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protesters in street - metaphor for need for web accessibility and WCAG ADA compliance

Why Web Accessibility Matters More Now

David Gibson
President

In a time of not only a global health crisis, but also a global civil rights crisis, the two combine to make website accessibility more important than ever.

Brands that show that they care for all website visitors can do so by making their websites (and mobile apps) accessible. To not, will place them at risk amongst this broader movement for inclusion, as well as the law.

 

The ADA and Website Accessibility

The American Disabilities Act states that people with disabilities are entitled to “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations”.  The DOJ and the Judiciary have established that websites fit this criteria of “places of public accommodation” and are thus protected by the ADA.  All businesses that serve the public must provide equal opportunity for equal enjoyment and access to their websites, or violate the ADA. 

Why Website Accessibility & ADA Compliance Is More Relevant Looking Ahead

As history continues to be written before our eyes, two factors are contributing to the broader focus on rights for people with disabilities.

Factor One : The Pandemic

For all of us shuttered during the pandemic, we’ve gotten a slight taste for what people with disabilities often experience. Restrictions on our mobility and the many things we took for granted before. Luckily those without disabilities have had the Web to shop, explore, learn new things, keep informed, and to communicate with people in our lives. Now consider that only 2% of websites are free of barriers for people with disabilities seeking equal access to what is especially today an essential part of modern life.

The WebAIM project at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State, for the past two years has run accessibility tests on homepages of the top million websites. The 2019 report revealed that 98.1% of homepages had detectable WCAG 2 failures. The fact is, unless a website is specifically and carefully designed and built to enable accessibility, it just isn't. And the growing awareness that digital accessibility as a civil right is putting greater pressure on website owners to address these issues, or face legal actions.  

 

Factor Two : Increased Focus on Civil Liberties

Discrimination is a very ugly virus in our world. It takes so many different shapes. As the world today rises against hate, fear, division, and greed, we can only hope that leaders in governments, institutions, and companies realize that failure to address these inequalities will be very costly. This movement is rapidly organizing and growing. We can only hope that we’re beyond the tipping point, and that this movement will continue and extend to include discrimination not only based on skin color, but also ability. 

Based on the year over year surge in web-related ADA and Sect 508 legal actions reveals that this movement is well under way.

 

Why Website Owners Should Focus Now on WCAG Compliance

Wise brands that want to ensure they are on the right side of history, should move quickly to demonstrate their digital inclusion by ensuring their websites and mobile apps conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline. The WCAG is a guideline developed by the international governing board of the W3C. This guideline is widely accepted around the globe and serves as the de facto standard in the US.

Best Practices for Web Accessibility

In this process, brands should avoid the short-cut solutions that pose as accessibility solutions. In particular, overlay solutions and alternative “accessible” websites. You should avoid relying on automated solutions that can only detect ~30% of WCAG. Instead you should work with a trusted accessibility consultant who will follow best practices to ensure websites are accessible to all. The best practice is to take a 3 step approach that tests against the WCAG (2.1 A, AA). Since the WCAG is nuanced and interpretive, it’s essential not to rely on automated testing or remediation alone.

1. Automated WCAG Website Audit

Such an audit scans the entire site for WCAG violations, and needs to provide reporting that identifies every issue in a report that you can save for record keeping, and use for remediation. Unfortunately automated testing can only detect ~30% of violations.  

2. Manual WCAG Testing

A qualified accessibility auditor who understands both the WCAG, actual use cases for the many types of disabilities, and website coding practices manually review and document findings.

3. Assistive Technology WCAG Testing

The final step is to have a qualified accessibility tester using the broad range of assistive technologies such as screen readers, pointers, sip & puff tools, and keyboard-only to test the many use cases that such people would follow when using a website.

When gauging these services, it’s important to focus on the resulting reporting. You want full-site documentation of all violations, and then remediation guidance for each.

 

WCAG Website Remediation

With good reporting in hand, your design, development, and content teams can pursue remediation. If you lack such a team, or want to be assured that remediation is conducted by people with expertise in WCAG remediation, then consider hiring such a team

 

Final Thought On Why Now to Focus on Website Accessibility

With the world in crisis, this is one thing that you can do that will benefit one of our most vulnerable communities. And that is good business.