Understanding Web Accessibility and Its Impact on Your Business
Business owners should by now know that web accessibility is a smart business decision. And it’s not just because it’s the law. Or that you run the risk of an ADA compliance lawsuit if you don’t follow the accessibility guidelines. Accessible websites are beneficial for businesses because they can help you reach a wider range of customers AND boost the customer experience. Unfortunately, while many businesses comply with ADA guidelines when it comes to their physical stores and/or offices accessible, the same cannot be said for their website. And these days, web accessibility complaints and lawsuits are on the rise significantly. ADA compliance audits can help you to avoid those lawsuits.
What is Web Accessibility?
In the simplest terms, web accessibility is the idea that all websites and digital products should be designed in such a way that they can be used by anyone, regardless of their abilities. People with disabilities should find websites easy to navigate and the content within easy to consume. For example, those with hearing impairments would be unable to get information from a video on your website if there were no captions. Another example is if your website hosts PDFs, then you have to make sure that they are accessible with screen readers.
Web accessibility is important for businesses, big and small. When websites are designed according to accessibility guidelines, it ensures that people with disabilities can fully engage/interact with them. Interactions include consuming content, chatting with someones, and buying products/services online. Around 10% of all online spending is made by individuals with disabilities. Around 70% of these individuals will leave your website if it is difficult to use and go to a competitor. Aside from losing customers, websites that are not accessible can be subject to lawsuits. In 2019 alone, there were 2285 lawsuits filed related to ADA web accessibility. In short, your business has the potential to lose money (in more ways than one) if your website isn’t accessible to all.
What is ADA?
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a civil rights law that was created back in 1990. The law aims to protect the rights of Americans with disabilities and prevent them from getting discriminated. According to this law, disabled individuals should receive the same opportunities that everyone else does. This means that all entities such as government agencies, not-for-profit organizations, schools, restaurants, and all other public and private organizations such as your company needs to make sure that all your products and services are made available to these individuals.
What is Section 508?
Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act. It states that all agencies of the US Federal government need to ensure that their Electronic and Informational Technology (EIT) can be accessed by all individuals, specifically those with disabilities. It mandates that any information and communication technology that is acquired, developed, and used by an agency should be accessible to disabled individuals, whether they’re an employee or a member of the public. For example, ensuring that their word processing software is compatible with adaptive equipment.
What is WCAG?
WCAG is short for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This was written and approved by individuals and organizations across the globe using the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) process. It serves as the standards of web accessibility and used by various organizations as their guiding principles when designing their websites and digital tools. The latest widely accepted guidelines are WCAG 2.1 Level AA.
What is VPAT?
VPATs provided by an information and communication technology (ICT) vendor detailing how their product or service is compliant with Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973. With a VPAT, buyers are informed about the level of accessibility of a product or service as well as any potential deficiencies.
Domino’s Pizza Case
As we’ve mentioned before, a lack of web page accessibility can subject your company to a lawsuit, whether you’re big or small. Take Domino Pizza as an example. They lost in court to a blind plaintiff named Guillermo Robles in 2019. The man sued them because he was unable to order pizza online, both from their website and mobile app, because they weren’t compatible with screen reading software. This lawsuit set the tone for many other restaurants and businesses in other industries to become more inclusive.
Evaluating Web Accessibility
Enable keyboard navigation for web design
Some individuals cannot use a mouse to navigate a website. To ensure accessibility, you will need to design for keyboard access which enables a user to utilize all the functionalities of your website using his or her keyboard. For example, navigating the menu bar by pressing the Tab button.
Prioritize Text Clarity
Make sure that all individuals can clearly read the text on your website. To do this, you can resize your text and use color and contrast to provide clarity. Check the web accessibility guidelines for the appropriate size and contrast ratio that you should use.
Don’t rely exclusively on color
Some users are unable to distinguish color which can cause them some difficulty when interpreting information on your website. Use other cues such as meaningful labels and text in order to enable these users to more easily consume your information.
Order content in HTML for screen readers
Screen readers follow a linear order when “reading” content. This means that it reads your content based on how it is written in your source code. Make sure that any visual positioning done on your website to make it more appealing/attractive does not affect how the screen reader will read your code and how that information will be interpreted by the user.
Explanatory link text
When a screen reader reads a text with a link, it usually states “link” and then reads the text. For example, “link products.” You need to make sure that the explanatory link text on your website is descriptive enough that users will easily be able to distinguish that link from others on the same page. This is particularly helpful when users use the Tab button to skim content, jumping from one link to another.
Use a 40×40 pt. clickable area for touch controls
The web accessibility guidelines state that the clickable area for touch controls and pointer interaction is 44 × 44 CSS pixels. The recommended size ensures that all individuals, even those with limited dexterity can activate targets (i.e. buttons, anchor links) with ease, regardless of the size of the screen of their device.
Do not forget to Follow the accessibility checklist
Website accessibility covers a lot of ground and it can be easy to overlook one or more points. To ensure that your website and/or digital tools are compliant, create an accessibility checklist based on the WCAG 2.0 standards.
Web accessibility does not start and stop with your company’s website. You need to make sure that your emails are accessible as well. There are 285 million people across the globe who have visual impairments. Make sure that your emails are designed with them in mind. For example, ensuring that logical reading order is maintained which benefits people who use screen readers. Using heading elements in code, providing text alternatives for images, and featuring meaningful link text are just several other ways you can ensure email accessibility.
What is the Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement?
The Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement demonstrates to your users how committed you are to ensuring equal opportunity for all. The Accessibility Guide provides users with information on how they can use adaptive equipment in relation to the website and/or digital product/service. It also provides the user with information on temporary solutions if web accessibility has not been completely achieved. The Accessibility Statement, on the other hand, lets the user know the goals, policies, and actions that the company has made to be ADA compliant. It also serves as a feedback loop in case users have accessibility questions or concerns on the website.
Web accessibility is a benefit to us all. It may require a lot of time, effort, and money on your part. But the result is worth it – a digital world that everyone can enjoy.