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Why We Need Web Accessibility Laws: 7 Common Misconceptions of Digital Accessibility

lawyer looking over web accessibility laws

Accessibility legislation such as The Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Access Act and others are regulations that have been put in place to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The fact is, despite decades of effort by advocates, there are still widespread misconceptions about people with disabilities and how to accommodate their needs. This lack of awareness is even more apparent when it comes to web accessibility.

Of course, the disability community should not have to wait for improved public understanding before their own rights can be recognized and upheld. That’s the benefit of web accessibility laws: They compel organizations to remove online barriers and make digital environments more inclusive to individuals with disabilities.

Read more about web accessibility lawsuits here.

Here are seven common misconceptions that may explain why managers and business owners aren’t routinely screening for accessibility barriers as they create or modify their digital properties.

1. When they think about accessibility, they don’t think about web barriers.

Just a few decades ago, the notion of accessibility referred primarily to the built environment (ramps at front doors, and lowered elevator buttons), printed material (alternate formats) and company policies (permitting service animals on the premises). You certainly won’t come across the words “Internet” and “web” in older accessibility standards. But the Internet has since become entrenched in everyday life. And many people don’t realize that there can be disability barriers online, too, that are just as unfair as a step in front of a door.

2. They don’t consider the difference it makes to be able to participate online.

Imagine if you weren’t able to go online for a day, or a week, or even permanently. How would you carry out all those daily tasks that depend on the web? How would you check the news or weather, send or receive messages, do your job, pay your bills, consult your bank balance, register for a program, look up a bus schedule, order groceries, or browse social media? If you were prevented from going online, you’d be effectively cut off from all of these routine activities. Without accessibility laws to ensure the removal of digital barriers, this may well be the reality for many people with disabilities.

3. They don’t realize just how many people have disabilities that affect their use of the web.

Well over a billion people in the world have disabilities. And just as there are many types of disabilities – affecting mobility, dexterity, vision, hearing, memory, speech, and cognitive abilities, among others – there are many kinds of online barriers that can make it difficult or downright impossible for these people to use a website properly. There’s a reason why the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the most widely used set of technical requirements for online accessibility, include 61 success criteria. The newest version, WCAG 2.1, includes 78 success criteria!

4. They don’t know enough about online barriers and their impact.

Some people may assume that web barriers aren’t that significant – that there aren’t many of them, that they’re a minor inconvenience, and that people with disabilities have their own workarounds. But even the simplest of online barriers can make it utterly impossible for an individual to use a website. For instance, many website sessions have a “time limit” feature. But if a user types slower, as a result of their disability, they might reach the time limit when they’re in the middle of filling out a form. It’s an easy barrier to fix – the user just needs to be given a way to turn off or adjust the time limit – but otherwise it prevents that user from being able to complete the online form.

In a research study, New Zealand’s Blind Foundation compared the ease with which people with and without disabilities could use selected web pages and apps. They were all given tasks like buying an item online, looking up the weather, applying for a job, comparing airline fares and watching a safety video1.

Their results showed that people with disabilities took an average of 3.75 times longer to complete the assigned tasks, and in some cases they couldn’t do them at all. In a 2016 report on its findings, the Blind Foundation notes: “The impact of exclusion is much wider than discrimination. Exclusion has profound economic impacts on people with disabilities and for the country as a whole.”

5. They don’t know that even when people use assistive technology (AT) to go online, the websites still need to be compatible.

Some people use assistive technology to go online. For instance, many people with vision disabilities use screen readers to read out loud all the text on the page. Others use keyboard and mouse replacement tools for typing, instead of their hands. But some assistive devices only work if the websites themselves have been designed to be compatible. The screen reader is only able to describe the contents of an image if the web developer has included that descriptive text. Sip-and-puff technology will only allow the user to move around a web page if the page has been designed to be navigated by keyboard commands.

6. They haven’t learned that organizations also benefit from web accessibility.

There are all kinds of benefits to following web accessibility laws – not just for your online visitors and customers with disabilities, but for your own company. The features that make online content accessible to people with disabilities – larger touch targets, captioned videos, predictable layout – also make it easier and more efficient for people in general to use and interact with it. It’s especially useful in a variety of different environments – bright and dark, noisy and quiet – and it also helps the aging demographic. Accessible web content, because it is better organized and labelled, is also more easily found with online searches.

7. They don’t realize that web accessibility is achievable.

According to the most recent Screen Reader User Survey by the non-profit group WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), only about 40 percent of respondents believe web content has become more accessible in the past year. The same number believe it hasn’t changed, and almost one in five respondents actually believe it’s become worse. (People without disabilities were much more likely to say web accessibility has improved compared to people who actually have disabilities.)2

It may be daunting to hear that there are multiple types of barriers online. But there are many resources to help you comply with web accessibility laws, including online support materials, as well as partners who can work closely with you to help you achieve your goals.

Another interesting finding from the WebAIM survey: When asked which improvements would have more impact on access to the web – either better assistive technology or more accessible websites – 85 percent selected more accessible websites. WebAIM has asked this question repeatedly in its surveys, and has noticed a shift in expectations. “Over time, more respondents have answered ‘better web sites’ to this question,” the organization writes. “It certainly indicates that users expect site authors to address accessibility issues.”

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.

References

  1. Campaigns Blind Foundation, 2018
  2. Screen Reader User Survey #7 Results WebAIM, 2017

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