Most of us are incredibly reliant on the Internet. We get information from the World Wide Web. We shop order takeout, play games, and get in touch with family and friends online. While almost everyone enjoys the benefits of living a digital life, it’s not so easy for some. People with disabilities, which happens to be the largest minority group in the world, are not easily able to access the digital world.
In the U.S. alone, one out of five Americans does not have access to a digital product. Worse, there’s no alternative solution open to them. As a business, how are you ensuring that everyone has equal access to your digital products or solutions, regardless of their abilities? If you were to conduct your own ADA compliance audit, what would be the result? If your audit shows that you are non-compliant, are you ready for the consequences?
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What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility, in the simplest terms, is founded on the idea of universal design where all digital products and services are designed to be accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or the software/hardware they are using. For example, everyone should be able to access and use your website.
This means that anyone, with or without a disability, should be able to read all of the content on your website including videos and images. This also means that the website should be easily navigated by individuals using accessible technology such as a screen reader.
Why web accessibility is important
There are several reasons why every business should prioritize 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.
Simply put, ensuring that your company follows the standards of web accessibility is the moral and ethical thing to do. You want to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. However, for businesses, it’s more than just a moral imperative.
According to the ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design, everyone must have access to all electronic and information technology. Since the ADA is a strict liability law, a company that violates ADA compliance is vulnerable to lawsuits.
In fact, a lot of big companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Nike have been sued for violating ADA compliance. According to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, in 2018, there were 2,285 lawsuits filed because of ADA web accessibility and another 2256 filed in 2019.
Domino’s Pizza case
One good example of the consequences of non-compliance with the ADA is Domino Pizza’s case. Back in 2016, Guillermo Robles sued Domino’s Pizza because he was unable to use their website as well as their mobile app to order food while using screen reading software.
The Supreme Court rejected the case in 2019 sending it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court decided that these digital platforms were considered “public accommodations” just like a physical store.
Web accessibility standards
What is ADA?
ADA is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is a civil rights law enacted in 1990. The law was created to prohibit discrimination against disabled individuals in all areas of their public life. What does that mean?
It means that individuals with disabilities should have the same opportunities and access everyone else takes for granted. For businesses, this means that all your products and/or services should be accessible and easily used by people with disabilities, including your website.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires all government agencies in the U.S. to make sure that people with disabilities can access all of their Electronic and Information Technology (EIT).
This means that any information and communication technology developed, purchased, maintained, or used by these agencies must be accessible to employees and members of the public, regardless of their abilities. For example, any word processing software used by a government agency must be compatible with adaptive equipment.
What is WCAG?
WCAG is short for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which were created by various individuals and organizations around the world through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) process. Its purpose is to provide organizations with a single shared standard for web content accessibility that they can follow to meet the needs of disabled individuals.
These web accessibility guidelines can be used by web content developers, web authoring tool developers, web accessibility evaluation tool developers, and all others when creating and designing digital products and services.
What is VPAT?
VPAT stands for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template which is a self-disclosing document used by an information and communication technology (ICT) vendor in order to evaluate the accessibility of their product/service according to the standards stated in Section 508.
This document is utilized by buyers before procuring a digital product or service. It allows a business to accurately assess their product’s level of accessibility as well as become aware of any potential deficiencies that are present.
What is ANPRM, NPRM & SANPRM?
While there are standards of web accessibility that can be followed by organizations around the world, the U.S. has no enforceable ADA legal requirements for web accessibility. Over the years, there have been several attempts to address this. In 2004, the Department of Justice (DOJ) started updating the 1991 regulations of the ADA and Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines.
They did this through an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) and by inviting public comment. Four years later, the DOJ published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to adopt the revisions in 2004 which addressed the issues revealed in the public comments. The NPRM also invited public comment. The amendments made in 2008 were enacted in 2009.
A year later, the DOJ published another ANPRM. This one, entitled Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations, was the first to address the issue of website accessibility enforcement.
Later that year, revisions in Titles II and III of the ADA were made and are now known as the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. However, these revisions did not address web accessibility.
In 2015, a Statement of Regulatory released by the DOJ did include the issue of web accessibility. It stated that the government is planning to amend the ADA in order to require public entities to make their services, programs, and activities accessible to and usable by disabled individuals. The statement also said that the government will be publishing NPRMs to address web accessibility.
In 2016, a new SANPR was issued by the DOJ titled “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities”.
How to avoid lawsuits
As we’ve already mentioned, the ADA is a strict liability law which means violating ADA compliance can result in a lawsuit. If you want to avoid getting sued by your customers, it’s important that you follow the web accessibility standards provided by the law and the WCAG.
Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement
Your commitment to ensuring that your digital product and/or service is accessible to all does not end with simply following the guidelines provided in the WCAG. You will also need to provide an accessibility guide and an accessibility statement. The accessibility statement is a published statement that you provide to the public.
The statement describes in detail the goals, policies, and achievements of your organization in relation to web accessibility. This statement serves as a testament to your commitment to providing equal opportunity and access to all.
An accessibility guide, on the other hand, is part of your statement. It provides the public with information on how users can get in touch with you if they experience any problems.
It also provides them with instructions on how to use accessibility technology with your digital product or service. In addition, the organization can use this guide to inform users if there are interim solutions that they can utilize while the company works on achieving complete accessibility.
Web accessibility is imperative and cannot be ignored. Achieving it will take time, effort, and money. It will involve several changes. It may even require you to start your product or service from scratch.
However, creating a digital world where no one is left behind is well worth all of that. It’s not just the legal thing to do, equal opportunity and access are the best way for everyone to live.