The Coronavirus pandemic has rapidly changed everyday life around the globe. We are all working together to “flatten the curve” through social distancing, and for those of us fortunate to do so, working from home. As we transition to "the new normal," the global community is increasingly going online for everything from business meetings and book clubs to buying food and accessing basic services.
The shift towards digital gives new urgency to online accessibility. Even while American life has drastically changed for millions, many people with disabilities were encountering barriers and some continue to file lawsuits. The rate of federal lawsuits being filed has not slowed down, but we will continue to monitor this.
This an important moment for the business community to recognize the positive impact of accessibility and prioritize digital inclusion.
Fortunately, social distancing and working from home does not mean social isolation as we shift to digital channels to connect. The New York Times wrote a positive article about this last week, “The Coronavirus Crisis Is Showing Us How to Live Online.”
But a new report from ABC News, “Coronavirus restrictions put extra burden on the blind community: Experts.” reveals that a large percentage of the population may be left out. Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, a non-profit advocacy group told ABC News, "We are seeing a concern that blind people will be left behind.”
As offices have closed, millions of workers have moved to remote work. This has reportedly not been entirely seamless, as covered by Fast Company’s article, “Farts, cats, naked bodies: People are failing hilariously at working from home.”
But even with some comical missteps, many corporate workers are already collaborating with video conferencing and team platforms. B2B companies that have thoughtfully prioritized accessibility are in a unique position to set themselves apart.
Not all software companies may have prioritized digital inclusion as part of their product roadmap. If and when new collaboration methods fail accessibility tests, companies may be left scrambling as they look for vendors that will allow all team members to contribute equally.
One place to start is with Knowbility’s “Checking 3rd Party Vendors’ Product Accessibility.” Knowbility is a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving technology access for millions of youth and adults with disabilities all over the world. Their blog article includes questions to ask and answers not to accept.
Grocery and eCommerce
Food and basic needs are available online, and data shows that business is booming. During the week of March 2, Instacart, Amazon, and Walmart grocery delivery services each saw at least a 65 percent sales increase compared to the same time last year, according to estimates from Earnest Research.
As some supplies become scarce, shoppers move from one website to another. But this could make it more difficult for the disability community to find the same resources if not all sites and apps are accessible.
Grocers, restaurants, and food delivery services cannot support everyone if their Websites and apps are not compatible with assistive technology. Fortunately, some companies have already done the work. For example, Peapod is one of the pioneers in grocery delivery services and has a website mobile app that meet accessibility standards with WCAG 2.0 Levels A and AA. Read about Peapod’s work in digital accessibility.
Daily Life Online
The ADA was first enacted 30 years ago in 1990. Unfortunately, even after the Department of Justice (DOJ) and countless courts have ruled that the ADA applies to Websites and Apps, people with disabilities often face challenges and barriers when performing their daily activities in person and online.
Here are some activities that may be impacted:
- Banking – many of the country’s biggest banks have been focused on accessibility for many years. For example, Bank of America achieved 100% talking ATMs in 2010 and then agreed to enhance their web and mobile accessibility in 2013. However, smaller regional and credit unions have lagged behind
- Utility Providers – many people still pay utility bills in person. For the first time, they may need to do this online.
- Investment Management – Current stock market turbulence has everyone checking their portfolios. Recent lawsuits against against industry giants such as Morgan Stanley indicate that improvements are may be needed.
- Colleges and Universities – As courses move online, lectures, materials, tests and support must all be accessible.
UsableNet’s 2019 ADA Website and App Lawsuit Report reveals that the top industries for ADA Website lawsuits are retail with more than 1,347 cases, followed by food services, entertainment and leisure, travel, self-service and real estate.
Last year ADA-based lawsuit for inaccessible digital assets were filed at rate of one lawsuit every working hour, and 2020 is on this same pace. Many of these companies, about 21% according to UsableNet data, have been multiple times for inaccessible Websites and Apps at different times and by different plaintiffs. This unfortunately suggests that companies have not made digital accessibility a priority, even after receiving a lawsuit.
An at-Risk Population
Making things more difficult, people with visual disabilities, the blind and the elderly, may be part of the population more at risk for contracting Covid-19.
According to Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and governmental affairs for the American Council for the Blind suggested in an interview with ABC News, causes of blindness are often related to complications from other diseases that also put people at risk for contracting the novel virus.
For this population, even in areas where quarantine isn’t mandated, leaving home can mean serious health risk. In the US, civil rights laws exist that protect the rights of people with disabilities. During this pandemic, it can be argued that digital accessibility is a health necessity.
Nearly 7.6 million Americans over 16 years old have a visual impairment, according to the National Foundation for the Blind (NFB). Unfortunately, they’ve been traditionally under-served by many businesses in their digital assets. But now, is the time to change that.
This crisis underlines the importance of inclusion online and accessibility as the entire world shifts more to digital channels. More than ever, companies that prioritize digital inclusion will positively impact millions of lives.