Every day, websites and mobile apps prevent people from using them. Ignoring accessibility is no longer a viable option.
How do you prevent your company from being a target for a website accessibility ADA lawsuit?
Guidelines for websites wanting to be accessible to people with disabilities have existed for nearly two decades thanks to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.
A close cousin to usability and user experience design, accessibility improves the overall ease of use for webpages and mobile applications by removing barriers and enabling more people to successfully complete tasks.
We know now that disabilities are only one area that accessibility addresses.
Most companies do not understand how people use their website or mobile app, or how they use their mobile or assistive tech devices to complete tasks.
Even riskier is not knowing about updates in accessibility guidelines and new accessibility laws around the world.
Investing in Website Accessibility Is a Wise Marketing Decision
Internet marketers found themselves taking accessibility seriously when their data indicated poor conversions. They discovered that basic accessibility practices implemented directly into content enhanced organic SEO.
Many marketing agencies include website usability and accessibility reviews as part of their online marketing strategy for clients because a working website performs better and generates more revenue.
Adding an accessibility review to marketing service offerings is a step towards avoiding an ADA lawsuit, which of course, is a financial setback that can destroy web traffic and brand loyalty.
Convincing website owners and companies of the business case for accessibility is difficult. One reason is the cost. Will they see a return on their investment?
I would rather choose to design an accessible website over paying for defense lawyers and losing revenue during remediation work.
Another concern is the lack of skilled developers trained in accessibility. Do they hire someone or train their staff?
Regardless of whether an accessibility specialist is hired or in-house developers are trained in accessibility, the education never ends.
Specialists are always looking for solutions and researching options that meet guidelines. In other words, training never ends.
Many companies lack an understanding of what accessibility is and why it is important. They may not know how or where to find help.
Accessibility advocates are everywhere writing articles, presenting webinars, participating in podcasts, and writing newsletters packed with tips and advice.
ADA lawsuits make the news nearly every day in the U.S. because there are no enforceable regulations for website accessibility. This is not the case for government websites.
Federal websites must adhere to Section 508 by law. State and local websites in the U.S. are required to check with their own state to see what standards are required.
Most will simply follow Section 508 or WCAG2.1 AAA guidelines.
If your website targets customers from around the world, you may need to know the accessibility laws in other countries. The UK and Canada, for example, are starting to enforce accessibility.
In the U.S., there has been no change in the status of ADA website accessibility laws this year.
Some judges have ruled that the lack of regulation or legal standards for website accessibility does not mean that accessibility should be ignored.
Is Your Website At Risk of an ADA Lawsuit?
Some businesses feel as though they are sitting ducks, and rightly so, since in some states, there are individuals and law firms searching for websites that fail accessibility.
Since the Federal government has put a hold on addressing accessibility standards for websites, several states are taking matters into their own hands.
In California’s Riverside County, the DA’s office is pushing back against a law firm and individuals accused of filing more than 100 ADA lawsuits against website owners and small businesses. According to a report by the Orange County Breeze:
“Abusive ADA lawsuit practices are not new, but the defendants in this case are responsible for a significant volume of the ADA lawsuits that have been filed in Southern California over the last several years. Rutherford has been a party-plaintiff in more than 200 separate ADA lawsuits the defendants have filed against businesses in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.”
In New York, which saw 1,564 ADA cases in 2018, two plaintiffs filed over 100 ADA lawsuits against art galleries this year. Artnet News reports:
“Technology has changed, that’s why we’re dealing with this, says Frank Imburgio, founder and president of the website development firm Desktop Solutions. “The state of speech recognition and speech synthesis that’s in everyone’s Alexa? That same piece of software embedded in your browser means blind people can avail themselves of your website, but the websites were not designed with that in mind” five or ten years ago.”
New York State Senator Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, chairs the Senate internet and technology committee that considers legislation affecting issues related to technological advancements, like artificial intelligence and digital currency.
It was recently announced they are planning legislative action to curb the surge in the number of lawsuits.
Florida is a hotbed of ADA lawsuits. Flagler County paid over $15,000 to settle an ADA lawsuit brought by a blind person who was unable to use their PDFs.
They removed 7,500 informational PDF documents from their website because they were not optimized for screen readers. In doing so, sighted users no longer had access to this information either.
In the case of Robles v. Domino’s Website and Mobile App accessibility lawsuit, Dominos is taking it to the Supreme Court to fight back.
Every type of website has been the target of an ADA lawsuit. It doesn’t matter if it is owned by one person, a small business or a major corporation.
A Title III public-facing website or mobile app includes travel, hotels, finance, ecommerce, services, healthcare, real estate, and education.
Educational websites and software applications are a growing ADA lawsuit target not only for accessibility to the public, but also for employees and students who use school software.
One recent study found that 95% of U.S. K-12 school websites had errors that made the page difficult for a person with a disability to use. At the state level, schools and universities are facing an avalanche of ADA lawsuits.
What Can Companies Do to Prevent an ADA Lawsuit?
The only way to prevent an ADA lawsuit is to plan for, design and build for web accessibility.
Inclusive design should be a priority and considered the foundation of any website business plan.
Every business with a website, mobile app or internet software application should hire an accessibility specialist who is trained in the application of WCAG guidelines and has knowledge of accessibility laws and guidelines from all countries.
There are only a few companies that specialize in accessibility services, tools or training. They are competitive and busy. You can find alternatives with accessibility consultants focused on just testing or remediation.
If you live outside the USA, you will find accessibility experts and companies who have been doing this work for years and sharing information through podcasts, building new automated testing tools, and stepping forward as accessibility advocates through writings and webinars.
