Equality eludes even in the virtual world
For a lot of people with disabilities, the internet can be an inaccessible and inhospitable place to be in. Lack of ADA compliant websites means there’s not much accounting for those with limited mobility or sensory impairments, which leads to a world of exclusion as they are unable to interact independently on sites that could otherwise provide them information about health care, education, employment opportunities, business contacts and more.
Utah State University-based non-profit organization WebAIM, which has been providing web accessibility solutions since 1999, conducted accessibility evaluations of the top 1 million homepages from 2019 to 2021. The findings revealed that 97.4% of the homepages had detectable WCAG 2.0 failures in 2021, which was a slight drop from 98.1% in 2020.
The highest contributory reason behind this failure was low contrast text, which was seen in 86.4% of those homepages in 2021. Shocking and stark as it may come across to a lot of the readers, it is sadly true and continues to plague both website owners as well as the said participants to this day. Here’s a detailed look at the results of WebAIM’s accessibility evaluation.
The Internet was built on the premise of providing equal access worldwide, but this principle is often neglected when it’s time to design websites that take into consideration limitations imposed by physical disabilities.
So, people subjected to reduced visual acuity, hearing loss from impaired auditory perception thresholds, difficulties in hand control due to lack of motor skills and cognitive impairment find themselves being left out of what should have been a user-friendly experience for them.
So, what is web accessibility really?
Web accessibility is about making the internet a more inclusive experience for all, so that those who have disabilities or situational impairments can still take advantage of everything it has to offer. Websites should be designed in such a way that products and services offered by the website owners can be easily accessed and navigated by everyone, including the hearing impaired, visually impaired and those with motor control problems like Parkinson's Disease.
To illuminate on that further, websites should be equipped with tools or technologies such as video captions/subtitles for the hearing impaired, audio descriptions for the visually impaired and transcripts for either of the disabled. WebAIM offers a more detailed explanation on captions, transcripts and audio descriptions for better accessibility.
How important is web accessibility?
From employment and business opportunities to education, health care and sports, the internet is a world of information and resources for everyone around the world. And it is especially because of this momentous information overdrive that people with disabilities need equal access to the internet.
There are many reasons why it's extremely important and responsible to incorporate accessibility into your website design. But off the top of my head, it’s because web accessibility makes it possible for people with disabilities to engage and participate effectively in any given society by expanding their horizons about what they are capable of doing.
On a side note, accessibility can also propel your brand's image by improving customer satisfaction, which may extend to a broader market influence across multiple platforms such as smartphone features rather than solely relying on desktop sites.
Why you should implement web accessibility
This one is pretty easy to answer. Let me break it down into the following segments for individual emphasis on each of the reasons.
Reason #1: Legal (ADA) compliance
Passed in the year 1990, the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) is a federal law enforced by the civil government across the US, prohibiting the discrimination of people with disabilities, as well as safeguarding their rights across all verticals in society.
The 2010 ADA standards for accessible design directs the accessibility of all electronic and information technology, such as a website, to people with disabilities. As for who must comply with the ADA guidelines, the ADA requires that businesses of all sizes have facilities accessible to people who are disabled, even if those buildings aren't open to the general public or haven't been designed for use by such persons.
When it comes to websites complying to the ADA guidelines, it’s still a grey area as the WebAIM statistics have shown. However, despite an absence of federal regulations around internet accessible websites, it has been observed by federal courts web accessibility still comes under the ambit of Title III of the ADA.
Then there’s also the risk of inviting potential litigations for violating the norms. Even though there was a slight drop from 11,053 federal lawsuits filed in 2019 to 10,982 lawsuits in 2020, the number still remains relatively high, considering the impact of COVID-19.
One of the reasons behind the rise in numbers is strangely the obliviousness of business owners regarding the ADA compliance for their websites. And judging by the number of homepages that have recorder WCAG 2.0 failures, I’d say the numbers of the unaware aren’t in any way miniscule.
Known as Title III ADA lawsuits, some of the most renowned names across various sectors have also been caught up in its snare over the years. Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest companies to have been sued over website accessibility under Title III.
