Why Accessibility Matters for Your Museum’s Website

When I first joined Cuberis a few years ago, I had a strong desire to make web accessibility a part of our web projects. I had been noticing more and more talk about the issue in the broader web design community, and, due in part to the work of people like Sina Bahram, I knew that museums were interested in accessibility, too.

Our team began researching how to improve accessibility in our projects, attending talks and meetups, and drafting initial baseline standards for accessibility. Today, accessibility and inclusive design is top of mind for Cuberis, and it should be for your museum, as well.

You have probably heard the term “accessibility”, or a11y, used quite a bit in recent years, but what you might not have realized is that accessibility doesn’t just benefit people with permanent disabilities. Microsoft’s excellent manual for inclusive design puts it this way:

“Everyone experiences exclusion as they interact with our designs … a solution that works well for someone who’s blind might also benefit any person driving a car. Inclusive design works across a spectrum of related abilities, connecting different people in similar circumstances.”

Their manual’s “Persona Spectrum” illustrates even more examples of how inclusive design can benefit everyone.

Here are some other reasons why accessibility should be a part of your next web project.

LEGAL

In the United States, there isn’t a universal law or statute that requires all websites to be accessible. However, there are a few laws that may apply to web accessibility, and depending on the ownership and funding of your museum, you might be legally bound to them.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, for example, requires all Federally-funded programs to be accessible to all people. Section 508 of the law specifically applies to “all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.” But many states, higher education institutions, and private companies follow this law, as well.

If your museum receives any Federal funding, your website must legally be accessible to all people. And with ADA’s Title III prohibiting discrimination “in the activities of places of public accommodations”, investing in accessibility today puts your museum in a better long-term position.

At Cuberis, we follow the internationally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on projects, which are published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

MORAL

Accessibility is the right thing to do. As a museum, you want to create a space that everyone can enjoy. Think of all of the attention to accessibility that goes into your physical space. Doors that don’t require a handle to open, ramps and elevators for people who can’t use stairs, braille, and audio guides to supplement labels and signs. And the information that you provide visually is clear and easy to understand.

Your museum’s website shouldn’t be any different. You want everyone who can get to it to enjoy using it and to be able to benefit from your museum’s mission statement.

COST

Accessibility does add cost to a web development project. But it is much more cost effective to implement sound accessibility functions from the start than trying to retrofit a website in which accessibility wasn’t considered in the first place.

Furthermore, if your museum does any fundraising online, you are potentially leaving revenue on the table. A lack of accessibility could prevent someone from giving if they were hoping to do so on your website.

QUALITY

Ultimately, if you consider accessibility, your content will benefit from a higher standard of quality. It’s a win-win. More people can enjoy your website, and your museum’s mission can spread even further.

If you’ve been thinking about the accessibility of your museum’s website, it’s never too early to start getting others on board. As part of your museum’s staff and leadership, you should be well informed about web accessibility and its benefits. And when your museum is ready for its next website redesign, make sure it is truly accessible to all.