By Josef Pevsner
Web Accessibility is a bit of a buzzword in tech, but it is a very meaningful concept for millions of users living with disabilities who experience daily challenges in accessing all the benefits of a digital world. While most companies recognize the need for a website to reach their customers, most do not invest to ensure their website meet web accessibility standards and laws that govern web accessibility. These standards did not really exist in a modern form until 2008, when the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) were published. Further, WCAG 2.0 wasn’t accepted internationally until 2012.
Recently, web accessibility has become hot topic in light of proposed legislative changes, ramped up litigation, and the constantly increasing uses for the internet. Advocacy groups have taken a stand, DOJ courts have established that they will rule against companies with websites that are not accessible, the legal powers that be have begun stirring, and big companies have taken notice. Finally, near the close of 2015, it seems as though web accessibility is transitioning from a specialty issue, to the de facto expectation for organizations in the US.
So let’s say you’re a Fortune 500 company with an online presence – why should you put web accessibility on your 2016 roadmap? There are three compelling considerations to find an optimal approach.
First, there’s the Risk Mitigation approach
Since the landmark 2006 lawsuit against Target, in which the National Federation of the Blind was eventually awarded $9.7 Million in damages, a plethora of other legal actions have been filed regarding not accessible websites. Huge cases have sprung up claiming that companies that don’t provide accessible websites are violating the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) agrees. In lawsuits against organizations in virtually every industry, from education to retail (Reebok), hospitality (Red Roof Inn), sports (NBA), entertainment (Netflix), and beyond, the DOJ has openly stated their opinion that inaccessible website content is grounds for violating Title III of the ADA.
Second, there’s the Legislative Preparation approach
In 2010, the DOJ published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) charting expected proposed changes to the ADA to cover web accessibility in depth, according to WCAG 2.0 standards. Then in 2013, the Department of Transportation issued its own NPRM, enforcing the WCAG 2.0 AA level standards to US based or bound airlines. These 2 major actions (along with a few others) have ushered in a new legislative approach to web accessibility, and those pushing for the changes are relentless. In a letter addressed to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) earlier this month, 9 US Senators stressed the need to update the outdated laws governing accessible information and communication technology (ICT). With expected updates to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and ADA forthcoming, companies outside of airlines need to prepare for compliance now. Industries such as healthcare, banking and utilities will likely be early adopters, given the ubiquitous nature of online transactions in these verticals.
Third, there’s the Customer-Centric approach
Put simply, for some companies, the idea of creating an experience that is both accessible and usable for all people is paramount, largely because of the tangible ROI. In 2003, Amtrak decided to turn their early digital experiences into accessible ones, because they knew it was the right thing to do. Often the leaders in other measures of corporate social responsibility, these companies have spent money and time for this seemingly profitless purpose, and have reaped the benefits in more than just one way. Companies like IBM, who have been leaders in making accessible ICT since the 90’s have proven that this initiative not only bolsters your reputation and brand, but can also affect the bottom line in a big way.
I like to say that accessibility isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. It certainly is not the case that you can stop worrying about it once your site is web accessible! You build your site with accessibility in mind, and you strive to constantly improve access and usability for your disabled users. It is increasingly likely that all companies will have to embark on their own accessibility journey in the near future. The changes we’ve already seen in the airline industry have been far-reaching and largely successful. Other legislation is imminent, and on the minds of everyone involved. We are seeing the start of a shift in thought, during which leading brands will be proactive and not wait for mandates or legislation. Whether for fear of lawsuits, anticipation of changing laws, return on investment, or just for the sake of doing the right thing, we here at Usablenet recommend that successful companies add accessibility to their 2016 roadmap.
View all of our Web Accessibility products and services here.
Also, read our blog on why every web site needs an accessibility audit.