Why You Need to Pay Attention to Web Accessibility Now

January 26, 2016

By Roland Campbell, Director Solutions Engineering

About two and a half years ago, the US Department of Transportation mandated that all airlines that are either based in the US or land planes with more than 60 passengers had to make their main transactional flows accessible to people with disabilities.  The initial deadline was December 2015, which was extended to end June 2016.  Some airlines jumped on the task, others procrastinated. Meanwhile, some retailers and companies like Target, H&R Block and others have been sued for not having accessible websites.  These events have driven accessibility back into the news and e-commerce managers’ minds. 

Having an accessible website is the right thing to do, regardless of the law, and the law itself is not yet clear.  The law covers “places of public accommodation” which include (but are not limited to) restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, retail stores, shopping malls, dry cleaners, laundromats, pharmacies, doctors' offices, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusement parks, private schools, day care centers, health spa and bowling alleys. It has not yet been clarified whether digital properties, which didn’t exist when the laws were passed, are included as a “place”. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun to treat those digital properties as if they were always covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), titles II and III. They have even intervened in lawsuits, (e.g., here, here, and here), reinforcing that position. One of the reasons the law is not clear is that defendants almost universally settle the lawsuits, so the courts haven’t had the opportunity to rule. So if you are a “public accommodation” or might be, you should probably have accessibility on your radar.

Where to Start

So, you have decided to act on web accessibility. You should aim for meeting the WCAG 2.0 AA standard on your website.  Your developers probably don’t know the web accessibility standards, http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag, nor do they know how to make a website meet that standard. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • The first thing you should do, is to run your site through one of the accessibility testing tools.  Likely, it will fail miserably. Don’t be surprised if some color combinations you have used for years don’t meet contrast rules. 
  • Unless you have experienced people in house, you probably should consider a partner who is.  Accessibility consultants can help you design and implement the required changes.   They can perform audits that will pick up the things the automated tools missed, plus give advice on how to remediate the problems discovered.
  • Your QA team will need training and tools to test, or you can outsource that responsibility to your accessibility partner. 

Things to Consider

Understand that to make a website accessible and to continue to meet the accessibility standards will add effort to every development project you take on for your digital properties, increasing time to market. You may also find that the WCAG standard constricts how you implement functionality, javascript-heavy implementations can be very difficult to make conform.  Another choice you can make is to build, or have built, an alternative conforming site that disabled users can use.  These sites are specifically designed to help disabled users navigate your website, allowing you to serve their needs without many changes to your full site.  This does not let your full site off the hook.  You should still do the basics of accessibility, e.g. adding alternate text to all images and close captioning or providing a text description of any videos that are required to use or learn how to use your site. 

Beware of vendors who say they will certify your site as meeting the standard.  There is no certification that is recognized by anyone, and that certification would only be valid until you put the first patch on the site.  Choose a vendor with documented experience in the field of web accessibility and contract with them to do periodic audits.  While the results of the audit are not binding, they do show your intentions of providing for the needs of everyone. 

View all of our products and services for web accessibility here.

Further explore our web accessibility blogs and whitepapers here

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