Progress Over Perfection: How to Take an Agile Approach to Content Accessibility

Sep 14 2022

Simultaneously keeping content up-to-date and accessible can feel like a Herculean task. That’s particularly true when numerous content editors are responsible for contributing to a complex and far-reaching content strategy. The more people involved in maintaining and creating content, the more likely it is for accessibility standards to fall by the wayside. 

That’s a problem, given that your audience is made up of people with a variety of user needs. In fact, 15% of the world’s population lives with some kind of physical or cognitive disability. 

Therefore, failing to make your content accessible could prevent you from reaching significant swaths of your target audience. And, of course, it could also open your organization up to potential legal consequences. 

You may not be able to fix all your accessibility-related problem areas immediately. But by taking an Agile approach, you can transform the Herculean into the infinitely doable and make meaningful progress more quickly than you realize. 

Here’s how. 

First, Shift to an Agile Mindset

Although many marketing leaders are tangentially familiar with Agile, it’s common to have questions about what working in an Agile way really means. 

The Agile Manifesto was originally written for software developers, but the values and principles it espouses can be widely adapted to many industries. 

Put simply, Agile promotes an iterative and collaborative approach to work that’s focused on:

  • Welcoming change and pivoting when needed rather than strictly adhering to a long-term plan
  • Breaking large projects into bite-sized chunks so the team can accumulate quick wins and see their impact right away 
  • Working collaboratively in short cycles — called sprints — during which the work group focuses on completing a defined task and then testing results 

So how does this apply to your content strategy in general and accessibility in particular?

First, this mindset shift gives you the freedom to make real, tangible improvements to your existing content quickly. And second, since you’re dividing work into short sprints, you can easily respond to organizational changes or priority shifts without derailing your plans.

Team collaboration
Work collaboratively in short cycles to focus on completing a defined task and testing results.

Harness the Power of Short, Iterative Work Cycles (aka Sprints)

It can be overwhelming to look at your website holistically and create a list of everything that needs to be addressed. And frankly, approaching accessibility that way is a surefire way to become waylaid by analysis paralysis. 

An Agile approach allows you to:

  • Focus on the most urgent, high-impact tasks first 
  • Get them done in short — ideally two week — sprints
  • Test results or otherwise assess your effectiveness before moving on to the next sprint 

Sprints are all about starting a task, finishing that task, testing the outcome, and moving on quickly to the next cycle. 

Update High-Priority Content First

There are several ways to narrow your focus and tackle your highest priority pages first. You could:

  • Start with the pages that matter most to your organization from a strategic perspective (e.g., your homepage, service pages)
  • Take a look at Google Analytics to see which pages receive the most organic traffic 
  • Use accessibility tools like Siteimprove, CKEditor Accessibility Checker, Lighthouse, and axe by Deque to identify particularly problematic pages
  • Conduct user testing to discover areas that are tripping your audience up

Once you determine the best place to start, map out a series of sprints to review and update pages in order of priority. 

Agile in Action

For example, say a subject matter expert at your organization wrote a number of articles on an industry topic a year ago, and you notice they’re getting a lot of organic traffic. When you evaluate them through the lens of accessibility best practices, you discover:

  • Photos aren’t properly captioned for people with visual impairments
  • Long walls of text make it difficult for people with cognitive impairments to absorb the information
  • The writer is frequently linking to PDFs, which are notoriously difficult to access for people who use screen-readers or assistive devices, such as keyboards and switches

In this scenario, you might devote one or more sprints to updating all the blog posts by this author. Working collaboratively, one person might focus on adding alt text to photos while another makes the content more skimmable and scannable by adding headings for structure and improving text readability. Meanwhile, several people might need to share the task of converting PDFs to HTML pages or web forms. Or, you might make converting PDFs its own sprint since this can be a heavier lift. 

Just remember: Your sprints aren’t over until you test the results. Plan to use one or more of the accessibility tools referenced above to ensure you have addressed every issue.

Train Content Editors to Meet the Standards of Accessibility

In addition to using an Agile approach to constantly improve, it helps to consider what is effective and empathetic for your audience. Planning helps with consistency across your content. Start strong with important accessibility considerations. Avoid common content issues before they occur. 

To that end, as part of your overall content governance strategy, make sure every content editor at your organization knows how to create accessible, inclusive content. Whether you conduct an annual workshop or meet with content editors one-on-one, train your team on:

Getting everyone on the same page from the outset saves valuable time and resources while also serving your audience more effectively.

Commit to Continuous Improvement

At the end of the day, an Agile mindset is all about continuous improvement. Just as your website will never be “done,” your commitment to accessibility must be ongoing as well. 

It really is about progress, not perfection. Revisit and enhance the content you have, starting with your most important pages first. Train content editors to make accessibility a priority every time they create new content. And use accessibility tools frequently to identify and correct issues as they arise. 

By developing good habits like these, you can make your website more accessible and inclusive for everyone.