Over 1 in 4 Americans live with some form of disability. Of those people, 35% have a disability that directly affects their ability to use the web.
In light of recent court cases, it has become increasingly understood that “public accommodations” for those with disabilities include physical locations and websites. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that “public accommodations” must remove any barriers preventing a person with disabilities from fully using the accommodations.
Accessibility Impacts Everyone
The necessity to consider how accessibility applies to physical locations is clear—but what makes a website accessible? Here are five things every business needs to know about website accessibility.
1. Legal Implications
In the first half of 2021, accessibility-related lawsuits were up by 64% compared to the same 6-month period in 2020, totaling to an estimated 4,195 cases by the end of 2021. Higher-profile cases against Winn-Dixie Stores, Domino’s Pizza, Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, and Harvard University are just a few of the nearly 2,500 web-accessibility cases filed in 2018 and 2019.
The 30-year-old ADA contains no stipulations regarding the web. However, courts have historically based judgments on defendants failing to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). As experts in web-related technologies, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published these guidelines as a part of their efforts to collaborate on and define recommendations for the web, including accessibility.
In a 2017 Winn-Dixie case, a federal court in Florida determined the WCAG to be an “industry standard,” which set a precedent in web-accessibility requirements for the United States.
2. Which Businesses are Affected?
It’s tempting for businesses to assume that website accessibility standards don’t apply to their websites – much less think about the possibility of litigation if they don’t comply. While the lawsuits against national and international corporations grab our attention, companies and organizations worldwide—both large and small—are being sued at a steadily increasing rate.
The internet is a globally-accessible platform, so when a business publishes something for public access, it must take steps to accommodate all users, including supporting the assistive devices that those with disabilities depend on.
3. Accessibility is Ongoing
Whether it be driving the speed limit or practicing appropriate social distancing, each and every day, we’re presented with regulations or codes to live by. Most of the time, you simply must prove that you have complied. A website, however, is entirely different. If at any point a writer edits the content, a designer updates the colors, or a developer adds a new feature without accessibility in mind, the website can fail WCAG compliance.
Simply put, not only should a website be evaluated initially to meet compliance goals, but steps should also be taken to update it, and its content in the future should be subject to the same testing. The testing and retesting of a website’s accessibility standards mean that you, your team, and any additional project collaborators must buy into the impact that accessibility compliance will have on the project’s lifecycle and budget.
4. Encouraging a Positive Customer Experience
It’s also important to note how not taking steps to ensure accessibility can negatively impact a business, even if the business never faces litigation. Some impacts are direct and immediate, such as a user being unable to complete a purchase due to the site’s lack of accessibility. Other outcomes are more indirect, such as if this same user were to relate their frustrating experience to family and friends, potentially creating a negative opinion of the company.
It’s difficult to quantify the magnitude and extent of negative public interactions that stem from a company’s website. Even if not the intention, users may reasonably feel like their needs weren’t taken into consideration.
5. Accessibility is More Than Code
The code that drives a website is an important component of ensuring accessibility, but it’s not the only factor. Accessibility impacts everyone who creates a website—project owners, strategists, designers, writers, and developers. As such, there are various accessibility elements for those who work on websites to consider (and master):
- Designers have to consider which colors ensure adequate contrast for users with vision impairments.
- Writers should ensure that links, headings, and images are sufficiently descriptive and error messages are clear and precise.
- Developers have to accommodate users navigating the website with a keyboard or other assisted device instead of a mouse.
While this is not an exhaustive list of considerations, these are some of the most common and most impactful issues.
In an ideal world, this process could be fully automated so that all sites were usable for individuals with disabilities; but in reality, it requires a level of critical thinking and empathy that only humans, knowledgeable of the issues surrounding accessibility, can provide.
What are your next steps to protect your business and better serve your customers?
Find a trusted partner, such as your attorney, who can help you determine if your website needs to comply with accessibility standards. If you determine your website needs to be accessible, hire an accessibility expert to audit your current website. Most older websites can be improved upon, but in order to achieve full compliance, a new website will need to be built Finally, it’s important to create an ongoing governance model to make sure future updates to your website are accessible.
Remember, everyone deserves to access a free and usable web. It’s your responsibility to make sure your website complies.