In this post, I plan to tell you why having an accessible (or ADA compliant) website, that is, a website that people with disabilities can use and use well, can be oh so tasty and delicious.
In part one of this series, I likened making your website accessible to eating a nutritious (even if not so appetizing) meal.
Why not so appetizing?
Because in most cases, achieving an accessible website can mean additional effort, expertise and/or expense that you may not have anticipated for the development and maintenance of your website.
But I also likened the benefits of doing so to the reward of indulging in a decadent, mouthwatering, 4-layer slice of cake.
In each layer of that moist yummy cake, website accessibility promises a huge benefit to your business.
…Such as being able to better serve all your customers and tap into the $8 trillion global market made up of people with disabilities, their family and friends (also covered in part one).
But here’s an important benefit baked into another one of those delicious layers of cake:
Making your website accessible helps you reduce your risk of disability discrimination lawsuits and fines.
Website accessibility is one of the most litigated website issues in the USA, and for good reason.
Access to the information, goods and services provided by websites today is something that most of us can’t live without.
When was the last time you went 48 or even 24 hours without access to the web?
The internet is such an integral part of our lives.
But for many people with disabilities, adequate access to websites has been an ongoing thorn in their side…
Something they need to access for the same reasons as everyone else:
- Social connection
- The list goes on…
But something to which they have been denied equal access.
More than 98% of the web is not accessible to people with disabilities, a situation that puts them at a disadvantage and negatively impacts their quality of life.
It’s for this reason that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has stated that access to the internet is a human right.
And it’s for this reason that people with disabilities and organizations that advocate for their needs, have turned up the litigation heat on businesses who have a responsibility to ensure that people with disabilities can access their services online too.
Many business owners have learned this the hard way.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and how it applies to website accessibility
In July 2020, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be celebrating 30 years since its inception in 1990.
In 1990, the internet wasn’t really a thing… not to the general public anyway.
Back then, I was still in high school. Words that meant something to me were “Nintendo” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
“Website” and “internet” didn’t mean a thing to me, or anyone else for that matter.
The first website didn’t go live until 1991.
But back then, accessibility for people with disabilities was just as important as it is today.
It was important that people with disabilities be given the same access to information, goods and services as everyone else.
Access to opportunities to live life to the fullest extent of their abilities.
And so the ADA was born.
An excerpt from ADA National Network states:
The ADA […] prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
So although the internet wasn’t open to the public in 1990, and it isn’t specifically mentioned in the ADA, the intention is clear.
To ensure that people with disabilities are not left out or left behind.
It is undeniable that the internet is indeed a public space that allows people the opportunity to sustain and enhance all areas of life.
This means it is very difficult to argue that denying people with disabilities access to the internet, isn’t discriminatory and therefore against the ADA.
As a result, lawsuits against businesses that fail to make their websites ADA compliant along with other digital assets (such as apps, videos, audio files and documents), continue to increase.
This is not an issue that is going away.
Just like all other issues related to diversity and inclusion, as a business owner, sooner or later you will need to take the steps to make your website and all other digital content available to people with disabilities and compliant with the ADA.
Sooner, rather than later.
The longer you wait, the higher your risk of being the subject of an ADA discrimination lawsuit.
Several other countries have already made specific laws regarding digital accessibility, including Canada.
In Ontario, Canada, for example, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has outlined steps that businesses must take to be accessible online.
The AODA states that businesses with 50 or more employees must make their websites compliant with the global benchmark standard for website accessibility: WCAG (which stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 AA.
And businesses with less than 50 employees must provide people with disabilities with accessible information if requested. So an accessible website is still a worthwhile investment although not explicitly mandated.
In addition, Ontario businesses with 20 or more employees must submit mandatory compliance reports every 3 years.
These reports confirm that they have met their current accessibility requirements under the AODA.
Even after submitting the report, a business could face an audit to ensure they have truly met the requirements.
Businesses that don’t comply with the act, including failing to submit compliance reports, could face enforcement including AODA financial penalties ranging from $200 to $100,000 per day, depending on the history and severity of the offence.
The worst case scenario for directors and officers with fiduciary responsibility of a corporation that has repeatedly and severely failed to comply with the AODA is fines of up to $50,000 per day.
Ontario has pledged to have an accessible province by 2025, and the AODA demonstrates its commitment to achieving that promise.
Ontario has led the way.
Likely, it is only a matter of time before the United States does the same, but until then, the intent of the ADA law is unmistakable and unambiguous:
Include people with disabilities in whatever it is that you provide to the public.
Make your business website accessible to reduce your exposure to these lawsuits and fines.
Think about it this way:
- What do you think would happen if you distributed flyers in front of your store, but only gave flyers to people of a particular race?
- Or put a sign on the front door of your business stating you only served people of a particular gender?
- Or answered your business phone with a greeting that you only serve people of a particular religion?
It’s not hard to predict that your days in business would be numbered, or at the very least, your days as a reputable business.
On the other hand, your days in court would be lengthy.
Serving your customers with disabilities is no different.
Just as discrimination based on race, religion, age or gender is unlawful, disability discrimination, both offline and online, is too.
Within 5 seconds of using your website, someone with a disability will know whether your site was built with inclusion in mind or not.
The question is,
Will you turn your nose up at that healthy accessibility meal, and keep your business exposed on the side of the table that attracts discrimination lawsuits and hefty fines?
Will you wolf down accessibility, and experience the delicious peace of mind in knowing your business is including people with disabilities and ADA compliant?
Will you have your cake and eat it too?
It’s 100% up to you.