Everyone is welcome. That’s what you try to tell all your customers. But are they really? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted back in 1990, but a lot of businesses still fail to ensure their compliance with this law. In fact, there were actually 6,601 ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court in 2016 – a 37% increase from the year before. According to the CDC, 26% of all adults in the US have some type of disability. That’s 61 million people who may not be able to access a product or a service that a lot of us take for granted.
ADA Compliance and Website Accessibility
Let’s say you’ve already gone to great lengths to ensure that the disabled can have physical access to your store, enabling them to enjoy your products and/or services. That’s great! However, ADA compliance does not stop with the physical environment. In September 2010, the Department of Justice created the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. According to these standards, all electronic and information technology must be accessible to all, including people with disabilities. This means that your website or digital tools should provide individuals with disabilities an online experience that works well for them; your digital property should in no way discriminate against them.
Because we now live in a digital world, we must make sure that it is a world that is accessible to all. This means that your website, app, and/or software can be used by all, even those who are sight or hearing impaired, or those whose physical limitations may prevent them from accessing information from your company online.
Unfortunately, website accessibility is not always top priority among companies, even the major ones like Amazon, Ace Hardware, Nike, and Netflix. In 2018, there were 2285 lawsuits filed related to ADA web accessibility. That’s not including the thousands of letters of complaints sent by individuals to businesses regarding accessibility, specifically their lack of website accessibility.
Lawsuits aren’t the only consequence your business will be facing if you’re non-compliant. Another consequence is that you’ll also lose potential income. According to the organization eSSENTIAL Accessibility, 10% of total online spending comes from customers with disabilities. 70% of them will leave your website if they find it difficult to use and 9 out of 10 won’t even bother telling you about it. They’ll just go to a competitor that offers them what they want without making things difficult for them. In short, if your company website and/or digital tool is not ADA compliant, then you’re going to have problems.
What does website accessibility mean for my business?
The ADA is a strict liability law. This means that you cannot give ANY excuse as to why you are violating ADA compliance. Obviously, website accessibility is a necessity for all businesses, big or small. Not just because it has the potential to cost you, in more ways than one. But because it is good for everyone, including businesses.
#1: Web accessibility will improve your branding.
By ensuring that your website is accessible, you’re showing that your company cares about its customers and tries to cater to their diverse needs. They matter. This improves your brand’s reputation and image, thereby increasing customer loyalty.
#2: It will increase your market reach.
Almost 15% of the world’s population has disabilities. In the US alone, consumers with disabilities spend over than $200 billion each year in discretionary spending. 54% of these consumers spend that money online. In short, ignoring these individuals will likely lose you potential and current customers. However, becoming compliant will ensure that you gain their business, increasing sales.
#3: It will improve user experience.
Website accessibility means that a website is designed to be easy to use, efficient, performs well across various platforms, etc. This is a benefit that is enjoyed by all consumers, not just those with a disability. Color contrast in Android phones is a good example. It was first created in order to help individuals with limited vision to easily see what’s on their screen. However, it later became a benefit to all because you’re now able to see what’s on their screen while out in the sun. This development, though primarily intended to make life easier for people with disabilities, are widely used by all users. By creating inclusive design, life is made better for all.
#4: It spurs innovation.
Accessibility issues can cause breakthroughs in innovation. Auto-complete and voice control are two great examples. These are features that Google developed in order to improve their site’s accessibility. They may not have thought of creating them had they not seen the need to invest in accessibility. Today, they are working on non-language processing or the ability of their AI to understand and transcribe sound.
How do I make sure my company’s website is accessible?
As we’ve already mentioned, web accessibility is simply ensuring our websites are accessible and are easy to use, even for individuals with disabilities. Everyone should be able to access your content; navigate your website, app, or software; and fully engage with the different elements within your digital product. Now, this could be applied in several ways. For example, video content that does not have closed captioning will be inaccessible to a person who is hearing impaired. Another example would be to ensure that your website is compatible with screen readers, a device used by many individuals with visual disabilities. Any images on your website should have descriptive alt text which allows screen readers to decipher what’s being displayed to a visually impaired user.
Keyboard access is another web accessibility issue. A lot of disabled individuals use a keyboard instead of a mouse. However, some websites will not allow you to engage with it fully without one. To be compliant, all activity on your website must be achievable using only the keyboard (i.e. using Tab or Tab+Shift to switch between the next clickable element and the previous one). Color contrast and fonts are also potential web accessibility issues. There are plenty of others. You can find out more through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This was created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) partnered with individuals and organizations around the world in order to explain how web content can be made more accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines should help you determine if your website is ADA compliant.
Or, you can hire a company that provides accessibility services. These agencies will audit your website to determine its accessibility issues, implement changes to your site to fix the problems, and perform tests with disabled users to evaluate the changes. Some companies even offer training for business owners and developers on designing and building accessibility.
Whether you do it on your own or get an expert to ensure your website is ADA compliant, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you do it now. Your customers will thank you for it and your business will grow. Win-win.