Apart from the fact that such litigations can be both financially damaging as well as a blot on their reputation, it inversely allows an opportunity to these businesses to redesign their website with improvements that would cater to the needs of the disabled users.
Reason #2: Boost for your brand reputation
The addition of accessibility features to apps and websites has been seen to have a positive impact on a company’s reputation and social responsibility, even as introduction of innovative technologies are lauded with much praise. Some of the biggest names across various industries have pumped in serious dollars to make inclusivity the new normal through revolutionary features as part of this process.
Noteworthy are the efforts of tech leaders Apple and Microsoft. Apple’s accessibility features, which are all built-in by the way, have been designed around the disability areas of vision, mobility, hearing and cognitive to make their products accessible for everyone. Features like VoiceOver, VoiceOver + Braille, Audio Descriptions, Voice Control, AssistiveTouch, Sound Recognition and Spoken Content are highly innovative, even earning Apple praise from the National Federation of the Blind for their efforts.
Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program is another wonderful example of how a titan of a brand has pushed the envelope to make lives easier for people with disabilities and earned them a proper boost in return. Not new to this territory, Microsoft has been facilitating easier access to technology for them for many years, offering such groundbreaking features as the Xbox Adaptive Controller, Dictate, Eye Control and Magnifier to those with disabilities.
Why does a company need to show commitment towards accessibility? The answer is simple: it can have significant benefits that include improved brand reputation, higher sales figures and brand loyalty among others.
Reason #3: Growth in conversion rate
It is obviously hindsighted to think that your potential customers can only be people without any physical challenges. And that’s when businesses lose out on those with disabilities as future customers simply because the websites didn’t conform to web accessibility standards.
People with disabilities are sadly overlooked by too many brands, prompting a large number of them to give up on such commercial websites because accessibility is completely missing from the picture. The resulting scenario is that they now spend their money on brands that provide better access to what they seek.
Due to the lack of choices otherwise available, they’re ready to pay almost anything if there aren't any other options. That’s a lot of potential conversion rate that businesses with zero web accessibility are missing out on.
Reason #4: Broader target audience
There’s another group of people that business owners nonchalantly miss out on targeting - people with short-term physical challenges. These are the people who either went through some surgery or accident that limited their physical movements or capabilities temporarily.
Nevertheless, this provisional disability that limits their otherwise normal physical movements may also pose a challenge while accessing the internet. Maybe it’s an arm in a cast, maybe it’s a cataract surgery. But, whatever the scenario, they feel the need for tools or features that can enhance web accessibility just as people with disabilities do.
Reason #5: Avoid unwanted expenditures
And lastly, you could save yourself a lot of heartburn and avoid blowing up money that could be useful elsewhere if you comply with the ADA guidelines at the very onset.
How you ask? Well, for starters, lawsuits can be both costly and a drag. Not only will you waste precious time doing the rounds for hearings, but end up spending a considerable amount if it comes to settlements.
To even think that your website may not come under the scanner for failing to comply with the ADA standards would be sheer gambling. That’s not what smart businesspersons do.
Secondly, you would have to redesign your website to accommodate the updates required to make your website ADA compliant. The average cost of a website redesign project can be anything between $3,000 to $60,000 depending on size and functionality to begin with.
How to build an ADA compliant website
The growing world population and increasing number of elderly people will lead to heightened accessibility issues in the future. This means that the need for companies' products or services may not be met due to a lack of consideration towards these individuals when designing their product or service.
It may not seem like an easy task but ignoring these issues could have adverse effects on their future revenue generation efforts because customers who require accessible products would rather shop elsewhere if they cannot find what they need from such companies.
Building an ADA compliant website is a good start to arm your website with accessibility features that would pull those crowd in. Now, since there’s no federal regulation for web accessibility guidelines, the closest to it that you can refer to are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which include WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1 and the soon-to-be published WCAG 2.2.
Here’s a quick glance at some of the salient features of the guidelines under the four principles of WCAG:
First principle: Perceivable
According to this principle, all the information and the user interface elements that a website presents should be made in such a manner that they are perceivable for the users.
