More than one out of every four Americans is affected by some sort of disability that compromises their ability to carry out the routine activities of daily life in one or more ways.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) stipulates that website owners must design online content in a way that makes allowances for any access issues a disabled person may encounter when attempting to utilize that site.
Following that legislation, the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). These guidelines are a list of recommendations for making online content more accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Business owners who don’t design for device access or provide equivalent alternatives for visual and auditory content are breaking the law. Just as significantly, though, they are denying themselves an opportunity to leverage a potential market that comprises approximately 61 million Americans.
What Are Disabilities?
The CDC classifies disabilities into six basic categories:
• Independent living
While the ADA has no specific language pertaining to website accessibility, courts have interpreted two of its provisions as relating to online content:
• Title II enjoins state and local governments from discriminating on the basis of disability while Title III disallows disability-based discrimination in places of public accommodation.
• Title III describes private business offerings such restaurants, theaters, hotels and offices. Since a business’s website may also be defined as “a place of public accommodation,” websites must comply with ADA stipulations.
The WCAG 2.1’s recommendations for accommodating Americans with disabilities include suggestions about keyboard functionality, text alternatives for people with visual or cognitive disabilities, and predictable navigation that will be recognized by assistive technologies. These guidelines also caution against designing content in a way that may trigger seizures.
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Many businesses do not comply with ADA and WAI stipulations either because they remain unaware of their importance or because the businesses wrongly believe these guidelines don’t apply to them. However, if your website has accessibility problems, the result can be financially devastating to your business.
Compliance lawsuits are on the rise. In an article published in late 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported that by June of that year, nearly 5,000 lawsuits had been filed in California alleging ADA website violations.
The Avant Hotel found itself particularly hard hit by user-driven lawsuits, which alleged that individuals with vision and hearing impairments were unable to use the hotel’s website.
In fact, 2018 saw a 181 percent increase in user-driven ADA lawsuits over 2017. According to experts, such lawsuits can cost businesses as much as $20,000 if they are settled out of court.
Many people dismiss this proliferation of ADA-related litigation as a form of legal extortion rather than as a fight for civil rights. One visually impaired woman has filed 175 website compliance lawsuits against businesses in all parts of the United States.
Twenty thousand dollars is cheaper than the amount that businesses may typically end up paying if they decide to fight these lawsuits in court. Litigation is not only expensive, but it also incurs opportunity costs since legal proceedings siphon time and energy from operating a business.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, there’s a very good chance that a significant portion of your customer base is affected by some sort of disability, as referenced in the ADA. After all, 26 percent of Americans fall into this category.
A noncompliance lawsuit will bring your business unwanted publicity, and this could stigmatize your brand in the eyes of customers and prospective customers who live with disabilities. The result may be permanent damage to your brand.
One in four Americans has a disability, so there are high chances that some of your website users have special needs. When such information gets to the public domain, the damage that your brand sustains can be nearly irreparable. By alienating this portion of your audience, you risk permanent damage to your brand
According to the multinational cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, it can cost a typical small business approximately $8000 to repair a damaged brand. That amount can soar to $200,000 for larger enterprises. The process involves a great deal of time as well
There are several ways that you can check to see if your website complies with ADA and WCAG 2.1 standards. Organizations like the Bureau of Internet Accessibility specialize in internet accessibility and offer a number of free resources to point you toward the right path for accessibility compliance. You can also get a free website audit to find out if your website has accessibility bottlenecks.
Once you’ve identified areas of noncompliance, there are many experienced compliance companies that will be able to solve your website accessibility problems efficiently and cost-effectively.
There are also many other advantages to ADA compliance. One of the best benefits? Websites that rate high on accessibility features tend to achieve more favorable rankings on Google. Google, as all website developers know, uses information gleaned from title tags, hierarchical heading structures, descriptive meta-language and the like and these are exactly the types of areas that a good website compliance company will focus upon.
A well-formatted structure allows Google to immediately zero in on the essential ADA-friendly features on your site. Google’s algorithms can recognize that this website will be extremely accessible to individuals who are using assisted technology to filter the content on their screen. Google and other search engines may go so far as to downgrade page rankings when their algorithms deem that the website’s meta-content signals a lack of accessibility.
If this happens to your business, you’ll lose access to an untold number of prospective customers, and your business rivals with more compliant websites will gain a huge competitive edge. Never forget that easy access is what a huge portion of your potential customers are looking for.
The Bottom Line
Compliance to accessibility standards makes business sense. Failure to pay attention to your website or willful noncompliance can also be expensive. A displeased customer may decide to file a lawsuit, and the consequences range from fines to brand damage.
Website inaccessibility also costs you customers and opportunities, as those with disabilities cannot use your site. Inaccessibility can damage your business’ SEO ranking, which is a huge marketing mistake.
Your website will lose none of its eye-catching appeal or user-friendliness if you accommodate people with disabilities through its design and functionality. And you stand to gain an entirely new subset of customers.
Blair Nicole is the CEO and founder of Media Moguls PR.