Website Accessibility: Protect your business from the risk of lawsuit

Website Accessibility: Protect your business from the risk of lawsuit

Is your website fully accessible to people with disabilities? Probably not. Web accessibility may not be your business’s top priority right now, but you could be vulnerable to lawsuits or fines if your site does not comply with accessibility standards.

The post will discuss the accessibility laws in only Canada and the United States. You can find more information about the laws in different countries.

In Canada, the government of Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005 to set an accessibility standard in which no person with a disability is prevented from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability.1 This Act would benefit an estimated 3.8 million people, which is about 14 percent of the Canadian population.

In the United States, the Department of Justice signed the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) law in 1990. The law “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local government, goods and services provided by private companies and in commercial facilities”.2 This law would benefit an estimated 56.7 million people, which is about 19% of the American population.

What does this mean to you?

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” – Tim Berners-Lee

In Canada, the government could fine offenders up to $100,000 per day for not complying with the web accessibility standards. Learn more about how to comply with the act for private business.

In the USA, the requirements of website accessibility have caused confusion to business owners, and plaintiffs’ attorneys are capitalizing on this uncertainty. The confusion is due to the Department of Justice’s changing position on whether all websites should comply with the accessibility standards and its delay in setting the proper regulations.

To explain the situation further, the online accessibility requirements stated by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) only apply to stores that have a physical location and provide products or service to the public through their websites. As an example, Target was required to pay up to $6 million in damages for failing to abide by those requirements. However, in another instance, the law was applied to a business that did not have a physical location such as Netflix. Netflix was required to pay $800,000 in damages for noncompliance with the ADA.

Also, in 2010, the Department of Justice announced that it would issue separate sets of proposed accessibility regulations, but they have been delayed. In contradiction, the Department of Justice intervened in lawsuits as in the case with grocer PeaPod and the education course provider edXwhere it secured these companies’ agreements to adopt a set of guideline established by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) standard, level AA.

What is the WCAG standard?

The WCAG standard is designed to assist vision and hearing-impaired users through adaptive software and equipment, to quickly navigate through websites and understand the content of text, images, audio and video, and to conduct business by recognizing where to fill out forms.3

WCAG has four principles, each principle a set of guidelines totaling to 12 guidelines.

The four principles state that a website should be:

  • Perceivable: This principle is about making the output of web content available through multiple sensory modalities
  • Operable: This principle is about making the input methods of web content functionally accessible to a wide range of input devices
  • Understandable: This principle is about making content and interfaces that people can comprehend.
  • Robust: This principle is about ensuring compatibility with a broad range of user agents, including assistive technologies

Myths about website accessibility

“Accessibility is not a feature, is a social trend.” ― Antonio Santos

Now, let’s look at the common myths about website accessibility.

Myth: Accessible websites are ugly and boring.

Truth: You can have highly interactive, beautiful, media-rich, engaging AND accessible website.  An interactive, accessible website could be achieved by the use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). ARIA is an API for communicating information to screen readers.

Myth: Automation evaluation tools are enough.

Truth: Automation assessment tools only catch one-third of accessibility issues.

Myth: Making a website accessible does not have any additional benefits.

Truth: Making a website accessible helps with SEO and increases interoperability.

What should be your next steps?

“When speaking of disabilities, the blind and their needs are most often used as an example. It is deceivingly simplistic since accessibility is something most of the population can benefit from.” ― Marcus Österberg

The following actions would reduce your business’s risks to get sued or fined:

  • Understand different types of disabilities and how assistive technologies help.
  • Review the WCAG 2.0 checklist.
  • If your website is already implemented, hire a consultant to audit it. Based on the results, you can put a plan for implementing changes that will make your site more accessible.
  • If you are building a new website, include accessibility in your contract with your web developer.

This post was originally published by the author on LinkedIn.

 


 

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References:

1 AODA Compliance & Canadian Web Accessibility Standards.” Retrieved from <http://www.3playmedia.com/2016/06/03/aoda-compliance-a-primer-on-canadian-access

2 Legal Information – OTOjOY. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://otojoy.com/loopsandiego.org/legal-information.html

3 Looming ADA website rules could take businesses by … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/small-business/fl-ada-website-accessibility