- Add text alternatives (alt texts) for all non-text content such as images, videos and audio content. This will allow people with visual or hearing disabilities to access the needed information.
- Add captions for videos and audio descriptions for audio and video content for the hearing impaired.
- Add audio control, color contrast control and text size control for hearing and visual accessibility
Second principle: Operable
- Add keyboard control to all functionalities, including character key shortcuts, removing specific timings for keystrokes, pause, stop and so on.
- Don’t add content that may cause seizures or physical reactions. This could be something like flashes, which should be toned down to three or less flashes/red flashes in a second.
- Add page titles, content headings/labels and section headings to organize your content and improve navigation.
Third principle: Understandable
- Make your content readable and predictable by implementing mechanisms to identify technical words and abbreviations that may not be easily understood. Additionally, you can also provide pronunciations for certain words immediately following those words.
- Activate new windows or tabs only for links only if necessary, while offering prior indication of the same to the users.
- Provide user interface elements on different pages with consistency and in the same order for better predictability.
- Provide error prompts when users enter the wrong inputs while filling a web form.
Fourth principle: Robust
- Use validator to validate web pages.
- Facilitate web page parsing or web scraping.
- Provide status messages such as success feedback when data is submitted by a user successfully.
Are the risks of running non-ADA compliant websites real?
To be very honest, it’s more real than you would think and dodging the compliance is just pure gambling in our opinion. Let’s run some numbers so you can make a more informed decision, which is what we’d want you to do instead of coming down under the gavel.
First, let’s look at the number of people with disabilities to offer you a grander view of what’s at stake here. According to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), One in 4 U.S. adults, which is 61 million Americans, have a disability that impacts major life activities.
Mobility is the most common form of disability, followed by cognition, hearing, vision, independent living and self-care. The statistics are stark and real, which prompted the setting up of the ADA way back in the 90s.
Now, coming back to the subject of risks - in recent years, a surge in lawsuits has been observed under the ADA against businesses that do not provide accommodation for individuals with disabilities. If your business is sued and you lose a case, you will likely be looking at a steep fine plus restitution costs.
As early as 2010, streaming platform Netflix was slammed with a civil rights lawsuit by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) under Title III of the ADA for lack of closed captions for the deaf and hard of hearing. And even though Netflix argued that it the ADA did not apply to its streaming platform, it was ultimately obliged to pay $755,000 in legal fees to NAD's lawyers and another $40,000 to put the decree in place over the next four years. Netflix also agreed to put up captions to its entire video library by 2014.
In 2017, legally blind Maria Mendizabal brought on a class-action lawsuit against Nike alleging that its corporate websites nike.com and converse.com failed to provide equal accessibility to blind and visually impaired users. Lack of a screen reader was cited as the main reason behind the inaccessible situation. The case still lingers on.
In January 2019, Beyonce Knowles’s (yes, you read right) company Park Entertainment was hit with a class-action lawsuit by a blind woman citing lack of alt text for certain images. The case, to my understanding, is still open and it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.
Some useful tips
- By no means ignore the WCAG to be able to develop a website according to the standards set by it. Even though the process may delay your website launch contrary to your plans without, it will make sure your website is fully equipped to accommodate people with disabilities.
- Before you launch your website, consider getting a web accessibility test done to find out how it scores against the WCAG standards. Here’s a list of web accessibility checker tools to help you achieve that task.
- As with every other website or app that should go through usability and user testing, push your product through the test, but including participants that belong to the category of people with disabilities as well.
- Create an accessibility statement and publish it on your website or app to show your commitment to web accessibility to everyone. It would also function as a guide to the users on how to use accessibility tools and technologies available on your website and who to contact if they face any problems.
In case you’re not sure how to create one, you can take the help of an accessibility statement generator tool to download one. The statement can be even edited and refined according to your needs.
We are a UX design agency that is committed to better and functional designs to make human lives just a little more easier. If you need our help to build you an ADA compliant website equipped to waylay all accessibility challenges, the finest UX designers and strategists at 0707 Inc are always at your disposal if you just write to us with your business needs.