products at Internet World this week, the things websites need to be effective are:

  • to be easily found by its target audiences (SEO)
  • to represent and develop your brand and its values (notably inclusion) online
  • to maximise conversion (by ensuring all your visitors to find what they need and become a customer)
  • to retain customers and drive value (by keeping the site fresh and responsive to the growing needs of your customers, as your business grows)

BS 8878 maps very well to this list. So using BS 8878 as a framework for reminding me what was important when I was setting up this Hassell Inclusion website last year was a sensible step.

And, while my site isn’t perfect in any of these areas, they are at least on my radar as aims as I iterate the site over time, in response to the feedback I get from you, my readers and clients.

There’s often a bond that develops between small businesses, of wanting to help others trying to set themselves up for success at the same time. So recently I decided I had something here I wanted to share with other small businesses, to get them going on the right tracks, and allow them to learn from my experience of working through BS 8878 on a budget and deadline. I’ve got together with accessible WordPress expert Graham Armfield to create a bold new option for helping small businesses create their own effective websites in record time.

What is Website In 1 Day?

Website In 1 Day is a course that we have created to get SMEs from nothing to an effective, professional website in just one day, allowing them to gain confidence that they can create their own website, and be in control of updating it, without requiring them to become a techie.

It combines:

  • a strategy workshop in examining what an effective ‘version 1′ small business website needs to communicate (the business’s unique selling points) and how it should look and feel to make it a good user experience for all the business’s potential clients
  • and a practical workshop where we lead website owners through the process of making that website themselves

It manages all of that in one day, using BS 8878′s 16 step production process as the structure for the day.

But if accessibility is inherent in the process on the course, how could we make sure accessibility is inherent in the websites being produced on the course, without requiring the small business owners coming on it to become techies and WCAG junkies?

Accessibility embedded in processes and tools, not guidelines

Website In 1 Day isn’t an accessibility course. It’s a course on effective website creation for non-technical people.

So we’re training people in creating effective WordPress websites for small businesses. While WordPress isn’t perfect, there are good reasons that over 60 million people have chosen it to power their place on the web worldwide, and that its popularity has grown by 600% in just two years (see SEO Web Designs’ Toby Thomas presenting at Internet World this week).

And, if we aren’t training people to code in HTML, much of WCAG’s focus on coding the right HTML is rather beside the point.

The way we advise people on web accessibility needs to change.

As I said in the first presentation of my career at the BBC, as Editor of Standards & Guidelines: the best Standards shouldn’t need to be read and complied with to check you didn’t forget them or ‘get them wrong’; they should be embedded in tools so you can’t ‘get them wrong’ and you don’t have to read Standards documents at all.

So, as well as embedding accessibility in the website creation process via BS 8878 on the Website In 1 Day course, we also embed ‘accessibility by default’ in the WordPress theme that we help people coming on the course to use to create their sites.

The theme’s code is designed to be compliant with many of the HTML aspects of WCAG 2.0. The colour choices are designed to be compliant with the colour-contrast design aspects of WCAG 2.0. So the only accessibility issues left to teach delegates are to ensure that the content (posts and pages) delegates include on their sites is accessible too (extracting the editorial aspects from WCAG 2.0, like alt-tags, Plain English, use of headings, inclusion of captions on video etc.)

This is why I’m more of a fan of Binary Blue’s Accessibility Wizard, which splits the WCAG 2.0 checkpoints into ones affecting people with different jobs, than WAI’s presentation of the checkpoints.

Choosing a WordPress theme to create accessible and effective websites

It’s worth noting that it is difficult to find WordPress themes that are both effective and accessible. Unfortunately most ‘accessible’ WordPress themes create sites that look 10 years old, compromising their effectiveness for small businesses.

So we chose an appropriate for small business, which included enough flexibility to allow businesses to differentiate themselves in design as well as content from each other, without the over-complexity that comes with some flexible WordPress theme frameworks. We then altered it to improve its accessibility.

While Website In 1 Day‘s theme isn’t perfect, we believe it’s a good enough v1 theme for our purposes. We are embarking on a project to build much more effective and accessible themes to use in the future. And WordPress’s separation of content from presentation will allow businesses who start with us on the Website In 1 Day journey to benefit from updates to the theme as we create them in the future.

So the effectiveness and accessibility of our clients’ websites can grow over time. Just like the rest of their business.

And letting our clients know that we care about how their websites represent them in the future, as well as now, could possibly be the most useful thing of all.

Support mainstream inclusion – tell small businesses you know about Website In 1 Day

We’re hoping Website In 1 Day becomes really successful, because it’s a great way of ensuring that more small business websites are made effective and accessible right from the very beginning.

So if you know any small businesses in the UK that are looking for a website that grows with their business, and upholds the accessibility that you believe in, we’d be delighted if you’d let them know about Website In 1 Day.

(For readers outside the UK, please let me know if you reckon that an eLearning form of the course would be useful, or you’d be interested in licensing the course to run in your country in the future).

We’ll let you know how the initiative goes as it evolves over time.

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