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Why you need a sustainable, always-on approach to website accessibility

Posted February 25, 2020


Posted February 25, 2020

Illustration of clock with accessibility icon at the center. The hands of the clock replace the arms of the accessibility icon.

An estimated one in four adults in the United States have some type of disability, and globally the annual disposable income of people with a disability, their friends and their families is a breathtaking $8 trillion. If somehow those numbers don’t convince you to take a closer look at website accessibility, you probably still want to avoid being one of the 2,300+ companies sued each year in the U.S. for accessibility infringements.[1]

So how do you make sure your website is accessible to everybody – and how do you keep it that way as things change?

Moving targets

In the physical world, ensuring that buildings are accessible for their users starts with the architect’s blueprints. The construction company can just follow the specifications to ensure they make the doors wide enough and get the right angle on the ramps for wheelchair users. The finished building can then easily be checked against those specifications to confirm legislative compliance. Aside from an occasional fresh coat of paint, the building can remain unchanged for decades.

In the online world, it’s not so simple. U.S. courts have ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is just as applicable to websites as it is to physical locations. But since the ADA itself predates the internet, it naturally includes no black-and-white prescriptive guidelines on how you can achieve compliance.

Conventional wisdom is to fall back on the international WCAG standard, which provides a long list of success criteria for website accessibility. However, the WCAG standard is continually evolving, which makes it a moving target—what was considered accessible yesterday may be labeled bad practice tomorrow.

And it gets trickier still: corporate websites are typically highly dynamic. Every time you create a piece of content or publish a new section, you are potentially changing the site’s accessibility profile. When most websites have numerous different contributors and content managers, and it becomes a major challenge to make sure every element of your website always conforms to the guidelines.

Perfection is unachievable

First, some good news. The courts don’t expect your website to be 100% accessible all the time. In reality, compliance is more of a spectrum than a pass/fail test. The combination of subjective interpretation of the law, evolving standards and changing content means that it would be unreasonable to demand flawless accessibility at all times.

Instead, what the courts want is to see evidence that you have a structured plan in place for finding and eliminating barriers to accessibility. Legal precedent suggests that so long as you are testing, remediating, and doing what you can to stop inaccessible content appearing on your website, then you’re unlikely to be penalized.

Taking a step back, this means that you first need to interpret the legislation and see how the WCAG success criteria apply to your case. That’s hard to do on your own, because it requires an in-depth understanding of both the law and the technical standards. Moreover, if you do find yourself in litigation, you will need help from a third party to validate your activities, so it probably makes sense to have third-party oversight in place from the get-go.

Call in the cavalry

Given that both your website and the legal standards are constantly changing, it’s vital to see website accessibility as a permanent responsibility rather than a one-off fix. Once you’ve seen the issue from this perspective, you need to ask yourself: should this non-core activity be something we gear up to manage in-house, or something we outsource to industry experts?

If you choose to work with an external managed service, you get the benefit of that company’s accrued expertise with many thousands of other customers in different industries. You also tap into a sustainable shared service, eliminating the need to build up and maintain internal specialist knowledge.

Get on track for comprehensive and sustainable website accessibility — start your compliance journey with AudioEye today.


[1]   Throughout 2019, AudioEye has tracked ADA Title II and Title III lawsuits as filed in U.S. Federal District Courts and State Supreme and Superior Courts. This report considers all identified lawsuits as tracked by AudioEye staff. It does not include any calculation on the number of legal demand letters asserted by plaintiff’s making claims of non-compliance. AudioEye does not guarantee the accuracy of this report, but has taken measures to track the details of the filed claims to the best of its ability given the resources available and the limited information supplied through the various sources associated with the publicly available information.

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