Website Accessibility, What is it?
That’s the question we’ll be addressing today. But first, let’s back up to another issue that pre-dates website accessibility by nearly 20 years. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law. The act “is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else (1).” This act was extremely important to people with disabilities. It allowed them to enjoy all the same freedoms, liberties, facilities and lifestyles as those without disabilities.
But What About the Internet?
When we think of disabilities, the first thing that may come to mind are people who live their lives in wheelchairs. Images of handicap parking, oversize bathroom stalls, and ramps instead of stairs come to mind. We think to ourselves, “Yeah, we’ve really done a good job giving people with disabilities access to everything.” But have we? Disabilities are considerably more abundant and prevalent than just those folks confined to wheelchairs.
Disabilities can be classified into four major categories: intellectual, physical, mental and sensory. Eeach category contains several specific disabilities. Why is this important? Well, as the ADA states, the purpose of the law is to “…make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else”, and while a person in a wheelchair can easily roll up to a computer, login and enjoy the internet, what about someone who is blind or unable to read? Don’t they have the same rights as everyone else? Don’t they have the right to be able to use and enjoy the internet? The answer, of course, is yes, they do.
Website Accessibility in 2010
“The U.S. Department of Justice passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, mandating all electronic and information technology, like websites, be accessible to those with disabilities, like vision impairment and hearing loss (2).” So again, what does this mean? It means that, just like physical facilities, websites were now mandated to be fully accessible to those with disabilities.
Who Does This Actually Apply To?
So now that we have a basic understanding of what web accessibility is, we need to figure out who it applies to. Ultimately, it applies to every website however, the ADA has clearly spelled it out. Businesses that fall under ADA Title I or ADA Title III are required to develop a website that offers “reasonable accessibility” to people with disabilities. What that means is that, under Title I, businesses with 15 or more full-time employees and who operate 20 or more weeks every year are required to have an ADA compliant website. Under Title III, businesses who are classified as “public accommodation” businesses such as banks, hotels, and public transportation are required to comply with the mandate.
What Happens if I Don’t Make My Website Compliant?
The good news here is that if you run a very small operation, or one that isn’t centered around retail or service, you probably won’t be targeted for a lawsuit (notice I said probably….). The simple answer to this question is, you could be sued. In 2019, Domino’s Pizza was sued by a blind man who was unable to order food on the pizza giant’s website despite user screen reader technology. The company lost the lawsuit and petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case of why they should not have to be accessible but were denied.
This is just one of 2,235 such lawsuits in 2019, up from 262 in 2016 according to usable.net, a website accessibility research firm (3). Large retailers are the most targeted industry but restaurants and entertainment follow up second and third. That doesn’t mean you’re safe though. Due to the very unclear standards regarding website accessibility, no website is truly safe from prosecution. There have been several instances of companies being sued who do not fall within the Title I or Title III requirements as stated in the Act. The risks of not improving the accessibility of your site are simply too great. In addition to thousands of dollars in judgement and legal fees, you can also be losing out on thousands of dollars of business from individuals who cannot use your website.
What Can I Do to Improve my Website Accessibility?
Bringing your website up to the ADA standards for accessibility is not an easy task, or an inexpensive one. For starters, even though the ADA passed the law, they provide no real guidance or rules on exactly what makes a website ADA compliant. Fortunately the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) offer some very clear and understandable guidelines that, if followed, will show that you have made a good-faith effort in trying to be compliant and meet the ADA standard. This is not an overnight process though. Ultimately the best way to make your website compliant is to hire a company to go through your site page by page, line by line to ensure that absolutely every element meets accessibility guidelines. This comes with a hefty price tag but, in the end, you are provided with a certificate of compliance. There are only a few such reputable organizations in the U.S. that provide this service. Alternatively, you can hire a web designer to go through your site, make some adjustments and install a few tools that will remediate a good portion of the violations that likely exist on your site. Regardless of which path you choose, anything is better than nothing.
The landscape is changing and it is becoming increasingly more important to have a website that is accessible to everyone as evidenced by the steadily increasing number of lawsuits. Jaimee Designs Web Studio, LLC can help you determine where your site stands in the broad scope of website accessibility and take steps to remediate issues found. Contact us today!