Web accessibility means designing or adapting your collection of digital tools and technologies—including websites, mobile phone apps, and smart speakers—so they can be easily used by people with disabilities. They allow users to perceive, comprehend, navigate, and interact online.
Accessibility includes any disabilities that would prohibit access to the web, such as visual, auditory, speech, physical, cognitive, and neurological disabilities.
Users without disabilities also benefit from web accessibility, including:
- Our aging population, which is expected to surpass the child population in the next 20 years
- Users with a “temporary disability,” such as lost glasses or a broken limb
- Users who find themselves in a “situational limitation,” which can include bright sunlight or an environment where they don’t have the option of listening to audio
- Users in rural areas, who may lack access to high-speed internet, or for whom it is prohibitively expensive
Accessibility also allows you to more easily achieve optimization for mobile, smart watches, smart TVs, and other devices with small screens and different input modes.
Why is web accessibility important?
As the World Wide Web turns 30 this year, it has become a nearly indispensable part of our collective lives, from employment to healthcare, education to government. These essential services must be accessible to the widest possible audience in order to provide a level playing field for people of all abilities.
Web technology has the potential to make up for deficiencies in print, audio, and visual accessibility, particularly in the areas of mobile design, usability, and SEO. It also can bring lower maintenance costs, a wider audience reach, and an improved corporate social responsibility (CSR) profile, all of which help your bottom line.
What are the ADA requirements?
Established in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for any business or government entity to provide products or services that are not accessible to people with disabilities. The idea behind this law is quite simple—if the general public can order a product at any time of day or night or apply for a job online, this functionality must be available to all users, regardless of ability, particularly when the technology to accomplish this already exists.
The section of the ADA relevant to web accessibility is Title III, which establishes that “public accommodations”—any nonprofit organization or business that serves the public—must be accessible, regardless of digital format. The DOJ has confirmed that the ADA applies to public accommodation websites.
Why are there so many lawsuits?
The lawsuit culture that surrounds website accessibility has grown steadily in recent years and only continues to intensify. There are a variety of reasons for this, which include:
- The ADA doesn’t provide clear standards for compliance or a timeline for completion.
- Enforcement is, therefore, left to the courts, which has created a patchwork of unclear standards.
- Plaintiff attorneys can recoup their fees under the ADA, so favorable conditions exist to file claims.
Why are certain industries more heavily targeted?
Industries that are integral to our everyday lives—retail, healthcare, hospitality, food service—often find themselves the target of legal action, sometimes multiple times. Plaintiffs and their attorneys often file cases in batches and may go after certain industries, such as boating, wineries, or golf courses, all of which have been targeted in recent months.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed in order to establish a single, shared standard for web content accessibility that would apply to organizations, individuals, and governments across the globe.
The latest iteration of these guidelines is WCAG 2.1, which details the four organizing principles of web accessibility:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable: Users must be able to operate the interface components and navigation.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies, and must remain current as technologies evolve.
What are the incentives for compliance?
While official government guidelines and penalties are murky, there are many practical reasons to comply with ADA regulations:
- Avoid becoming another casualty in the ever-escalating tsunami of lawsuits being brought by plaintiffs across a wide variety of industries.
- Improve your SEO.
- Make your site available to the many nondisabled users mentioned earlier.
- Grow your customer base and become a trusted, proactive community partner.
Where do I start?
Web accessibility requires that multiple elements come together, including browsers, users, design platforms, mobile apps, and the websites themselves. Accessibility is most easily achieved when incorporated at the start of a project, across all teams of an organization.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides the international standards for web accessibility through guidelines, techniques, technical specifications, and supporting resources.
Evaluation is a key component of accessibility implementation. While there are automated tools to help move the process along, knowledgeable human evaluation is required to ensure true accessibility. UsableNet’s AQA solution can be a key resource for testing.
Isn’t automated testing enough?
No. See some of our writings on this topic.
How do I become fully compliant?
Yes, you can update your site’s accessibility on your own, but it can be a monumental task that eats up valuable time and resources. The right technology partner can make this process smooth and worry-free.
UsableNet Assistive is a fully managed service that dynamically remediates your site to ensure WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 AA conformance and improve accessibility for all users. Accessible sites are tested for usability by user testers who are daily users of assistive technology.
UsableNet AQA integrates usability and accessibility testing into your development process through a series of top-shelf tools and a network of user testers from all major disability groups.