Every organization that serves the public should be aware of its requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This anti-discrimination law passed in 1990 protects the rights of customers with disabilities to be treated equally. While many business owners may agree with the basic ethic of this law, they may be unclear about their actual ADA requirements. Plus, they may not realize that there’s a compelling economic argument for complying with those requirements.
Title III of the ADA states that a “public accommodation” must not discriminate against people with disabilities. Thus, places like restaurants, schools, grocery stores, banks and health spas must be accessible. However, even if a business meets the ADA requirements and ensures total accessibility at its physical location or store – and, in fact, even if it has no physical location at all – its website should be accessible.
The Department of Justice has taken a clear position that Title III applies to the online presence of public accommodations as well. The bottom line is that if people without disabilities can use a website, then it would be an act of discrimination to have barriers in place that prevent people with disabilities from using it.
Eliminating Web Barriers
Those digital barriers to accessibility might include posting a company’s contact information as a graphic instead of text, using fonts that are considered difficult to read on-screen, using poor color contrast, failing to organize web pages with headings that identify them, and inserting links that say “click here” without explaining the link’s purpose. These are just a few examples. These barriers, incidentally, can be removed without difficulty.
How can websites of public accommodations be made accessible? The ADA has issued a few fundamental web accessibility guidelines in its “ADA Best Practices Tool Kit,” but has not yet released complete technical standards. However, the Department of Justice frequently points to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 developed by the World Wide Web Consortium as the best reference for those companies striving to meet ADA online requirements.
WCAG 2.0 explains how to eliminate all the barriers described above, and a great many more. These exhaustive guidelines consider a variety of ways people with disabilities might go online, including using assistive technologies such as screen readers. The guidelines also consider a wide range of disabilities. Over 70% of people with disabilities have invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, and these, too, can affect the way these individuals use the Internet.
Already Meeting ADA Requirements? Shout It from the Rooftops
If your website already meets the ADA requirements for accessibility – you’ve had your complete site professionally evaluated, tested and remediated by experts – then it’s in your own best interests to make this clear to your customers. People with disabilities represent a large global market, one that is often underestimated. In Return on Disability Group’s 2016 report The Global Economics of Disability1, analyst Rich Donovan notes that most companies are focusing on the work force instead of the disability market in their diversity initiatives. They should be focusing on both.
Over half the population is touched by disability in some way. Not only are people with disabilities valuable consumers themselves with billions in disposable income, they also influence the spending decisions of the community around them – their family members and close friends.
Less than a quarter of the public companies in Donovan’s analysis, however, have shown an interest in reaching the disability market. Yet only four percent have actually made what Donovan calls “measurable effort that is material to shareholder value.”
For companies that are already meeting their ADA requirements, they’re missing an opportunity to let potential customers and clients know that inclusion is important to them. These organizations should be showing pride in the seamless customer service they’re able to offer to people with disabilities, especially if it isn’t offered by competitors.
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
That brings us to another point about the benefits of improving online accessibility. It really does tend to improve the experience for everyone, whether they have disabilities. Video captioning allows people to watch videos when they don’t want to disturb others, or when they’re in a noisy place. Audio transcripts make it easier for people to skim or search text quickly when they don’t have time to sit through an entire podcast. Larger touch target areas on a mobile site make it easier for people to thumb through a website on their device while carrying shopping bags in the other hand.
Not only does meeting ADA requirements online help you delight customers through increased ease of use, it also helps you attract new customers who might not have found your site otherwise. That’s because a website that is organized and labelled according to WCAG 2.0 guidelines, or has text alternatives in place for non-text content such as photos, is more perceivable by a search engine. Accessible websites have been shown to have a wider audience reach compared to inaccessible websites.
The Consequences of Ignoring Your ADA Requirements
Websites that don’t meet ADA requirements for accessibility are missing an opportunity to connect with a wider base of customers with and without disabilities.
The World Wide Web Consortium lists a number of additional financial benefits2 they could be missing out on, such as cost-savings when customers with disabilities can serve themselves online instead of having to contact your call center. Accessible websites also cost less to maintain.
The consortium lists other negative consequences of ignoring ADA requirements online. As you might guess, these include lawsuits – failing to meet your obligations under the ADA is, of course, against the law – and the legal expenses and bad publicity associated with them.
Just a few weeks ago, a Florida judge ruled that supermarket chain Winn-Dixie had violated the ADA in failing to make its website accessible. The judge found that in offering web coupons and filling online prescriptions in a way that wasn’t available to people who are blind and use screen readers, Winn-Dixie had failed to meet its ADA requirements and discriminated against the plaintiff with a disability. Do a Google search of “Winn-Dixie ADA” today, and you’ll be directed to over 100,000 pages and articles that are overwhelmingly critical of the company.
If you’ve already begun the process of improving accessibility on your website and other digital properties, you’ve made a sound business decision. Now take the next step. Take pride in your efforts, and promote your accessibility to the wider consumer market.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.