The Americans with Disabilities Act encourages businesses to follow the law with penalties, but it also pushes businesses towards the positive economic argument that accessibility boosts customer reach.¹ The ADA is a 1990 law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in the United States.² The government applied major revisions to the law in 2010. State and local governments may also have rules.
The revised 2010 ADA standards are civil rights laws that protect and assist people with disabilities at physical and online public locations.³ When applying accessibility guidelines to your organization’s public platforms you should be focused on both following the law and improving the customer experience.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) makes clear that establishing Title III also applies to public online accommodations. Title III states if people without disabilities can use a website, it is discrimination to have barriers in place that prevents people from using it. Section 508 targets website accessibility stating “all website content be accessible to people with disabilities.”4
Accessibility tools help people with disabilities interact with websites, but the tools can’t do the job alone. For example, a person using a screen reader might get confused on a webpage that uses images with text for section headers. Unless the images have alt-text, the screen reader is unable to help.
Screen readers will struggle with digital documents like PDFs that aren’t designed for accessibility. ADA standards are for all forms of digital content including websites, applications, and documents.
Standards for accessible design are vital for public accommodation. Accessibility technologies have technical requirements. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design5 and Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design6 are rich resources for making sites easier to use for people with disabilities.
Accessibility standards support removing common barriers including:
- Poor color contrast
- Non-descriptive hyperlinks
- Missing page headings
- Illegible text resizing
- Poor keyboard access
Accessibility barriers are often easy to remove without making major changes. Website stakeholders can turn to the ADA guidelines best practices and the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 2.1 for guidance on meeting ADA online requirements. These guidelines explore how people with disabilities interact with websites using assistive technologies.
Over 70 percent of people with disabilities have invisible disabilities like colorblindness. Websites that aren’t designed to be usable by people with colorblindness are a good example of barriers that are easy to find once you know to look for them.
Already Meeting ADA Compliance? Shout It from the Rooftops
People with disabilities represent a large, often underestimated, global market. According to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR), working-age Americans with disabilities earn around $490 billion a year in disposable income. AIR® argues businesses aren’t making enough effort to serve this population.7
People with disabilities are valuable consumers who influence the spending decisions of other people around them. This relationship shows how ADA compliance can indirectly influence where people spend their money.
If digital accessibility is a recent improvement, these companies should be eager to let the public know what they’ve done to make their online experience even better.
Web Accessibility is for Everyone
Improving online accessibility benefits all. Improvements don’t benefit just people with disabilities. For example, site headers designed to guide screen readers improve overall content structure. The improvements benefit people who don’t use screen readers and can improve SEO.
Video captions are convenient for people who can’t turn on the sound. Audio transcripts make it easier for people to skim or search the text. Making a website design touch-compliant with large buttons makes the content work well across all sorts of devices with different screen sizes and interface devices.
Being ADA compliant delights customers through ease of use and attracts new customers. A site that’s organized and labeled according to WCAG 2.1 guidelines is much easier for search engine indexing. Accessible websites have been shown to have a wider audience reach compared to inaccessible websites.
Ignoring ADA Requirements has Consequences
Websites that don’t meet ADA requirements are missing out on customer connection opportunities. The W3C offers a list of accessibility-related financial benefits.8 Some of those benefits include:
- Brand enhancement
- Minimizing legal risk
- Driving innovation
- Extending market reach
On the other hand, failing to meet ADA obligations could lead to legal expenses and bad publicity. According to the LA Times, the number of ADA non-compliance lawsuits filed against websites jumped 90 percent from 1,053 to more than 2,000 in 2017 to 2018 respectively.9
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Domino’s Pizza Inc., Harvard University, and MIT have all been on the receiving end of a web accessibility lawsuit. Businesses that work with a Canadian audience will also need to be compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).10
Improving accessibility on your business digital properties isn’t just a smart business decision: it’s a legal obligation. Take things to the next level, don’t just settle for ADA compliance. Take pride in your work and promote your accessibility to the wider consumer market.
There’s always more to do:
- Put your website through an accessibility checker
- Run accessibility audits with accessibility software
- Look into an accessibility management platform
- Make accessibility training part of your organization’s online design criteria
The bottom line is meeting or surpassing ADA requirements allows you to avoid negative consequences and create a stronger business. There’s no reason to avoid making your organization’s online content more accessible.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL Accessibility created a free whitepaper that helps organizations upgrade from WCAG 2.0 to WCAG 2.1. This document guides businesses to achieve and maintain compliance with ADA standards and regulations. This includes technical specifications to improve website and application accessibility via an ADA Compliance Checklist. Learn more by downloading our WCAG 2.1 Checklist today.
- The Business Case for Digital Accessibility WC3, 2018
- Americans with Disabilities Act: Title III Regulations ADA, 2010
- An Overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act, ADA National Network, 2017
- Section 508 HHS, 2019
- 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design Department of Justice, 2010
- Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design Department of Justice, 2010
- A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults With Disabilities American Institutes for Research, 2018
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 WC3, 2018
- Lawsuits targeting business websites over ADA violations are on the rise LA Times, 2018
- About the AODA Accessibility Services Canada, 2017