Your website is one of the most important tools your business has for growing online but is it considered accessible to everyone?
Many people think that having an ADA-accessible business is only for their brick-and-mortar locations, but it applies to your website too. Below, we will explain why it is important to incorporate website accessibility into your website.
Why is accessibility important?
First impressions are important, and these days, the first impression that most potential customers will have of your business is your website; even if you have a physical location, they will probably find you online first. If your site is not accessible, the impression you might be making is that your site isn’t meant for a disabled person, or you don’t care if your visitor has a disability. But we know that most times business owners have no idea that their website should conform to accessibility guidelines. Once the user realizes they cannot fully interact with your site, they will likely return to the search results and find one of your competitors whose site is accessible to do business with instead.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were designed to inform and help businesses make their websites more accessible. The WCAG explains in great detail what someone with disabilities may need in order to use your website and how to accommodate them. These guidelines include ensuring that color contrast is sufficient enough for someone with colorblindness to read the text; using alt text on images to make them compatible with screen readers for levels of blindness; adding captions to videos so someone with hearing impairments can still enjoy the content; and making sure your site can be navigated with a keyboard just as well as it can be with a mouse.
Why is ADA compliance for websites unclear?
The Americans With Disabilities Act was created in 1990 when the internet was still in its infancy, so it was not something that they considered including in the legislation. At the time, the focus was on making sure a public-facing business was wheelchair accessible, adding Braille, disabled parking spots, and other things that only affected physical businesses.
Since websites are not explicitly included in the ADA, it has left many business owners unsure if they need to make their websites more accessible. However, there have been many lawsuits in recent years for websites that were not accessible, so the courts have essentially ruled that all websites are factored into Title III under the public accommodation section.
Why make my site ADA accessible?
The biggest reason to make a website accessible is because it is the right thing to do. But the reason why most businesses end up making their website accessible is to avoid litigation. We encourage clients who are in the planning stage of adding accessibility to their websites to include an accessibility policy with contact information for users to reach out if they encounter an accessibility issue. This shows a good faith effort and lets your user (and attorneys) know that you care and are actively working towards compliance standards.
Making your website more accessible will also improve your search engine optimization (SEO) and can help your site rank higher in search engines. Google is now including user experience as a factor in rankings, and that includes having an accessible website. Improving your SEO will help you increase your audience and customer base too. Plus, if your competitors are not making accessibility a priority, you will attract the customers they are losing who are unable to use their website.
What WCAG level within should my website conform to?
There are three levels of WCAG that a business can meet: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the easiest to meet and it does not do too much to impact the design of your website.
Level AA is the WCAG level that most web design teams will strive to meet because it is the level that sites are usually legally required to meet.
Level AAA is more complex but achieves the highest level of conformance/
What kinds of businesses need to be ADA Compliant?
According to Title III of the ADA, there are 12 categories of businesses that have been ruled as places of public accommodation that are required to be compliant. Websites have been ruled by the legal system, in many cases, as places of public accommodation and, as such, are required to be compliant. It is safe to say, if your business requires ADA compliance, your website should also confirm.
But there are other industries doing business online where conforming to the WCAG guidelines is crucial!
If you are in any of these industries, you need to have a compliant website:
- eCommerce: users with disabilities need to be able to check out. Many lawsuits involve users who were unable to complete purchases.
- Healthcare and wellness: users need to be able to access and interact with your scheduler.
- Hospitality: food, beverages, accommodations, and hotels or lodging.
- Security: this includes IT and online security.
- Non-profits: if they are backed by other non-profit organizations (NPO) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or if they accept any funding from any kind of governmental source.
- Governmental organizations: federal organizations especially must be accessible per Section 508.
- Educational programs: If the program receives federal funding from the US Department of Education. This is because of Section 504, a federal disability law.
Failure to comply can end hefty fines or even a lawsuit.
What can happen if my website is not accessible?
In the last few years, we have seen a drastic increase in lawsuits where disabled people were unable to access a business’ website because it was not following the guidelines set up by WCAG. In 2021, there were 4,055 ADA cases against websites or mobile apps, averaging about ten cases per day! This was a 15 percent increase from the 3,503 cases filed in 2020. Of these 4,055 cases, 74 percent of them were targeting eCommerce businesses. If a court case finds you in violation of ADA compliance on your website, you may end up fined $55,000 for the first ADA violation, and subsequent violations can cost you $110,000. With cases increasing so rapidly, it is vital that a business invest in making their website more accessible before they find themselves the target of a lawsuit.
Famous ADA Lawsuits
There have been some major businesses sued in the last few years for not being accessible.
In 2006, Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind because its site was not accessible for the blind. Target settled the lawsuit in 2008 for $6 million, and they had to make their site accessible. The company also had to agree to let the National Federation of the Blind monitor the site’s accessibility for the next three years, and they trained the web development team.
Netflix was sued in 2012 by the National Association of the Deaf for not having good closed captioning for its streamed content. This was when Netflix was the only big streaming service, so there was no option to just switch services, making the inaccessibility a huge deal. The courts ruled in favor of the National Association of the Deaf, and Netflix was given two years to caption its video library and keep captioning any future content. The streaming service also had to pay the National Association of the Deaf $755,000 for damages and legal fees.
Domino’s Pizza was sued in 2019 because a man was unable to order food from their app or website while using a screen reader; the man won the case. This case set a wider precedence for all websites needing to be accessible.
And even Beyonce!
Beyonce’s company, Parkwood Entertainment, was sued over not having alt-text in many of the important photos on Beyonce’s official website, making it so that visually impaired people using screen readers, so they could not purchase things or browse the website. It also was not accessible using keyboard navigation.
Think this can’t happen to your small business?
Think again. Along with acupuncture clinics being served with lawsuits, there are many other small businesses that are targets for non-compliance. Small business owners may not think about including accessibility when they have their websites designed, which is a problem since they are often the targets of these accessibility lawsuits. Businesses of all sizes are being hit with accessibility lawsuits. Getting your site to conform to ADA guidelines should be a priority before you find yourself the target of a lawsuit is crucial to a small business.
Do you know if your business website is accessible? If you want an audit to find out, contact Simplified Website Design today to get started! We are the experts in helping websites follow the WCAG, making them more accessible for everyone.