Maximum Reach, Minimum Risk: How To Build Your Global Accessibility Strategy (2021 Update)
The explosion of web accessibility lawsuits has grabbed plenty of headlines in the United States. But if you also operate beyond American shores, you face a second set of digital accessibility challenges. You need to meet the requirements of every country where you conduct online business.
Most leading world economies have signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRDP). This requires them to take steps to ensure equal access for people with disabilities to online services. In practice, though, individual countries have adopted different laws, enforcement strategies and varying penalties for non-compliance.
Here’s what you need to know to navigate your way through the global accessibility landscape, and to ensure you achieve compliance and maximize your online reach.
Keep an eye on equality laws and official guidelines
Broadly speaking, we can distinguish two different approaches that governments have taken on the question of digital accessibility. In the first model, web accessibility is typically covered by amendments to long-standing anti-discrimination laws that prevent providers from withholding a service or product on the grounds of disability.
For example, in the United Kingdom, the Equalities Act 2010 and its Code of Practice requires website owners to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that people of all abilities can access their services. Likewise, in Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and 2002 World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes establish equivalent rules for website owners. Hong Kong and New Zealand have similar human rights laws to prevent discrimination, although they don’t explicitly refer to websites.
Of course, what constitutes ‘reasonable adjustments’ can be open to interpretation. In recent years, however, the governments in these countries have issued guidelines for public sector websites that private enterprises can regard as a gold standard for their own accessibility initiatives. Australia and Hong Kong demand government sites achieve Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards, while the UK’s 2018 Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations and New Zealand’s latest accessibility standards require conformance to updated WCAG 2.1 AA levels.
Universal legislation and tougher penalties
Then, we have countries and political unions that have enacted legislation covering both public and private sector websites. The European Union issued the Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive in 2016 and the European Accessibility Act in 2019, which require all member states to implement WCAG 2.0 as the legal standard for official and private enterprise sites.
Similarly, Israeli Standard 5568 specifies that retail, education, government, and religious organizations operating in Israel must conform to WCAG 2.0 website standards—or risk civil lawsuits and penalties equivalent to $14,000.
Canada takes fines for accessibility errors to a much higher level. The 2019 Accessible Canada Act requires the removal of access barriers on government, banking, and telecoms websites, with penalties stretching to CAN$250,000 (USD $180,000). The provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia have enacted their own legislation, requiring all websites to conform to WCAG 2.0 AA standards, or risk fines rising to either CAN$100,000 (USD $70,000) or $ CAN$250,000 (USD $180,000) respectively.
One final location to consider is Norway, where the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) proactively audits government and private sector websites for conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA standards. That means the government takes responsibility for enforcing digital accessibility, rather than requiring individuals to pursue lawsuits against companies. Official statistics show 60-percent of all Norwegian websites reached the necessary standards in 2018.
Seizing the global opportunity
Although the lawsuit numbers are nowhere near as high outside the United States, you will still need a robust approach to digital accessibility wherever you operate. As we have seen, penalties for non-compliance can be high, not to mention the damage to brand reputation, while high-profile legal challenges to banks, supermarkets, and even the organizers of the Sydney Olympics have hit the headlines in Australia and the UK.
Consider, too, the commercial benefits of a rigorous global accessibility policy. In the UK alone, the total annual online spending power of people with disabilities amounts to $31 billion. However, accessibility errors lead to missed revenue opportunities worth the equivalent of $21 billion each year. Globally, the potential online spend of people with disabilities is well above $1 trillion.
Talk to an AudioEye expert today to start building your global accessibility policy, and find out how we can help you to meet your legal obligations, protect your brand image and drive more online business than ever before.
Originally posted on July 30, 2020 and updated on April 19, 2021 to revise the statistics in the image. The new graphic represents the number of people with disabilities in Norway and the EU. In 2017, the Labour Force Survey said Norway's disabled population was 17%, which equals approximately 605,000 people. The EU states that 20% of their population (approximately 89 million people) will be disabled by 2020.
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