A Legal Wake-Up Call: The Risks of Ignoring Website Accessibility Standards

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Having a website is essential for any business or organization. However, many are unaware of the legal requirements for website accessibility. It is not just about creating a visually appealing website but also ensuring it is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities. Failure to comply with website accessibility standards can result in legal consequences, including lawsuits and fines. In this article, we will explore the risks of ignoring website accessibility standards and the impact they can have on your business or organization. It's time for a wake-up call to take action and ensure that your website is accessible to all.

What are website accessibility standards?

Website accessibility ensures that people with disabilities can use and navigate a website. This includes people with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive disabilities. Accessibility standards are guidelines that provide a framework for creating accessible websites. The most widely recognized accessibility standards are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WCAG guidelines provide a set of criteria that websites must meet to ensure that all users can access the content. For example, the guidelines require websites to have clear and consistent navigation, alternative text for images, and video captions. The guidelines also require websites to ensure that the content is compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers, which help visually impaired users to navigate the website.

Failure to comply with website accessibility standards can result in legal consequences. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses and organizations that provide goods and services to the public to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. Failure to comply with the ADA can result in lawsuits and hefty fines.

In Ontario, Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), a provincial law, requires businesses to be developing, implement and enforce accessibility standards to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities concerning goods, services, facilities, accommodations, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025.

In recent years, there has been a surge in lawsuits related to website accessibility. In 2018, there were 2,258 website accessibility lawsuits filed in the US alone, a 177% increase from the previous year. The majority of these lawsuits were filed against small and medium-sized businesses. The suits typically allege that the website is not accessible to people with disabilities and violates the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, and public accommodations. The law was enacted in 1990 and has been amended several times. In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued regulations that require businesses and organizations to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities.

The DOJ has not yet issued specific guidelines for website accessibility, but it has endorsed the WCAG guidelines as the standard for website accessibility. The DOJ has also clarified that failing to comply with the WCAG guidelines can violate the ADA.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile lawsuits related to website accessibility. In 2019, Domino's Pizza was sued by a blind man who alleged that Domino's website and mobile app were not accessible to him. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, allowing the lower court ruling to stand. The lower court had ruled that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps and that Domino's website and mobile app were not accessible to the plaintiff.

In another case, the clothing retailer Forever 21 was sued by a visually impaired woman who alleged that the Forever 21 website was not accessible to her. The case was settled out of court, with Forever 21 agreeing to make its website accessible and pay damages to the plaintiff.

How to make your website accessible

Ensuring website accessibility requires a combination of design, development, and testing. Here are some steps you can take to make your website accessible:

1. Use clear and consistent navigation: Ensure the website has clear and consistent navigation that is easy for all users. Provide alternative ways to navigate the website, such as a sitemap or search function.

2. Use alternative text for images: Provide alternative text that describes the image's content. This helps visually impaired users to understand the content of the website.

3. Use captions for videos: Provide captions for videos to ensure that the content is accessible to users who are deaf or hard of hearing.

4. Ensure compatibility with assistive technologies: Ensure the website is compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice recognition software.

5. Conduct accessibility testing: Conduct regular accessibility testing to ensure the website meets the WCAG guidelines. There are several tools and resources available for accessibility testing, including the WAVE tool and the AChecker tool.

Tools and resources for website accessibility testing

There are several tools and resources available for website accessibility testing. Here are some of the most widely used tools:

1. Level Access tool: The AChecker tool is a free web accessibility evaluation tool developed by the Inclusive Design Research Centre. It provides detailed reports on the accessibility of a website, including recommendations for improvement.

2. Accessibility Insights: Accessibility Insights is a free tool developed by Microsoft that helps developers and testers identify accessibility issues in their websites. It provides detailed reports on the accessibility of a website, including recommendations for improvement.

Benefits of website accessibility

Ensuring website accessibility has several benefits, including:

1. Increased customer base: By making your website accessible, you can reach a more extensive customer base, including people with disabilities.

2. Improved user experience: A website accessible to all users provides a better user experience.

3. Legal compliance: Ensuring website accessibility helps you comply with the ADA and avoid lawsuits and fines.

4. Improved search engine optimization (SEO): Websites that are accessible are more likely to be ranked higher in search engine results, improving SEO.

The Future of website accessibility

Website accessibility is becoming increasingly important as more businesses and organizations move online. With the rise in website accessibility lawsuits, businesses and organizations must ensure their websites are accessible to all users. The WCAG guidelines are likely to become the standard for website accessibility, and more tools and resources will become available to help businesses and organizations ensure website accessibility.

Conclusion

In conclusion, ensuring website accessibility is the right thing to do and a legal requirement. Failure to comply with website accessibility standards can result in lawsuits and hefty fines. By following the WCAG guidelines and conducting regular accessibility testing, businesses and organizations can ensure their websites are accessible to all users. Ensuring website accessibility has several benefits, including an increased customer base, improved user experience, legal compliance, and improved SEO. It's time for a wake-up call to take action and ensure that your website is accessible to all.

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