Instituted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put into law as a way to ensure equitable public access to every American regardless of disability.
This was primarily directed at businesses and organizations who served the public, meaning that any non-residential entity should make strides to “reasonably accommodate” the common citizen. This included wheelchair ramps, Braille on public signs and ATMs, and more.
Though the directive was pretty clear to organizations about how they could create equitable access to their physical space, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding websites. As more people around the world access websites as part of their normal day-to-day activities, the case for calling these virtual spaces “public accommodations” becomes stronger.
In fact, in 2017 there was a landmark lawsuit against Winn-Dixie (a large grocery chain in the U.S.) that sided with the plaintiff, stating that the retailer violated the ADA by not making their website accessible to the visually-impaired.
Because the grocery store required its customers to utilize their website to take advantage of their promotions and offers, the court declared that the company must update their website in accordance to the ADA and provide equitable access to all their customers.
And the lawsuits don’t stop there. As more businesses are investing in their online presence, they are overlooking their underserved customers and leaving them behind. This is leading to more lawsuits every year, and people are starting to take notice.
What can a business do to protect itself?
While it may be unlikely that a small business website would be subject to a lawsuit, it’s easy to see a chain reaction forming after the case against Winn-Dixie. The future is changing fast, and you’d be remiss not to stay ahead of those changes.
The World Wide Web Consortium (abbreviated W3C) was created in 1994 to serve as an international group to help create standards and serve as an open forum regarding issues surrounding the Web.
Seeing a need to help serve the underserved, they developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) through a subdivision called Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) that creates guidelines for web developers and organizations around the world on how they can create an online experience that supports all people, regardless of their disability.
It has gone through many years of iterations, learning from lawsuits, and working with disability communities, to publish several documents containing almost 40 different “success criteria” for businesses looking to streamline their online experience.
It’s important to remember that the goal of these guidelines isn’t to simply confuse organizations, or grant special privileges to the underserved. Rather, it’s to provide us with information on how we can create an online environment that can be easily experienced by all people. And that just ends up being good for business, anyway!
What can I do now to elevate my site?
While the guidelines can be expansive and at times confusing, there are some things that you can do to your site right now that will help immediately:
- Your website must be mobile-friendly. This means that whether a user is visiting the site from a desktop computer or a mobile device, they should be able to access all your information easily.
- If you have video content, you should ensure that the audio controls are functioning, and that you have closed captioning for hard-of-hearing users.
- Your text, especially those mentioning promotions, should have the appropriate color contrast to your background. A higher contrast makes it easier for people to read. For instance, a white text on a light gray background would be a poor choice!
- Your website images should have alt text and description tags, so that if the images do not load, or if a user is using technology that reads the page to them, then it’ll be easy to determine what the image is about.
- Your hyperlinks must be labeled, or the intent of the link should be clear to the user.
There is so much more that goes into ensuring a website is ADA compliant. Many web agencies now, like ours, have spent hours reading over the legal documents and guidelines to understand more about creating an online experience that accommodates all people with disabilities.
If you have questions about your website or online marketing, we can help. Call (800) 764-8528 or click here to schedule your free consultation today.