Before we get into the technicalities, what is website accessibility? Website accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to the internet regardless of hardware, location, age, language, or ability. Disabilities include motor, auditory, cognitive, neurological, and visual impairments. Online content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for the information to be considered accessible. We get it - it's a lot to take in!
Website accessibility can be a difficult topic to understand because there seems to be a million different answers everywhere you look regarding compliance standards. This is due to different regulations, guidelines, and conflicting precedent court cases. The government has certain requirements that must be met by agencies or those who receive federal funding such as parks, libraries, schools, etc. These requirements do not legally apply to private sector company websites. However, there are still loopholes that can hurt your business.
Americans with Disabilities Act Title III was passed in 1990 and prohibited discrimination based on disability in public places. Since it was initially put into place, there have been additions made that have more of an impact on private sector businesses as well as public ones. Some of the additional amendments that are related to web accessibility are Section 508 of the rehabilitation act and Title 41 U.S. Code 12181.
Section 508 was passed in 1998. This says that all federal websites must be accessible to all people, including those with disabilities. The goal of this was to create an equal opportunity to obtain information and use technology. This applies to all federal agencies and departments as well as any organization that receives federal funds. This does not apply to private sector websites.
Connected Government Act:
This act was passed in 2018 and is not related to ADA, however it adds on to previous legislation in requiring all new and redesigned federal websites to be mobile friendly. This means that they must be able to be navigated, viewed, and accessed on a smartphone, tablet, or similar mobile device. Some suggestions that they make in order to remain compliant is to create a mobile strategy, design the site for the user, pay attention to data, develop the site, and focus on performance.
Title 41 U.S. Code 12181This code was passed in May of 2014 and is similar to other public accommodation practices you may be more familiar with. This requires information to be readily achievable and applies to twelve categories of commerce. These categories include travel, trade, commerce, transportation, or communication. These are typically private sector companies that must meet certain standards because they are under the commerce section. While initially this was introduced as requirements for physical locations such as elevators or ramps, it is now being used to make cases against companies to make them improve their web accessibility.
Reed v. CVS Pharmacy was a case that drew attention from the web accessibility community. This court case took place in December of 2017 and was brought up to address if CVS had an app that was accessible to blind users. The question was if public accommodation referring to a physical place could include the online offerings under ADA. The ruling was that a place of public accommodation does not preclude challenging a business’ online offering. This establishes that there is a connection between the physical place and the website so both should be equally accessible to a potential user.
The number of court cases regarding web accessibility increased 177% from 2017 to 2018. The courts have done something to help protect businesses from this gray area. There is now a process in place where the plaintiff must file a formal complaint with the company and allow sixty days for the issue to be resolved. While this may seem like a reasonable amount of time, it depends on the size of your website and how much needs to be changed.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is a group that publishes The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are web accessibility best practices and the level of compliance that businesses should aim for. These guidelines are described in “tiers” where A is the least accessible, AA is semi accessible, and AAA is the most accessible. It is recommended that with each routine update efforts are made to improve the accessibility of the website. This is to prevent a business from having to completely update their website in the scenario that a complaint is filled against them.
Taking steps to update your business’ website to be more accessible is an important step to protect yourself against potential lawsuits. Falling behind on these compliance standards may be costly and could potentially cause you to lose customers and sales. If you are ready to start updating your website, contact Informatics!