How Welcoming Is Your Website?
By Anthony Ticknor, VP of Technology at Riley Hayes
Twenty-seven years ago, not even a full year after Sir Tim Berners Lee invented the world wide web, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibiting discrimination based on disability.
While the law prohibits commercial and government entities from "discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations", it did not explicitly list websites as places of "public accommodation".
Fast-forward ten years to 2000. The web has expanded at a remarkable pace and the first major lawsuit citing Title III of the ADA is settled out of court by Bank of America. In the ensuing years, discrimination lawsuits are filed against Target, Ticketmaster, Charles Schwab, Safeway and Netflix for not providing public accommodations for those with disabilities under the ADA. One after the other, each company settled out of court.
In December 2016, plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil—who is blind—filed a lawsuit against Winn-Dixie alleging their website did not offer public accommodations as required by the ADA. This time, there was no settlement. A judge found that Winn-Dixie had indeed violated the ADA and then issued an injunction mandating Winn-Dixie to come into compliance within a predetermined amount of time.
Just like that, there’s now caselaw that sets a precedent putting every business with a website at risk for litigation. But try not to think of it as a government mandate or a frivolous lawsuit headed your way. Instead, view it as an opportunity to serve a larger and more diverse group of people, while growing your customer base.
In 2012, the United States Census Bureau estimated that 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability. Now I don’t know the specifics of your business, but I can say that most businesses I’ve spoken with cannot afford to simply ignore 20% of the population. And when you start to think of disabilities as a spectrum that covers permanent (e.g. deafness), temporary (e.g. ear infection), and situational (e.g. at a rock concert) rather than a binary characterization that labels people as disabled or not, the percentage is well over 20%.
While it may seem daunting to make your website conform to the ADA, there are two sensible things you can do immediately to get the ball rolling.
- Review WCAG Guidelines and determine what level of conformance to aim for (I would suggest AA).
- Perform an audit of your website using WAVE, a Web Accessibility Testing Tool.
Once you know where your website currently stands and what goals you have for it, you can start making progress towards those goals one step at a time. If you find yourself in need of some expert help, get in touch with us. Our team will help you reach your goals, because we believe that websites should be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.
After all, it’s good for both your brand and your bottom line.