The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that bans organizations from discriminating against people with disabilities in the course of doing business.
Since 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. These websites must not contain 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 signalled 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.
Two Recent Cases
Just this past January, the DOJ announced a settlement with Astria Health, the non-profit parent organization of multiple Washington healthcare centers, after a deafblind patient was not provided with appropriate accommodations at a medical clinic and subsequently filed a complaint. As part of the agreement, Astria Health was required to ensure that all new and updated web content and apps comply with WCAG 2.01.
In another recent case, a settlement was reached with the City and County of Denver, Colorado. The backstory is that the DOJ has been systematically evaluating the ADA compliance of communities all over the United States as part of an initiative called Project Civic Access, to ensure that they aren’t discriminating against their citizens with disabilities.
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 future2.
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.
Three Ways to Do More
The fact is, 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 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 Group3. 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 puts 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. Your customer service and digital accessibility policies can be posted here.
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.
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 almost always 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.”4
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.”5 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 touchscreen whiteboards and computers allow players to collaborate as a team6.
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.
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.
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 and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and Astria Health ADA.gov, 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
- 2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability Return on Disability, 2016
- 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