Inaccessible digital technology creates difficulties for people who are disabled. Raised awareness of the situation leads to a growing demand for digital accessibility regulation that makes sites more accessible.
Europe required all public sector sites to conform to standardized access requirements by September 23, 2020. The goal was to make essential services, information, and public accommodations accessible to everyone.
How does that affect the private sector sites in Europe and elsewhere? There are reasons why now is the ideal time to begin planning for website accessibility. It is crucial to know what web accessibility is and know why it matters.
Web accessibility is a means of designing technologies, tools, and sites of digital inclusion so that anyone, including people with disabilities, can use them efficiently. The types of disabilities considered when designing accessible digital media and websites include
- Cognitive limitations
- Hearing loss and deafness
- Limited movement
- Low vision or blindness
- Neurological limitations
- Speech difficulties
To build accessible websites, a range of development practices and designs help people with disabilities navigate a website. One example is ensuring adequate color contrast between a website’s background and text colors. It makes reading the text easier for those with low vision.
Why Accessibility Matters
In Europe, 25 percent of people have long-term limitations or a disability. In the United States, more than 56 million people live with a disability. Digital technology makes some activities easier for those with disabilities, but many services, products, and information move online without considering website accessibility features.
Inaccessible and poorly designed technology make it hard for people with disabilities to participate daily. Another group that struggles with digital technologies is elderly consumers. Lack of adequate contrast, complicated online forms, and poorly organized checkout make a website unusable.
For people with disabilities and the elderly, access to online services, such as administrative offices, police stations, and health centers, is endangered by inadequate digital accessibility issues.
A cluttered website with missing metadata descriptions and unclear text creates unnecessary, avoidable obstacles even if there are assistive technologies such as screen reading software that reads content aloud to those who are visually impaired. It threatens the rights of the disabled and has consequences for a business.
Reasons to Make Accessible Websites
The benefits of designing and building accessible websites include the following:
- Widening the reach of your audience
- Getting ahead of increasing regulations
- Avoiding the risk of lawsuits
- Building brand loyalty
Boosting user innovation and experience
There are more than a billion people who live with disabilities in the world who have a spending power that exceeds six trillion dollars. Building a digital inclusion, accessible website widens your audience and increases potential customers.
The number of consumers who have buying power but experience a decline in cognitive function is likely to increase as baby boomers reach the age of 60. The decline includes difficulty in decision-making and diminished working memory. Businesses must be prepared to accommodate the group with websites prioritizing uncluttered, clean text pages and simple ordering and checkout flow on e-commerce sites.
Getting Ahead of Increasing Regulations
Some countries have taken steps to regulate and enforce web accessibility, primarily within public accommodations. More countries are starting to apply requirements on private sector websites of organizations and businesses.
The European Union aims to make it easier to trade accessible services and products, such as mobile devices, computers, ATMs, and ticketing machines, between member states by harmonizing the regulations and laws of these products.
Canada has an Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that requires public and private sector organizations or non-profit organizations with over 50 employees to have an accessible website.
Norway took the regulations further by requiring all self-service machines, mobile applications, and websites to comply with universal design practices. The country has appointed the Norwegian Digitalization Agency to conduct random checks in its enforcement efforts.
Further global community regulations are expected as policies enmesh in the digital age. The United States has no national-level legislation on website accessibility. The trend toward deregulation makes equal access for those with disabilities a confusing field.
Most conversations focus on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III. Businesses must be aware that they are responsible for providing adequate services for disabled users.
Many governmental policies refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as the standard for accessibility issues. Instead of waiting for the government to enforce deadlines, get a head start and become familiar with WCAG.
Avoiding the Risks of Lawsuits
The United States has experienced an increase in the number of website accessibility lawsuits that have been filed in state and federal courts. A well-known case in the industry is a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza.
A blind man named Guillermo Robles filed a lawsuit when he could not order a pizza through the company’s website, despite having screen reading software. Robles claimed Domino’s did not provide accessible online services equivalent to the service a sighted person receives.
