Your website needs to be accessible to a range of potential users with disabilities, as part of your compliance with the American Disabilities Act. Failure to do so won't just limit your potential client base – it can also mean you're liable for legal damages as well.
As great as the Internet is for sharing information about your business, there's a fundamental drawback in the nature of how it works – it favors the sighted world.
Given that the primary interface between users and the Internet is a screen, obviously, it presupposes that the user has a certain quality of vision.
But what about users with limited, or no vision?
It's these kinds of concerns that the American Disabilities Act (ADA), and other similar legislation, aims to address…
The ADA (as well as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if the business or organization in question receives federal funding) requires governments at the state and local level to provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.
Especially when it comes to governmental organizations, websites have often become the primary way in which customers (i.e., citizens) access and use programs. Filing taxes, paying bills, renewing licenses, etc.
Much of it happens online, and the ADA dictates that it must be equally accessible to all users regardless of disability.
To start, don't overlook the fact that having a more accessible website opens up your business to more potential clients. The more accessible information about your products and service is, the better, right?
But that's not the only reason to have an accessible website. The fact is that only in the past year, the rate of lawsuits filed against businesses violating the ADA has risen drastically.
Close to 5,000 lawsuits were filed in the first half of 2018 alone. As more and more precedents are set, the more likely that these cases will be lucrative for plaintiffs and will be filed at a greater rate. Over the second half of 2018, there was a 20% increase in the rate of these lawsuits being filed – and not just against governmental organizations…
Even if you don't operate in the governmental sector, or receive federal funding, it's very likely that you're still subject to the ADA, or another form of accessibility standard. Even though the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 doesn't apply to non-governmental organizations, state or local laws often end up filling the same role.
For example, the ADA applies very broadly to organizations across the nation.
The ADA, according to the Department of Justice, requires any person, business or organization that is covered under the Act to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities. Furthermore, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have at this point become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility.
You may not be specifically required to be compliant, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't, or that you're protected from liability for failing to do so. It's important to follow up on a local and state level to determine if there are laws that apply to your website's accessibility.
WCAG is based on four principles of accessibility, from which its guidelines have been developed:
At its most basic, WCAG dictates a number of minimum standards, the implementation of which go a long way to addressing accessibility needs for users with disabilities.
These standards are:
Now, it may seem like a lot for you to have to take into account, especially if you have already paid for a website to be designed and hosted. But that doesn't mean you can't take steps right now to increase accessibility and protect yourself against a potential lawsuit.
You can work with an IT company that specializes in web design to evaluate your website and make the necessary changes to make sure that you're ADA compliant. Don't forget that, even if you were compliant when you built your website years ago, it's important to update your standards and undergo human testing to mitigate any changes in technology since then.
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