Accessibility: Essential, Not an Option, for Utility Websites

Accessing utility services and information online is a fundamental right, one that should be universally accessible, irrespective of individual abilities or impairments. For most of us, navigating a website is an effortless endeavor. We browse, pay our bills, and gain crucial updates from our utility providers with ease. However, when the site is inaccessible, the very notion of a smooth experience shatters.

Visualize being a person with dyslexia, limited mobility, visual impairment, hearing loss, or speech disabilities. In this reality, seeking information on your utility’s website is anything but easy.

The Current Scenario

The World Health Organization estimates over a billion people globally have some form of disability, including millions who are blind or visually impaired. These numbers grow exponentially when including those with temporary impairments like a broken arm or eye surgery. That’s why website accessibility isn’t a fancy addition, but a fundamental necessity for utility organizations aiming to meet the needs of their entire customer base.

Web Accessibility for Utilities

Think about it. Water, electricity, and broadband are essential services that power our lives every single day. They’re as essential as accessibility is to a website. Without water, you can’t quench your thirst or bathe. Without electricity, your appliances won’t function, and you’ll be left in the dark. Similarly, without accessible design, websites fail to function as information portals for every individual, creating hurdles in the path to crucial utilities.

The WCAG 2.0 Accessibility standard released in 2008 provides utility organizations with valuable directions to make their sites more inclusive. It’s the blueprint to not just make your utility website compliance-ready, but to enhance its usability for everyone.

Designing for Inclusivity

Imagine a world where turning on a tap doesn’t guarantee water, or where flipping a switch doesn’t ensure light. This is the digital equivalent of an inaccessible website. For individuals with impairments, navigating a non-inclusive website can be as frustrating as living without these essential services.

When your site isn’t accessible, customers are forced to seek information or services via phone calls or office visits, causing unnecessary delays. Adhering to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines not only ensures legal compliance, but it also signals your commitment to all users – irrespective of their abilities or impairments, thereby creating a more inclusive platform.

Embracing Mobile Accessibility

Accessibility isn’t just about complying with WCAG or ADA requirements. The ultimate goal is digital inclusivity and equity, regardless of the site visitor’s device. With the rise in smartphone usage, it’s crucial that websites be accessible and user-friendly on smaller screens. This is particularly important in a world where a significant portion of users access online services primarily through their smartphones.

Writing for Everyone

Writing accessibly means communicating in a way that the broadest range of users can understand. With the average public reading level being around the 6th grade, it’s vital to ensure your website’s content is simple, clear, and devoid of jargon. This applies to all forms of content, from website pages to online forms.

Accessibility in Action

Many utility organizations are already paving the way for better digital experiences. For instance, imagine a utility district that aimed to design a mobile-first site with multi-language support and text-to-speech solutions. This initiative didn’t just ensure a higher level of customer or member satisfaction; it removed barriers to entry and access for all its customers.

Similarly, let’s consider an electric cooperative committed to enhancing their website with a proactive eye towards accessibility and inclusivity. This approach resulted in a platform that communicated, engaged, and served all members better.

Final Thoughts

In the same way that water, electricity, and broadband are not options but essential services, accessibility should be a non-negotiable component of every community-owned utility website. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind in our digital age, particularly when it comes to accessing such critical services.

As communications specialists and managers in utility districts, municipal governments, and local broadband providers, you have the responsibility and power to drive this change. It starts with understanding that accessibility isn’t a perk, but a right for every customer we serve. By embracing accessibility, we ensure that our services remain open and available to everyone. And that’s the true power of our utilities: serving every individual, every day, regardless of their circumstances.

Remember, in your mission to deliver utilities to every household, there’s no room for inaccessibility. Just as we wouldn’t accept a community without essential services, we shouldn’t accept a website that fails to serve all of its audience. With a commitment to inclusive design, we can ensure that our digital services are as reliable and accessible as the utilities we provide.