No matter what type of organization your website represents, it’s of vital importance that you make sure the content is accessible to all people, no matter what type of disability they might have. Not only is it in your financial interest to do so, you risk running afoul of the law if your site is closed to any member of the public because of technological barriers.
Indeed, the need to provide access to all is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Passed in 1990, the ADA is a federal law that bans organizations from discriminating against people with disabilities in the course of doing business.
Because using the Internet to serve and inform customers is very much a part of the way we do business, organizations’ websites are unequivocally covered by this law. Websites are not allowed to have barriers – it must be possible for people to use them even if the individuals are blind, deaf or have a mobility-related disability, for instance.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has signaled numerous times that websites are expected to comply with the ADA under Title III (businesses open to the public). Websites must be just as accessible to people with disabilities as they are to people who don’t have disabilities. Online digital content must follow the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.¹
Don’t assume that your website will go unnoticed by disabled visitors who might bring legal action against you, even if you’ve never had any problems with ADA website compliance before. In fact, the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2258 – increasing by 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017.²
Last year, the DOJ announced a settlement with Astria Health, the non-profit parent organization of multiple Washington healthcare centers, after a deaf and blind patient was not provided with appropriate accommodations at a medical clinic and subsequently filed a complaint. As part of the agreement, the court forced Astria Health to ensure that all new and updated web content and apps comply with WCAG 2.0.
In another recent case, a settlement was reached with the City and County of Denver, Colorado. For context, the DOJ has been systematically evaluating ADA compliance in communities across the U.S. as part of an initiative called Project Civic Access, to ensure that they aren’t discriminating against disabled citizens.
As part of Project Civic Access, public places like libraries and parks are surveyed to check for physical barriers. But website compliance is another important part of ensuring that people can participate fully in their own communities. Naturally, if someone cannot register for a program or pay a tax bill online because the website isn’t accessible, they are unfairly shut out.
In the case of Denver, not only has this local government agreed to remove barriers from its website as prescribed by WCAG 2.0 conformance Level A and Level AA, but it will also hire both an in-house web accessibility coordinator and an independent consultant to ensure the community’s website remains fully accessible to its community members in the future.³
In neither of the two cases above was a specific complaint lodged about the barriers on a website. Rather, the problem of online inaccessibility was revealed as the DOJ conducted its investigation. And in both cases, the Department of Justice ended up compelling the defendants to improve their web accessibility as part of their overall accommodation of people with disabilities.
This demonstrates that ADA website compliance is a priority for the department.
Keep in mind that for best results, your organization should establish a policy to monitor and audit your website ADA compliance on a continuous basis to make sure that you remain compliant, as noted by a 2019 report from LA BIZ.4 This is especially crucial because websites typically go out of compliance when adding new content.
Three Ways to Do More
The fact is, ADA website compliance should be a priority for any company. To ignore this issue is to invite complaints, fines or even legal action.
But there’s much more to gain from providing a fully accessible online experience to customers and potential customers with disabilities. It’s a way to attract more business from an ignored and loyal market. Americans with disabilities directly control more than $645 billion in disposable income and influence trillions more through their friends and families, according to the Return on Disability Group.5
For a global perspective, a report from Time indicates that 15% of the world’s population lives with some type of disability, and when you combine this with their family, the disposable income of the disabled community controls amounts to $8 trillion each year.6
Instead of simply aiming for ADA compliance with all of your digital properties, you should be going several steps further to engage the disability market in other ways.
Here are three more ways you can go beyond ADA website compliance to appeal to customers with disabilities, their family members and their allies:
1. Create a web page devoted to disability.
Have a section on your website that collects relevant, up-to-date information in one place for the convenience of your customers and clients with disabilities. This can include any accessibility considerations or accommodations such as where your wheelchair-friendly parking is located, or where to pick up assisted listening devices. It can highlight those of your services or events that may be most targeted to people with disabilities and explain how to use or attend them. Post your customer service, digital accessibility policies, and accessibility statements here as well.
2. Feature people with disabilities in marketing.
Customers appreciate seeing themselves reflected in your ads. And even though people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority group, you wouldn’t know it by their conspicuous absence in marketing materials. This is an opportunity for your organization to make a difference while making customers feel more included.
In 2016, Lloyds Banking Group in Britain reviewed more than 1,300 ads and concluded that almost none of the minority groups portrayed – fewer than one percent – were people with visible disabilities. When people with disabilities were portrayed, it was usually someone using a wheelchair, as opposed to the many other diverse types of disabilities. According to the survey, “Nearly half of respondents believe that disabled people were underrepresented in advertising.”7
When ads do feature people with disabilities, they stand out spectacularly, especially when the individuals in the ads are going about their day just like everyone else, and not treated as “different.” When this is done well, the disabilities aren’t the focus of the ads – the products are.
Unilever achieves this balance in its 2017 commercial for Dove Shower Foam, in which a woman who is blind describes her positive impressions of the cleanser’s feel on her skin: “weightless” and “moisturizing.”8 Microsoft’s 2017 ad for its Surface line of products features a group of deaf football athletes, but the emphasis is on how well the touch screen whiteboards and computers allow players to collaborate as a team.9
In 2019, popular clothing brands M&S and Tommy Hilfiger each launched a range of adaptive clothing designed people with mental and physical disabilities, including disabled models in advertising.10
3. Provide assistive technology to your customers and clients with disabilities.
Make it easier for people with disabilities to access your website and the Internet in general by supplying them with free downloadable assistive technology (AT) – a suite of tools that can help someone type or control a mouse using voice commands, hear all the words on the screen read aloud, or magnify the screen to make it more visible to them.
Providing AT will mean that people with disabilities are more likely to spend time visiting your website and carrying out transactions. Increasing engagement in your website boosts the chances of people to linger and explore your catalog to make a purchase or to contact you for more information.
It also lets these customers know that their business is valued. When you send this message to the vast, largely untapped market of people with disabilities, you stand out from your competition. Other organizations in your industry may be rushing to meet the ADA’s requirements for website accessibility before the Department of Justice takes notice of their online barriers. When you take the initiative to go well beyond ADA website compliance, your customers with disabilities – and all those who stand in alliance with them – will take notice.
A Solution to Make Your Organization’s Website Accessible to Disabled Individuals
When you consider your website from the point of view of people who have disabilities, it becomes clear how important it is to make sure you are making it as accessible as possible. You can understand why your organization will benefit by going above and beyond what’s needed for minimum ADA website compliance.
The team at eSSENTIAL Accessibility is standing by to assist you. For more information, request a personalized demo of how you can provide an optimal digital experience to people with disabilities today.
- Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and Astria Health ADA.gov, 2018
- Number Of Federal Website Accessibility Lawsuits Nearly Triple, Exceeding 2250 In 2018
- Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and The City and County of Denver, Colorado Under the Americans with Disabilities Act ADA.gov, 2018
- LA BIZ “Monitor ADA compliance to prevent ‘surf-by’ lawsuits against your website, ”July 29, 2019
- 2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability Return on Disability, 2016
- Time: How Businesses Can Lead a Revolution on Disability Inclusion
- Reflecting Modern Britian? A Study Into Inclusion and Diversity in Advertising Lloyds Banking Group
- Dove: New Shower Foam, Molly Dove, 2017
- Football, Teamwork and Technology: California School for the Deaf Microsoft, 2017
- Marketing Week: What brands are doing to be more inclusive for people with disabilities
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.