Accessibility & Title III: Making Websites Work for Everyone

Most places we frequent in the world tend to have accessibility options for those that need special accommodation: ramps, braille, auditory cues for crossing the street, the list goes on. These are also common place practices; accessibility is usually a consideration before anything public facing is created.

Modern living requires people to navigate the near infinite throes of the internet, but not everyone has the same ability in terms of interacting with online spaces. That’s where online accessibility comes in to even the playing field for those that have impairment in vision, hearing, mobility, cognition and more.

a11y – short for the web accessibility movement – is a community driven effort in spreading awareness of online inclusivity for all and acts as a resource for making that a reality. The Netflix Closed Captioning case brought up by NAD (The National Association of the Deaf) in 2012 was the first step in determining that Title III, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), applied to public-facing online spaces. This also spurned interest and brought attention to a very real issue that many around the globe faced regularly.

In January of 2018, Title III of the ADA was extended into the online sphere, mandating that “places of public accommodation” are required by law to remove any “access barriers” that would inhibit a person with disabilities from accessing a business’ services or goods. As a federal law, this not to be taken lightly.

Now that companies must conduct a pass for accessibility to their website(s), how is that measured? Fortunately, WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)  has a good list of tools to ensure that websites are within the sweet spot for accessibility. There are four principles to be considered when making a website ADA compliant:

  • Perceivable – Content can be viewed in multiple formats and is easy to interact with regardless of disability.
  • Operable – Navigation is smooth regardless of method, and users can access everything without running into limited functionality.
  • Understandable – The website has predictable elements, corrects user error, and navigation is consistent.
  • Robust – Content should function well and as-intended with many assistive technologies.

A website’s accessibility is scored on how well it follows the above criteria. For example, ease of use when using a screen reader, correctly tagged objects and clear paths for traversing the site with acceptable color contrast are weighed when websites are assessed.

In the U.S., disability rights cases are complaint-driven. If any page or section of a website doesn’t meet the success criteria of the WCAG, complaints have weight.  The cost of defending an accessibility lawsuit would likely exceed the cost of adapting a website to fit WCAG standards. And, if a company were to lose in court, they would have to make their website accessible anyway on top of any applicable fines.

Beyond helping impaired folks have an easier time online, 2018 alone has seen 7,663 ADA Title III lawsuits with 1053 of those being for websites specifically. It’s a growing issue and legal action against companies ignoring this has been spiking recently. It’s a costly risk for companies that’s not worth sweeping under the rug.

Here at Rebuild, we’ve been proactive in this space for our clients and have hosted multiple internal meetings to get everyone up to speed. Adapting current websites and creating new ones with a11y in mind is not as daunting as it may seem. Websites built from the ground up with a11y and the WCAG as key design elements do not take significantly longer to create.

Building and retrofitting websites with a11y in mind also means more opportunities for engagement. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over a billion people have some type of disability. Making online interactions easier means more chances for consumers willing to purchase goods and services.

In fact, it’s a net boon to everyone that accesses the site, regardless of ability. Average users will have to deal with less things like bad contrast, illegible font sizes and clunky navigation that may appear as minor annoyances but are bigger hurdles for those that are impaired.

It’s also important to mention that adopting a11y is not a website checkbox nor is it a “fire-and-forget” scenario. Companies should be regularly auditing their clients’ online presence as well as their own. This is especially true when changes are made to existing sites as new elements may decrease overall accessibility.

In short, website accessibility can be common place if we all design online experiences with a11y in mind. Efforts in doing this not only include more people, but it also opens new avenues to revenue.