What is web accessibility?
Lowering the curb height in areas for wheelchairs and strollers, automatic opening doors, and brail on restroom signs are a few examples of how businesses make their storefronts accessible to people with physical disabilities and limitations. The businesses that are required to make these modifications are the ones that provide everyday essential products and services to the general public – grocery stores, gas stations, financial institutions, retail stores, medical offices, government buildings, and many others.
Web accessibility is the process of making your website friendly to users with mobile devices, physical disabilities, limited time/access to the internet, and many other factors. As we grow in the digital age, the shopping experience has grown far beyond the brick-and-mortar format. Many people believe the accessibility of a business that provides everyday essential functions should encompass their website as well, not just the physical storefront.
As innovations in technology continue to expand across all industries to support the online shopping experience, the spotlight on web accessibility grows. In many cases around the world, the digital experience has replaced storefronts that provide everyday essential products and services.
With the rising concern of web accessibility, a common question begins to form. If there are businesses that are required to make accessibility accommodations to their stores, shouldn’t they be required to make those changes to their website, too? The answer to that question is not always clear to some businesses, but the judicial system is saying otherwise.
The rising number of lawsuits
Accessibility for people with disabilities is achieved through a battle in the courtroom. While there have been many victories, there are certainly many more to go. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal act that protects disabled individuals from discrimination, and since it was passed, there have been several industries held accountable for creating a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities.
As the importance of web accessibility increases, so do the number of legal actions against companies that are failing to make their websites accessible. Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), services available to the general public cannot exclude people with disabilities. The Department of Justice continues to rule that Title III encompasses a company’s website, and that is backed up by the steep number of settlement agreements ruled in favor of disabled consumers.
There have been thousands of federal lawsuits filed in response to web inaccessibility. The most notable recent case is a blind man in California who sued Dominos for not being able to order a pizza through their website or app due to it not being accessible to visually impaired customers. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and they ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Since the legal victory against Dominos, the number of federal lawsuits for web inaccessibility is expected to grow even more.
The digital divide
The vast difference in digital access between lower and upper classes across the world is called the digital divide, and this is another major reason why web accessibility is so important. Many people argue that websites not only needs to accommodate people with disabilities but also be accommodating for the population of internet users with inadequate access to web technology.
Adults making an annual household income of less than $30,000 are most commonly affected by inadequate web access, and they account for over 25% of American households. According to recent research, these are the most common issues for this demographic of Americans when it comes to web access:
- 29% do not have smartphones
- 44% do not have broadband services at home
- 46% do not own a desktop or laptop computer
- 64% do not own a tablet
With limited access to web technology, lower-income shoppers most commonly rely on their smartphones to access the internet. Adults in this demographic need to use their phones to apply for jobs, search for information on government programs, lookup transportation information, and many other basic essential daily functions. Children in this demographic rely on their phones to do homework and research projects online. These tasks are significantly difficult to accomplish without a computer, and having a website that is not accessible to mobile devices can place even greater difficulty on these consumers.
Paving the way for standards
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) leads the development of standards across the web. As the digital world becomes more accessible to everyone, these standards become critical to ensure every user has a consistent and reliable experience online. With the rising need for web accessibility, the W3C launched the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to set the guidelines for exactly how companies should handle accessibility features on their websites.
Thanks to the WAI, these are a handful of the website accessibility standards businesses need to know:
- Text alternatives for non-text content
- Content can be presented in different ways
- Keyboard functionality
- Users can easily navigate, find content, and determine where they are
- Users are helped to avoid and correct mistakes
The WAI goes to great lengths to ensure every web standard created is in the best interest of the most amount of people. They take into account the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments around the world to ensure the standards are universally understood and recognized. Taking this approach leads to a more consistent web experience for all shoppers and ensures everyone receives the same opportunities online.
Solutions for your website
If your company’s website needs an accessibility overhaul, you can contact highly-skilled web development companies that can help you meet the web accessibility standards in place today. Our team of developers at Cincinnati WebTec stays up-to-date with the latest trends and legal cases surrounding web accessibility to ensure our clients have websites that are fully compliant with W3C standards.
The accessibility of online experiences is something that will continuously change and evolve over time. Businesses with accessible websites not only keep the legal liabilities at bay, but they also improve their sales and customer retention. To find out how accessible your website is, contact our team to get started!