If you run a business, it’s essential that you make your physical location accessible to those with disabilities and mobility issues. After all, the lifetime possibility of becoming disabled in at least two daily living activities or becoming cognitively impaired is 68% for people aged 65 and above. What’s more, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that roughly 12.9% of the population has some form of disability. If you don’t comply with the Americans Disabilities Act, you could be subject to legal action. But did you know that your business’s online presence also needs to be completely accessible to those with disabilities? Evidently, that’s a fact of which many organizations and influential individuals aren’t aware — or they don’t think it needs to be a priority. However, failing to address accessibility issues could get you in trouble. In many cases, it could even get you sued.
That’s exactly what many business owners are finding out the hard way. From local restaurants to big brands like Rihanna’s Fenty, companies of all sizes and industries are being called out for their lack of website accessibility. None of the 2020 presidential candidates have websites that are fully accessible to users with disabilities, either — and it’s becoming a problem site owners can no longer ignore. According to the Seyfarth Shaw law firm, the number of federal website accessibility lawsuits almost tripled between 2017 and 2018 (from 814 to 2,258), with a prediction that those numbers will continue to climb in 2019.
While many businesses will readily invest in technical SEO (which typically includes the use of HTML markup, schema markup, and mobile optimization) to ensure that their websites can be found by their target audiences, they’re clearly not thinking enough about those web users who have vision issues or disabilities. Not only are business owners failing appeal to these users, but they’ll often try to remove information rather than make efforts to make content more accessible. That’s even true of municipal and state government agencies, which creates a problem for residents and constituents.
While the number of lawsuits filed has yet to pass the 3,000 mark, the problem is more widespread than you might think. A recent analysis of the home pages of the top 1 million websites showed that 97% of those pages had accessibility errors, according to international guidelines. But what isn’t always clear is how to make websites more accessible.
The Department of Justice hasn’t issued any further guidance pertaining to ADA compliance for websites, which makes things a bit complex, as websites are not specifically mentioned in this piece of legislation. The general consensus, however, is that website owners need to make their platforms accessible to people with disabilities. The DOJ has stated that accessibility requirements do extend to both websites and apps, and if your business sells products or services via the web, you must comply with the ADA. It’s usually best to turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which are a set of private standards that were developed by accessibility experts and technology leaders.
The potential costs associated with a lack of compliance are steep. A first violation in this sector could prompt civil penalties of up to $75,000, with subsequent violation payments skyrocketing up to $150,000. Aside from the legal trouble and associated fees, your brand could also suffer considerably if it’s revealed you haven’t done your due diligence in ensuring inclusivity. And because word travels fast in today’s social media-driven world, that could be disastrous for the future of your company.
It takes about 0.05 seconds for a visitor to form an opinion about your website. While making your website ADA-compliant may not have been on your list of top priorities, remember that it’s far better to be safe than sorry. In addition, prioritizing accessibility can actually help your website rank in search and allow you to appeal to customers who might otherwise be excluded from buying from your competitors. Although ensuring compliance may add just one more task to your to-do list, it’s a task that’s well worth completing.