Your business is open to everyone, regardless of color, race, creed, religion, status, and physical or mental disability. But is it really? When it comes to your company’s website, is your business really accessible to all, or will an ADA compliance audit show otherwise?
In this digital age, the number of people accessing the World Wide Web continues to grow day by day. In fact, most of the interactions we have are done online. These include talking to friends, reading the news, learning new skills, banking, watching shows and movies, and even shopping. The limits set upon us by virtue of location and physical barriers are no longer there. Unfortunately, the digital world is not something everyone can access. The largest minority in the world – the disabled – are unable to benefit from digital solutions most of us enjoy. In fact, an estimated 1 out of 5 Americans may be unable to access digital products that most of us already take for granted. Even worse, at times, there are no alternative solutions available. So, again we ask, are you doing your part in making sure that the digital part of your business is accessible to all? If you haven’t or aren’t sure about your website’s accessibility, let’s break down what exactly all of this means.
What is Web Accessibility?
In the most basic sense, web accessibility can be defined as universal design; all digital products and services should feature content and design that make them accessible and useful for everyone, regardless of their capabilities (whether these are cognitive or physical in nature). For businesses, it means that your digital platforms should not have any barriers that are preventing people (with or without disability) from using them. For example, if you have a video posted on your company’s website. People who are hearing impaired would be unable to understand your message without the presence of captions.
Obviously, it is the moral duty of businesses to ensure that their customers, whoever they may be, are able to easily access their products and services. That’s only fair. However, equality is not the only reason why you should prioritize investing and implementing web accessibility. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that access to information and communication technologies is a basic human right. For this reason, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) added the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design in 2010.
According to this law, all electronic and information technology must be accessible to all, including people with disabilities. To put this in simpler terms, you need to make sure that your digital products and services (including your website) can be used by all, not just by many, even by those who have seeing or hearing impairments. Their online experience must be equal to that of those without disabilities. Take note that the ADA is a strict liability law which means that there is no excuse for why your business is violating ADA compliance. Loss of business is not the only thing you have to worry about. You can face expensive lawsuits as well.
Domino’s Pizza Case
In 2016, a blind man named Guillermo Robles sued pizza chain Domino’s because he was unable to order food online from their website and mobile app even while using screen-reading software. In 2019, the Supreme Court denied the company’s petition to hear the case, leaving the federal court’s decision final. And what was the decision? That the website and app of a business is considered a “public accommodation” under the law, just like a brick-and-mortar store is.
How to Avoid Lawsuits
Unfortunately, Domino’s is not the only company guilty of violating ADA compliance in relation to website accessibility. Other huge companies include Netflix, Amazon, and Nike. In 2018 alone, 2,285 lawsuits were filed against companies regarding ADA web accessibility.
If you want to avoid becoming part of that statistic, you’ll need to ensure that your digital products and/or services (including websites) are “usable” even for people with disabilities.
Web Accessibility Standards
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that was passed back in 1990. It was created to protect the rights of disabled Americans and prohibit any discrimination against them. According to this law, people with disabilities should be afforded the same opportunities that everyone else enjoys. This means that all government entities, nonprofits, restaurants, educational institutions, and all other public and private places (like your business) should make sure that any goods and services they provide are accessible to this group of people.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act states that all US Federal government agencies must make sure that people with disabilities can access their Electronic and Information Technology (EIT). This mandate means that these agencies should develop, acquire, maintain, and use information and communication technology that can be used by disabled employees and members of the public. Here’s an example: federal agencies that require the use of word processing software should make sure that it works with adaptive equipment, so that persons with disabilities (both employees and members of the public) can use the program.
What is WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was created by individuals and organizations around the world through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) process. The primary purpose of these guidelines is to provide various organizations with standards of web accessibility. These guidelines can be used as a basis for creating accessible websites and tools.
What is VPAT?
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template or VPAT is a self-disclosing document provided by the vendor of an information and communication technology (ICT) product or service. Within the document, you’ll find a table containing information on how the ICT product or service has complied with Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It helps buyers determine an ICT product or service’s level of accessibility and if there are potential deficiencies that they need to be aware of.