Companies are facing a shortage of accessibility-trained designers and developers. This is a real burden because putting designers on projects who do not know how to build for accessibility is almost as risky as not having anyone at all.
For example, applying ARIA with HTML5 is commonly done incorrectly or image alt attributes are not written properly, especially for infographics or images over background images.
The source of most ADA lawsuits is the inability to access webpages or mobile apps with assistive devices used by sight-impaired users and people who can not use a mouse pointer.
The fun of web design for designers is the visual presentation.
Elementor, a wildly popular WordPress theme building and page design plug-in, makes it easy to incorporate parallax, dynamic content, and animation, can be enhanced to increase the accessibility of the website, and it allows the creation of new themes, headings and footers with more developer control.
What If I Can’t Afford to Hire An Accessibility Specialist?
This question applies to all businesses, but for small and medium-sized businesses, adding an accessibility specialist is out of the question because of budget constraints.
Most small businesses are a team of one person, or the owner has a website person wearing all the hats from SEO to site maintenance, but not accessibility. That is a separate skill.
Find a website company that offers accessibility services. They may provide accessibility testing, accessibility site audits or affordable package deals for their clients such as monthly remediation for PDFs, documents, images, forms, and content spread out over time.
Accessibility reports performed after a company has received a letter of complaint are extremely expensive and unless performed by skilled accessibility specialists, will not hold up in court.
Should I Just Put Up an Accessibility Statement?
The original purpose of an accessibility statement was to show that a site was tested, what standards it meets, what was not tested, and how to contact the company if there are any accessibility issues.
Some accessibility professionals don’t advise using them at all because the pace of technology creates ongoing adjustments to accessibility guidelines.
Unless your company has gone through formal accessibility testing and remediation, I don’t recommend providing an accessibility statement.
Some companies want to put up one that says they are in the process of testing, but users have no proof and there is no accountability here. It won’t hold up in court either.
As a courtesy, every website or application should make it obvious and easy to contact by email or phone, not a form (because they are most often not accessible) and invited to describe the issue they found.
What Can I Do Now to Improve Accessibility?
Optimally, every website or app should not prevent anyone from using it regardless of any physical, mental or emotional impairment, permanent or temporary.
Understanding how to plan, build, and test for accessibility requires advanced knowledge of accessibility to meet Section 508, WCAG2.1 A+ AA guidelines and regulations required by states and countries.
Finding that miracle person who can do all that is unlikely, expensive, and too overwhelming to think about.
Yet, so is an ADA lawsuit, floundering conversion rates, search engine rank roller coaster rides, and a negative brand reputation.
Starting somewhere, here are steps to jump in:
- Do accessibility testing using a free automated accessibility testing tool like WAVE, Axe, or Tenon. You may not understand how to make the repairs, but you will see errors, warnings, and alerts you didn’t know existed.
- Hire an accessibility specialist to perform formal accessibility testing that goes beyond the limitations of automated tools. Some tools are better than others. Some are not kept up to date on standards. No accessibility expert relies on automated tools. They incorporate manual testing, too.
- Ask for a quote for a limited accessibility review or site audit. This is where a sampling of pages are tested rather than every single one.
- Look for agencies that include accessibility design or testing services. They are worth gold for your bottom line.
- Train your web designers and developers. Invest in them. Your online business may depend on their skills. They not only need to know how to code for accessibility but also how to develop the entire methodology for planning, development, testing, and long term maintenance.
- Large corporations should hire accessibility companies that specialize in user testing with disabled users. This is the same as user testing, but with the addition of new personas and real users with various impairments.
- Use your keyboard to navigate your webpage or mobile app. No mouse. If you can’t figure out where you are, where to go or got lost, this is a major issue for accessibility.
- Turn on any screen reader app, download a trial of JAWS, or use your mobile phone accessibility settings, and go to your website or app. You will quickly learn what the experience is like for blind and sight impaired people or multi-taskers who are adapting to the use of audible alternatives for reading.
- If you use any third-party software applications or WordPress plugins, require that it meet accessibility compliance by contract.
- WordPress site owners and designers need to know the basics that can be adjusted from the front-end to improve the accessibility of the site. This includes:
- Font sizes (use em), font faces (use sans-serif)
- Proper heading tags in the right schematic order (H1, H2, H3, not H2, H1, H4, H2)
- Test that colors contrast properly (use any free tool).
- Avoid using color as the only visual indicator that the state of something changed or is an alert.
- Make all PDF’s accessible (Adobe has a tool.)
- Underline text links. If you don’t want every link underlined, create rules in CSS to choose.
- Absolutely no centered text unless it is a heading or sub-heading.
- Describe each image using the alt attribute option. At a minimum, describe what the image is. There are lots of rules for alt text. Start with that one.
- Add the WordPress Accessibility plug-in (see resources below) and use it to add focus states, skip to content and other courtesies. And send Joe a donation for using it. He keeps it updated.
And finally, if you don’t need a CMS website, there is more control over the code if you return to an HTML website.
Fortunately, most of the information is available at free or affordable fees. There are accessibility communities, podcasts, webinars, and the WCAG guidelines themselves.
Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Adobe provide detailed how-to advice.
As you apply inclusive design practices, you will see the benefits for SEO, usability and conversions, brand, reputation, referrals, and customer satisfaction.
Accessibility at its most basic level is a human right. Investing in people is worth it.
In addition to the resources listed in Top 36 Web Accessibility Resources for Digital Marketing Companies, check out:
- W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
- Section 508 Accessibility Requirements by State
- European Accessibility Act
- A Nationwide Study of K-12 Websites in the United States
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
- WordPress Accessibility Plug-in
- ARC Automated Accessibility Testing and Monitoring Tool