Leadership / 03.10.20
What Are the Keys to Running a Truly Accessible Website?
A lot of focus, care and commitment has gone into making stadiums, arenas, performing arts centers and other venues where people go to entertain and be entertained accessible to all. More and more, the same level of attention is going into making websites that serve these venues and are responsible for their ticketing accessible to those with disabilities.
As with anything worthwhile and important, proper planning is key. And that starts right from the get-go. Betty R. Siegel, the Director of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center’s Office of Accessibility in Washington, D.C., says the first key is committing to web design and infrastructure that follows the WC3 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA guidelines. “These are voluntary standards for accessibility,” she says, “and if used throughout and from the start, your website will meet most people’s needs. If your website does not follow WCAG 2.1 AA, as most ticketing software does not, it means vulnerability to adverse legal action.”
Equally important, she says, is to be “hyper-focused” on the ticket buying pathway. The questions she says must be asked range from “Have you incorporated as many protections for the accessible seats as you can without making the process onerous or burdensome?” to “Have you done what you can to prevent fraud?” to “What are the actual steps that a ticket buyer seeking to purchase accessible seating must take?” That leads to other questions, such as “Are there substantially more clicks required than anyone else must make?” and, to this end, “Will the individual get timed out?” Siegel says it should also be made obvious on the website who the purchaser should contact if there are difficulties.
Brandon Lucas of carbonhouse concurs and offers insights of his own: “Understand that success in web accessibility is not just completing a checklist or providing an easy link to purchase. It is about creating an experience that makes it enjoyable for guests with disabilities to share in the discovery of events.
“Include human testing. Automated testing tools can often create false positives — i.e., showing an error when there isn’t one or, even worse, giving a false sense of security that a site passes accessibility when, in reality, it could be very difficult to use for those with disabilities. There are many companies that can offer disabled website testing to ensure it balances the guidelines for accessibility with an optimal user experience.”
Lucas knows what he’s talking about. He and his partner, James Sack, have been running carbonhouse for the past 14 years, specializing in venue websites. The carbonhouse platform currently powers over 250 venues globally, including some of the world’s biggest arenas, stadiums and convention centers.
Lyndsey Jackson also is a big proponent of accessibility. She currently serves as Deputy Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the charity that supports what she touts as the largest annual ticketed event in the world. At INTIX 2020 in New York City, Jackson presented a session titled "Wheelchair + Medieval City = Accessibility Nightmare." She and her staff have spent years building a database of the society’s 700-plus performance spaces “to ensure we capture as much information to allow audiences with access requirements to make reliable and informed choices about what they want to see. Then we have to ensure this information is accessible to our audiences; this is practical applications such as screen reading tools, picture descriptions, screen optimization, as well as BSL-interpreted show information, access info on every page, and a dedication information and support point online. And, of course, there’s a team behind it all to deliver the best possible customer services.”
So, where do ticketing and venue websites often come up short in terms of accessibility? Lucas was quick to answer. “Images with text,” he says. “Pricing or ticket information that is within an image itself is impossible to read by screen reader software. When there is textual content that is being displayed within an image, there should be an alternative way for the disabled user to perceive the information. This can be descriptive text under the image or an audio file describing the content.
“Many legal complaints with website accessibility occur because an organization doesn’t follow up on a guest complaint promptly,” he says. “A venue’s web accessibility statement should give the guests easy ways to contact the venue with questions and a process within the guest services department to promptly address. More importantly, separate does not mean equal. Having a phone line for those with disabilities to call does not replace a non-accessible venue or ticketing website.”
Lucas calls out those operators who go with quick fixes that ultimately don’t work. “There are vendors out there that present a quick-fix solution to venues with a widget that they can add to their website and then claim a website is accessible,” he says. “While enticing, these solutions can actually make the experience more challenging for the disabled.”
Siegel has noticed some website operators ignore accessibility until after they’ve selected their ticketing software package/company and they’ve designed their interface. “They don’t seek out and find knowledgeable experts on web accessibility to help them with compliance,” she says.
Siegel has given many presentations and keynote addresses on disability rights, compliance, accommodation and inclusive practices. Her job entails creating cultural experiences inclusive of people with disabilities of all ages. At the Kennedy Center, all things related to cultural access for people with disabilities of all ages eventually come across her desk.
“We try to utilize our website to push information out to our visitors and patrons with disabilities,” she says. “We use access symbols to identify accessible performances; we post calendars with access information highlighted; and we presume that the website is the patron’s first stop for getting information.”
Jackson and her team also use their organization’s website to tout the accessibility features of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. She is perhaps most proud of the site’s dedicated access page that features information, guides, resources and toolkits for a range of access needs. “We also have an access page for every venue, every space and every show. It’s a core part of our site, and we have worked to integrate access into the customer flow at every stage.”
For a new venue or ticketing operation just launching a website, both Jackson and Siegel have advice on how best to get started while keeping accessibility top of mind. “Don’t think you have to reinvent things,” Jackson says. “Look at others who are doing it well and borrow all their good ideas. We should be sharing our learning and helping all of us improve together. And don’t forget to talk to your audiences. Ask them what works, what they need and how they use [websites]. Make sure they’re a critical part of your web development. Access shouldn’t be an add-on.”
Siegel, meanwhile, recommends, “First, think about an accessible website as your invitation to everyone that they are welcome. Second, web accessibility happens when the institution/venue makes it a priority. So, make it a priority. Third, don’t compromise. When you start to compromise accessibility, you are essentially bargaining away someone’s civil and human right to have access to culture.”
Perhaps Lucas summed it up best. For carbonhouse, specializing only on venue websites has allowed him and his colleagues to create accessibility tools within each platform specifically for event discovery. “The real key is creating a culture of inclusiveness throughout the venue,” he says. “The disabled community spends. Over 19% of the population in the U.S. has either a sight, hearing, motor or cognitive disability. Embracing web accessibility will translate into more ticket sales.”
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Tags: ADA , Accessibility , Venues