Wheelchair ramps alongside stairs, service animals allowed in restaurants, handicap spots in parking lots. These are probably the most noticeable examples of guidelines that came into play with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. When you think of the ADA, those are the types of things you think of: adjustments made to physical spaces in order to make it accessible to everyone. But what about the Internet?
The Internet Is For Everyone… Not Just Some
In an age when everything – from finding movie times (RIP Mr. Moviephone) to making car payments – happens online, it is more important than ever to think about how websites are built and if they are accessible to those with disabilities.
Just like a store, which should be built to accommodate everyone, so, too, should a website. How frustrated would you be if all you wanted to do was order a pizza, but you couldn’t? Not because the site wasn’t working, but because you could only work the website with a mouse (no keyboard tabbing), or the site reader couldn’t read the text on the graphics that were embedded in the site.
Did you know that around 20% (1/5) of the population has some form of disability? This doesn’t mean that the whole 20% could have problems using the web, but that could leave 5%, maybe 10%, of potential customers alienated from utilizing your services if your site is not ADA compliant. In some cases, this is not just unwise (I mean, why would you want to turn away potential customers??), but could also be against the law!
For example, this past June, Winn-Dixie grocery store was taken to court over an ADA Compliance matter. The plaintiff, who is blind and uses screen-reading software to access websites, was unable to download coupons, order prescriptions, and find store locations. Normally, these would be considered simple tasks, but for a non-ADA compliant site, they were impossible. The judge sided with the plaintiff in this case, forcing Winn-Dixie to redo their site, updating it to WGAC 2.0 AA guidelines.
Ok, we hear ya…but where do we start?
This is the time to have a conversation with your web team, agency or vendor. They should be able to let you know the compliance status of your website, and if they can’t, we suggest looking for someone who can ASAP.
Initial steps will likely include an audit of your website, including things like structure, design, content, and code, to determine how hard it would be to update what you currently have, or if you would need to start over. While that might put some of you into a panic, because I am guessing that a website redesign was NOT in this year’s (or next year’s) budget, it could be a lot cheaper in the long run than having to pay legal fees on top of a rushed redesign if you were taken to court.
In the end, think of an accessible, compliant website as a way to expand your reach to new customers in markets that you might not have thought about in the past. It could end up improving your bottom line, making your organization more profitable and user-friendly.
Introduction to Web Accessibility
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?