As such, his rights were violated according to Title III regulations of the American Disabilities Act. Title III prohibits discrimination based on disability in public accommodation places, such as movie theaters and restaurants.
The takeaway is that businesses must treat web access as a legal risk rather than an option. The Domino’s Pizza case demonstrates accessibility laws and how they are interpreted do not always align. Being attuned to customers’ needs and addressing common themes improve the chances of legal scrutiny avoidance.
Building Brand Loyalty
Today’s audience consists of conscientious consumers who support commercial businesses aligned with their political, environmental, and social issues and values. People between the ages of 21 to 27 shop at retailers, demonstrating a commitment to diversity regarding ethnicity, gender, age, and disability inclusion.
Older people, aged 28 to 37, seem to prefer one brand over another if it demonstrates diversity and inclusion in its promotions. Companies respond by formulating socially responsible messaging highlighting topics such as diversity and sustainability.
People also look for authentic commitment from the brands they buy. Incorporate inclusive values into your services, products, and brand. Instilling website accessibility and design practices into the process shows a commitment to creating an inclusive user experience.
Without doing so, you risk customer loyalty. Customers needing accessible websites choose other brands over yours. Disabled customers have proven to be loyal customers when they earn your trust.
Boosting Users’ Innovation and Experience
Usability is at the center of accessibility space design. There is a shift to user-centered design focusing on understanding users’ behaviors and access needs to build products that create positive user experiences. Designing a website with accessibility in mind elevates the site’s usability.
It can lead to innovative solutions not otherwise realized. Technology used today, such as autocorrect, voice control, and other features, began as features designed for those with disabilities to use computers more easily.
There is a trickle-down effect when solving the accessibility issues of today leads to future technology breakthroughs that benefit everyone. Ease of use and accessibility go hand in hand. Technology creators are urged to include accessibility standards when designing a product.
Things to check for when assessing a site for accessibility standards include:
- Accessible captioned video, audio, and images
- Accessible documents
- Accessible links and link text
- Clear, simple text
- No flashing lights or distracting animation
- Proper page structure
- Sufficient color contrast ratio
- Useful page titles
The volume of web accessibility lawsuits and settlement agreements exposes common themes that provide invaluable insight for online businesses to address website access ability and minimize legal risk.
Consult with accessibility experts at ADA Site Compliance to evaluate your website against WCAG standards to determine the necessary remediation to address barriers and test the site using assistive technology like screen readers to ensure the barriers are remediated.
Publish an Accessibility Statement on the site, reviewed by an attorney, and work to develop a training program, procedures, and policies that improve usability. Audit site accessibility regularly.
Operationalize access with your company culture, and prioritize a top-down, multi-department approach throughout the company to build access. The goal is to improve usability for those who are disabled. A holistic digital accessibility approach that brings decision-makers and stakeholders together is the best means of operationalizing access. It is a long-term commitment.
World Wide Web Consortium on Digital Accessibility
The web is designed to work for everyone regardless of their ability, location, language, or software. When it meets the goal, it provides access to people with diverse cognitive abilities, sight, movement, and hearing.
When the web removes the digital divide barriers to interaction and communications technology that people face, the impact of disability changes radically. Poorly designed digital tools, technologies, and applications on commercial websites create barriers that exclude people from web use.
Why Is Access Important for Business
The web must provide equal access and opportunity to those with diverse abilities. Accessibility is a social responsibility that includes the disabled and others, such as people in developing countries, rural areas, and older people.
Accessibility overlaps with best practices like search engine optimization, design for older users, multi-modal interaction, device independence, and mobile applications. The benefits include increased audience reach, reduced maintenance costs, and better search results.
Items that increase accessibility are
- Alternate text for images
- Keyboard input
- Transcripts for audio
When alt text is provided, information is available to the blind and for technology, such as search engines that cannot see images. Disabled individuals can use assistive technology when all functionality is available through a keyboard. Text transcripts make audio files available to people who cannot hear.
Get a FREE SITE SCAN today for your website, and let us here at ADA Site Compliance help your online presence become fully accessible and ADA-compliant with proper manual auditing and correction.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.