In 2016, a man sued Domino’s for not making its website accessible to the blind and won.
Earlier this year, a blind fan sued Beyoncé’s company Parkwood Entertainment in the US District Court for being unable to fully use the website.
Around the end of Dec 2017 and throughout 2018, several Philadelphia eateries (Federal Donuts, Oyster House, Campo’s Deli, and others) were bombarded with lawsuits from a lawyer, accusing these small businesses of not complying with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
Notice a pattern here? Yes, all these lawsuits were brought on by disabled plaintiffs towards websites that were inaccessible to individuals with disabilities.
Now, you might be thinking that website accessibility compliance does not apply to you as a small business owner and that it’s mostly relevant for government entities and enterprises. But unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite, as SMBs are claiming to be targeted victims of shakedowns conducted by dishonest lawyers.
The Disabled Strike Back
Website accessibility lawsuits have seen a steady rise with 2,285 ADA compliance website lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide, a considerable jump of 181 percent from 2017 (not including the countless demand letters that were issued against site owners that year).
What merit did the disabled plaintiffs have when suing these businesses? In layman’s terms, none of these sites were WCAG compliant and did not adhere to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of internationally recognized guidelines established by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make sure disabled website users can access online content in the same way as those without physical challenges. W3C is the organization in charge of maintaining and advancing internet standards. In December of 2008, the WC3 published corrections and extensions to the WCAG, naming it WCAG 2.0.
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requiring that information and electronic technology of Federal agencies are accessible to people with disabilities, including the public and staff members.
If you do not ensure your business site is compliant with the WCAG and Section 508, you should consider your business exposed to lawsuits.
Moreover, it’s worth mentioning the possible revenue loss that you’ll suffer from not doing business with nearly 25 percent of the US population.
So, without further ado, let’s get started and learn how to make your website accessible and compliant with the WCAG 2.0:
Select a Website Accessibility Manager
Decide on the best candidate for leading your business’ accessibility efforts, either externally or in-house. Remember your choice can mean the difference between being slapped with a lawsuit and compliance. Thus, take this decision seriously and make it a point to vet all potential candidates.
Include a complete familiarity with different aspects of WCAG 2.0 among his/her responsibilities along with experience in web development and content management systems. Also, make sure whether the candidate can train others on the development team.
Add to his/her list of duties:
- Creation of a web accessibility policy for your business site – one that is clearly written, easy to understand and comprehensive.
- Visibility of the policy on your site. This way, when your site gets scanned for accessibility, your policy can easily be found and viewed.
- Documentation of every action taken to comply with WCAG 2.0, including different audit reports.
Coordinate with a Site Accessibility Consultant
Check whether your business has the in-house expertise to implement WCAG 2.0 alone. If you don’t consider seeking help from a consultant – one who has a lot of experience in WCAG testing as well as remediation.
Make sure your consultant works with your business’ in-house team to understand the programming behind your website and your CMS. Also, prepare your consultant for training your in-house employees to ensure continued compliance.
Perform a WCAG 2.0 Audit of Your Business Site
Consider the different automated auditing tools available in the market that can help your consultant and manager in conducting a thorough audit of your website, identifying every area that needs remediation. Make sure the auditing process includes these three steps:
Automated testing: Use this for capturing nearly 25 percent of all WCAG issues.
Manual code review: Helps to catch the majority of problems missed by automated testing.
Assistive technology review: In this final phase, convince your tester to use the same tools employed by disabled individuals like ZOOM to make sure they work on your site.
Keep Detailed Records
Document all actions that you take including the audit reports while making your site accessible and compliant. Organize the same in a spreadsheet. List each action along with the date on which it was done and who performed it. Separate the spreadsheet items that can be handled by your business CMS from those which require the involvement of your developer.
Focus on In-House Training
Know that your business website is not static. Thus, do not think that your first attempt at compliance is going to be your last. Make it a point to ensure ongoing compliance. And for that purpose, start training everyone who makes some sort of contribution to the development of your company website. Hire a consultant to do this task on your behalf to avoid any pitfalls along the way.
Consider this – members of your business’ web development group will eventually leave your business and new employees are going to replace them. To make things smoother, create extensive training manuals that cover every type of compliance issues, from ensuring sequential headers to adding alt tags.
Honestly, website accessibility compliance processes for disabled users can be intricate and sometimes downright confusing. Still, your business must take this issue seriously.
If you feel that this challenge is over your head, know that there are website accessibility professionals out there who are familiar with ADA compliance and the WCAG 2.0, and possess the skills necessary to ensure total compliance for your organization website. However, do your research, because some accessibility professionals may charge even more than $20,000 for their services.
While most website accessibility experts can cut a hole into your pocket, there are also services such as accessiBe that leverage AI into the process, making it less costly and more efficient.
Due to their AI-driven website accessibility technology, accessiBe is able to make websites accessible and WCAG compliant in shorter periods of time and less manual labor, which explains their lower price points.
The bottom line, just make sure you don’t end up paying hefty lawsuits fines that may climb up to more than $20,000.
You might have to shell out some time and money to achieve WCAG 2.0 compliance, but it is better to accept this fate than coming home to a demand letter threatening legal action if you fail to settle. Don’t take the risk, make your website accessible and know you helped the web take one step closer to being usable for everyone, no matter what physical impairments they might have.