Web Accessibility Benefits
Broaden Your Market Penetration
While people with disabilities may be a minority, it is the largest minority in the world composed of at least a billion people. What’s more, it continues to grow every day. Here’s one more important fact: the global market share of this population is around $7 trillion with a discretionary spending calculated to be over $200 billion a year in the US alone. In the UK, the minimum amount spent by persons with disabilities and their families per year is calculated to be $249 billion. How much of that population spends their money online? More than half (54%). By ensuring that your digital products and tools are accessible you can boost your company’s market share.
Build Positive Public Relations
Providing equal opportunity for all, regardless of their abilities, is a great way of showing your
company’s clear commitment to social responsibility. Through web accessibility, you ensure that
your products and services are inclusive. You prove to your customers that their needs matter
which, as a result, increases customer loyalty and enhances your brand’s image.
Help Grow Your Business
Aside from increasing your market share, web accessibility also helps you increase the number
of users visiting your website. How? Using the guidelines, you can easily identify and fix your
website’s usability problems. This helps ensure that your website is easy to use, efficient, and
can easily be viewed across different platforms. As a result, user experience improves –
something that all your customers, regardless of ability, will appreciate. Web accessibility is a
benefit to all which can have a positive impact on the growth of your business.
Improve Your SEO
There is an overlap between designing for web accessibility and optimizing for search engines.
This overlap includes video transcriptions, image captioning, title tags, header tags, link anchor
text, and image alt attributes. In short, web accessibility can also help you boost your website’s
Evaluating Web Accessibility
Enable Keyboard Navigation
Not everyone can navigate a website using a mouse. Some individuals can only use a
keyboard. However, not all websites provide keyboard access which prevents disabled
individuals from fully engaging with them. To ensure compliance, you will need to make sure all
functionalities of your website are available using a keyboard.
Prioritize Text Clarity
Make sure that users will be able to clearly read your text; each letter should be easily
distinguishable. This can be achieved in several ways such as using color and contrast as well
as by resizing text. The WCAG 2.1 provides guidelines on the proper size and contrast ratio that
should be followed.
Don’t Rely Exclusively on Color
Take note that while color can be used to convey information AND provide text clarity, you
shouldn’t solely rely on it to ensure that your visual content can be seen. Users who can’t see
color differences may have difficulty using your website. Make sure that you provide other cues
to convey information such as meaningful labels and text.
Order Content in HTML for Screen Readers
When a screen reader “reads” content on your webpage, it does so in a linear order. This order
is dictated by how your content is written in the source code. However, at times, the content is
out of order due to visual positioning (for aesthetical/display purposes). This can affect the
meaning intended by the author of the content. Moreover, it can also affect the interpretation of
Explanatory Link Text
Screen readers usually tell their users when a piece of text is a link. For example, if it reads a
“products” link on the screen, it will usually say “link products.” When a user tabs from link to link
to skim content, you need to make sure that the link text provides distinguishing information that
will help them differentiate one link from another. This helps avoid confusion and frustration.
Use a 40×40 pt. Clickable Area for Touch Controls
According to the web accessibility guidelines, the size of the target for pointer interaction (i.e.
mouse or touch) should be 44 × 44 CSS pixels. This size ensures that users will be able to
easily activate targets, regardless of the screen size of the device they’re using. This means that
people with limited dexterity or have trouble activating small targets due to other causes will not
have a problem interacting with the target such as buttons on a screen or anchor links.
Follow the Accessibility Checklist
It’s easy to lose sight of some accessibility issues if you don’t encounter them yourself. To avoid
being non-compliant, you should always utilize the web accessibility checklist based on the
WCAG 2.1 standards.
Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement
While your primary concern should be to ensure that your website is designed with accessibility in mind, your responsibility does not stop there. You will also need to provide an Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement. This is a demonstration of your company’s commitment to ensure equal opportunity to all. This published statement should contain all the goals, policies, and achievements the company has made in relation to web accessibility. In addition, the Accessibility Guide should inform users how they can use accessibility technology with your digital product or service as well as where to find temporary solutions if complete accessibility has yet to be achieved. Moreover, the guide should inform users on how they can contact the company if they encounter any problems.
Web page accessibility is not easy to implement. It will involve investments in time, money, and people. You may have to change several things on your website, product, or service. You may even find yourself redesigning your website, product, or service altogether just to be compliant. Fortunately, this is an investment that will pay off in more ways than one. Not only will it benefit your business financially, it will also be part of the larger effort on creating a digital world that is open to all. A world where everyone will always be welcome.