Churches, We Need to Talk About Website Accessibility (and Discrimination)

Open Door to a Church

“Failure to comply with Section 508 of the Department of Justice’s ADA (American with Disabilities Act) Standards for Accessible Design could expose your company to hefty fines, the risk of expensive criminal and civil litigation as well as a reputation for being unfriendly to the disabled.” https://userway.org/

I’m going to make a rant here. Forgive me (or just don’t read if you’re not up for a Sam Rant™).

Cheap website builders really upset me. For a number of reasons.

We’re working on a couple of large church website revisions for clients this week. These are content-heavy sites with numerous pages that are all info-dense with text, video, audio, podcasts, galleries, and just about every measure of content you can imagine. They are both complicated builds with lots of moving parts. So, we are constantly doing checks and QA (quality assurance) tests to make sure everything is working. Building websites of this scale might be sold as an easy thing to do on Super Bowl ads, but they are definitely not easy or “quick” things to do if you want to do them right.

One of the pitches I make to clients like this when they want to know what Harrelson Agency does differently that they couldn’t get done if they just used Wix or Squarespace or Weebly or one of the many other “website builder” apps is the care and attention we give to details such as Search Engine Optimization, mobile user experiences, payments and online giving (those %’s really do add up when you start receiving online donations), and security. It’s not that the website builder apps don’t offer those services, but items like SEO or mobile experience and especially website security tend to be the last things that someone volunteering to build your site checks (if at all). Plus, there are just better tools that last longer if you know what you’re doing, which is a cost saver over time. That’s especially true of security in 2018 and 2019.

However, one of the newer pitch items I’ve been including out of my own interests and passion is accessibility. I’ve always been interested in the subject, but that became especially true during my time in the classroom as a teacher. I frequently became frustrated with books or apps or computers or websites that students were forced to use but designed specifically with no regard to accessibility or usage issues. Over the last few years running Harrelson Agency and working heavily on website builds and designs with companies, individuals, churches, and nonprofits I’ve noticed that accessibility definitely takes a back seat to other concerns. That’s ESPECIALLY true with resource-strapped and budget limited churches and nonprofits.

However, that should not be the case. In my mind (that’s admittedly full of “too much righteous indignation” as a mentor once chided me), churches and nonprofits should be leading the way to make their websites true open doors to the public in a way that does not discriminate against anyone, including those who need usage, visual, or auditory accommodation to participate in that invitation.

  • 1 in 5 Americans experience permanent or temporary usage, auditory, or visual disability
  • 7.6 million Americans are auditory impaired
  • 8.1 million Americans are visually impaired
  • 2.2 million Americans suffer seizures and epilepsy
  • 2 million Americans are blind
  • 19.9 million Americans are motor impaired and cannot use a computer mouse

Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone.

Apple is one of the most forward thinking and acting tech companies when it comes to raising awareness of accessibility issues for users. It’s one of the reasons I truly love that tools such as iPad are available for students and all people who seek to participate in the global experience that is the world wide web.

https://www.apple.com/accessibility/

Why aren’t churches talking the similar language and instead forcing everyone to fit through a very narrow door and definition of visitor abilities? We wouldn’t do that in the physical world. It’s time to take the digital world just as seriously and stop passively discriminating because of poor website build decisions.

Take your website’s functionality seriously and allow it to empower and welcome ALL. It’s a matter of mixing philosophy with theology with technical know how. And the trick is that it won’t even cost you that much, but you’ll gain so much more and perhaps share the love of God with someone who is looking for a real open door.

Published by Sam Harrelson

I'm the head of Harrelson, where we work with churches, nonprofits, and businesses on marketing strategy and consulting. This has been my personal blog about marketing, tech, religion, art, history, scifi, family, and life in general since 2006.

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