Is your website accessible for people with disabilities? Here’s why it matters.
Nearly nine out of 10 Americans use the internet, but even in today's digitally advanced world, there's no guarantee they all have unhindered access. Without website accessibility, millions of people with disabilities encounter barriers when they want to bank, shop, learn or interact online.
As the internet evolves into a primary source of communication and information, there's growing awareness that accessibility is not just about physical spaces. Businesses with an internet presence need to consider the impact of website accessibility on human rights, brand reputation, customer retention and risk of lawsuits.
This article takes a closer look at website accessibility, how it impacts a business, why web accessibility lawsuits have nearly tripled in recent years, and what you can do to protect your company.
What Is Website Accessibility?
Web accessibility is the practice of implementing tools and features to ensure websites meet the needs of people with disabilities.
In the United States, an estimated 26% of all adults (and 40% of adults over the age of 65) live with a disability, whether from birth, illness, injury or aging. These disabilities affect physical, auditory, visual and cognitive systems as well as speech and other human functions.
Digital access barriers are extremely common. A WebAIM survey of one million home pages found that 98% had accessibility errors with a notable impact on users. On average, each page had 61 accessibility errors; a figure that represents problems with 1 in every 14 home page elements. Only 2% of websites were wound to be fully accessible by people with disabilities.
Here are examples of what digital access barriers look like:
- Audio content without transcripts or captions
- Images with missing alternative text
- Empty buttons and links
- Web applications that use only voice interaction
- Low-contrast text and images
- Content that moves or flickers
- Page designs that can't be adapted using web browser controls
- Websites or browsers that don't allow full keyboard support
- Time limits to complete forms or actions
- Inconsistent or overly complex page navigation
Why Businesses Need to Consider Website Accessibility
While web accessibility affects people with disabilities the most, it can also impact a business in terms of its reputation, market reach and risk of being sued. Let's take a closer look at why businesses need to remove digital barriers from their online presence.
Accessibility is about giving people with diverse abilities equal opportunities to participate in society. Our world is increasingly conducting its personal and business activities online, a phenomenon that's accelerating in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those with impairments may be excluded from digital participation if, for example, they rely on a screen reader that's not supported by a site, or if they aren't given an alternative to listening to audio.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has underscored the importance of building community in our society through making technology usable for all folks, saying, "When we work on making our devices accessible, […] we want to leave the world better than we found it."
2. Increased Market Reach
Businesses that want to connect with customers and stay competitive must make their goods and services available online. Retail e-commerce sales are expected to top $6.5 trillion worldwide by 2023, more than doubling 2018 levels.
Companies that aren't web accessible are closing their doors to an entire group of consumers. According to Forrester, there are more than one billion people worldwide with disabilities, with a combined annual disposable income of over $1.2 trillion. If you consider family and friends who prefer to support accessible businesses, that figure jumps to $8 trillion. In the United States, the purchasing power of people with disabilities is valued at about $490 billion.
As awareness of web accessibility grows, companies that make it difficult for people with disabilities to use their services risk losing market share when this segment of consumers opts to do business with web-accessible competitors. Businesses that remove digital barriers can tap into a significant market, improve their brand reputation and boost sales.
3. Protection from Legal Action
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced in 1990 to guarantee that people with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities as others, particularly with respect to employment, education and services. Because the act was drafted before the internet came of age, it refers to physical spaces and doesn't account for website accessibility.
Still, web accessibility lawsuits are being filed in growing numbers as people realize that they are unable to engage with digital spaces. Commercial organizations are being challenged under Title III of the ADA, which refers to "discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations."
Many U.S. courts are interpreting websites as places of public accommodations. Domino's Pizza was at the center of one of the most prominent recent legal battles over digital accessibility, but the restaurant giant hasn’t been the only target.
Federal accessibility lawsuits under Title III of the ADA have nearly tripled:
- 2017: 814 lawsuits
- 2018: 2,258 lawsuits
- 2019: 2,256 lawsuits
In the first quarter of 2020, eight new lawsuits were filed on average each working day, according to AudioEye tracking. The risk of legal proceedings appears to be rapidly growing in certain regions and sectors.
What You Need to Know About Ensuring Website Accessibility
While the ADA doesn't specifically outline requirements for website accessibility, universally accepted practices have been developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. These standards are known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and are continually evolving — the current version is known as WCAG 2.0.
WCAG guidelines aren't legally enforceable, but more and more companies are choosing to voluntarily comply all the time. There are three levels of conformance:
- Level A
- Level AA
- Level AAA
What Options Are There for Ensuring Website Accessibility?
For businesses, one of the challenges of improving digital accessibility is knowing where to begin — especially if their website is highly dynamic or there are multiple team members working on the site. A site's accessibility can be altered every time new content is added.
Here are three common paths organizations take to conform to WCAG and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
1. Use Automated Scans to Check for Accessibility Issues
The lowest-cost solution for pinpointing accessibility barriers on a website is an automated scan. However, these tools typically detect only high-level accessibility problems and miss 70% to 80% of issues. Once problems are identified, companies must still find a way to resolve them.
2. Employ a Third-Party Consultant
Businesses can hire consultants to audit websites for accessibility compliance. A consultant's report is typically more comprehensive in identifying barriers than an automated tool, but also more costly.
Companies must still spend additional time and resources to resolve these digital barriers. Periodic audits are also required, as website updates can affect accessibility — plus, WCAG standards are always evolving.
3. Outsource Compliance to a Reputable Vendor
The optimal compliance solution combines powerful scanning technology with the expert guidance of certified digital accessibility experts. While you focus on your core business, a trusted provider can manage the work of ensuring your site is ADA compliant.
This approach frees up companies to focus on their core business, and usually results in faster compliance and a lower cost over the long-term.
Here are important factors to consider when choosing a compliance partner:
- Is the company experienced in both technical and legal aspects of compliance? Make sure your partner offers legal guidance and documentation from the outset.
- Does the provider have a proven track record in remediating compliance issues quickly and cost-effectively?
- Can your partner demonstrate experience in protecting businesses and deflecting lawsuits?
Take the First Step toward Web Accessibility
Federal legislation concerning the accessibility of public places is currently limited to our physical environment. However, as society becomes more deeply rooted in digital technology, the definition of accessibility is evolving.
Ensure that people of all abilities can engage with your company online. If you think your organization may be at legal risk, learn more by reading our free AudioEye white paper, Outsourcing Accessibility Compliance Is Smart Business, and take the first step toward bringing your website into compliance.
If you're ready to start making your online presence accessible to all, arrange a call today with an expert AudioEye consultant.
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