George W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. At that time, the letters ‘WWW’ were not yet born and the web as we know it was still decades away from the ubiquitous engine of our economy that it is today. Back then, the most critical improvements for individuals with disabilities were developed in physical places and spaces. However, as businesses of all kinds evolved to create virtual ‘front doors’ on the internet, they did not carry the lessons of equitable access to their websites and frankly, the law did not compel them to do so.
As is often the case, Washington is slow to keep up to date with technological innovation and the ADA of 1990 is no exception. The law does not explicitly require businesses to have ADA compliant websites, but increasingly, lawyers and judges are coming around to the idea that virtual access is just as important as physical access for businesses. The primary vehicle driving these decisions within the ADA is Title III. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation to comply with the ADA Standards. Federal lawsuits using the Title III statute alleging discriminatory practices on the web-based have soared upward in recent years. According to legal watchdog groups, there were 814 such lawsuits and through November of 2019, that number had risen to 10,206. The highest-profile case recently was that of Domino’s Pizza where a blind customer alleged that they could not order a pizza online using their screen reader software. A federal court agreed and the Supreme Court decided not to hear Domino’s appeal.
CEOs are beginning to take heed. whether it’s due to an abundance of caution or overall risk aversion, steps are being taken to retrofit their existing websites for accessibility. That is one approach to take, but there are sound business cases to make for ensuring web and mobile applications are accessible to all consumers, employees and the public from the beginning.
- Drive Innovation: Accessibility features in products and services often solve unanticipated problems.
- Innovations like the typewriter, telephone, punch cards, text to speech, email, and voice controls were initially meant to include those with a disability, and all have found a much broader application in the marketplace.
- Enhance Your Brand: Diversity and inclusion efforts, which are important to most brands on their own, are accelerated when users engage with a clear, well-integrated accessibility commitment.
- Extend Market Reach: The global market of people with disabilities is over 1 billion people with a spending power of more than $6 trillion. Accessibility often improves the online experience for all users.
- Minimize Legal Risk: Many countries have laws requiring digital accessibility, and the issue is of increased legal concern.
As a CEO myself, who has built his business around the belief that information is a human right and that all business should start with digital inclusion at the forefront of their online presence, especially to maximize their market reach, I do understand that this isn’t always practical in the immediate term.
For those who want to ensure they are on the right side of the law moving forward, it’s important that they look at these facets:
- Perceivable: Information must be presented in a way that users can effectively interpret. Examples include presenting a video with captions, using text alternatives or appropriate color contrasting.
- Operable: User interface components must be navigable, functional and practical. Examples include ensuring one can use a keyboard throughout the site or creating multiple ways to navigate on a page.
- Understandable: Information that is presented should be predictable and readable. Examples include appropriate reading levels and consistency throughout the page.
- Robust: Content on the site must be thoughtful enough to interface with a range of user agents now and in the future as well as assistive technologies. Examples include consistently using unique tags and labels throughout the site.
There is so much that goes into making or retrofitting a site for digital accessibility, and as is often the case, the practices listed above are best practices for building a website or mobile app regardless of accessibility. It just happens that when the right thing is done, it’s the best thing too. Tamman is happy to support any business with a documented audit that they can share with their IT teams or have Tamman build out solutions. Whether you’re risk-averse or convinced of an accessible website.