Accessibility On Websites: The Comprehensive Guide On Getting Your Website ADA and WCAG Compliant

William Mapp

Updated on: August 31, 2022

Accessibility on websites has become an increasingly pressing matter, as the number of website accessibility lawsuits against businesses has increased tremendously in recent years. As a small business owner you want to protect yourself from any such legal action.

But website accessibility can be a complex and time consuming endeavor for small business owners and solopreneurs, especially given that you don't have the resources as big businesses have.

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In this Accessibility On Websites Guide you'll learn what it's all about, why it matters to you, how to get your website accessible to avoid being a target of accessibility lawsuits, and how it can actually increase your revenue.

What Accessibility On Websites Is All About

Accessibility is about making information, activities and/or environments sensible, meaningful and usable to all people, including people with disabilities and limitations such as:

  • Blindness
  • Low vision
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Deafness
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech disabilities
  • Physical disabilities

You may already be aware of accessibility laws which require physical places of business to be accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, to accommodate patrons that use wheelchairs you'll often see businesses with special parking spots, ramps and specially fitted toilet facilities.

Just as the physical environment is made usable so that persons with disabilities can access basic needs, it's the same for online - people with disabilities need to enjoy and use the web too. It could be as simple as reading and browsing webpages to ordering food or purchasing something from an eCommerce store.

Accessibility On Websites

Making information and content on websites sensible, meaningful, and usable for people with disabilities and limitations.

Why You Should Care About Website Accessibility

The answer to that is two-fold:

  • It is now required by law, and if you're not careful you can leave your business open to lawsuits.
  • It has several other benefits that can increase your revenue.

Accessibility On Websites Is Required by Law

More and more countries are creating legislation to protect people with disabilities in many areas of public life, including on the web.

In October 2019 the 9th District Supreme Court in the US ruled that the American Disabilities Act (ADA) not only applies to just to physical spaces, but to websites as well. In Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) required that websites become compliant by January, 2021.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is legislation that was passed by the European Union in April 2019 requiring accessibility for digital products and services. The Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was enacted in 1992, and the government “strongly encourage” all businesses and services to meet WCAG 2.1 standards to avoid violating the DDA.

This means that ensuring your business website is accessible to people with disabilities is no longer a choice, but is required by law.

Even before these laws came into play, there were lawsuits bought against businesses because their websites could not be properly used by persons with disabilities.

There have been some significant accessibility lawsuits brought against big companies including Netflix, Harvard University, Nike, Burger King, Amazon, MIT and Domino's Pizza, which resulted in fines and legal fees as high as $1,575,000. There was even a website accessibility suit brought against Target for which Target reportedly paid a staggering $6,000,000 to settle!

Figures from the law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP indicate that there is a steady increase in the number of accessibility lawsuits brought against businesses.

Website-specific accessibility lawsuits show a similar rising trend.

Now, that’s just the statistics for lawsuits that actually ended up in court.

A 2020 report by Accessibility.com indicates that “265,000 website accessibility demand letters were sent to businesses…

According to the report these demand letters typically claim that the recipient company violates the law because their website is not accessible to individuals with disabilities, and states that that unless the company modifies its website to meet relevant standards, the company will continue to be in violation and risk a lawsuit.

The most frequent outcome of this process is a financial settlement.

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility gave an estimation that U.S. businesses potentially spent billions on legal fees for inaccessible websites in 2020.

Small Businesses Are Increasingly More At Risk to Web Accessibility Lawsuits

Accessibility lawsuits don’t only apply to big brands… more and more small businesses are getting sued.

Experts suggest that this could simply be because many of the large companies have already been sued and have put accessibility programs in place, which would make for a natural progression to smaller companies.

Another concerning trend is that companies are receiving more than 1 lawsuit. A 2021 report by UseableNet indicates that nearly 500 lawsuits in 2021 were against companies that had received a previous lawsuit.

The minimum penalties can be harsh too. For a first-time violation, penalties usually range from $55,000 to $75,000. For a repeat violation, penalties can cost $150,000 although costs can potentially go way higher depending on your annual turnover. If you’re federally funded, you also risk your funding being revoked.

It is unfortunate that most small business owners are not aware of website accessibility requirements until it's too late.

Few business owners intentionally discriminate against persons with disabilities, but that doesn't prevent them from being targets for demand letters, and once your website violates the disability laws, you’re at great risk of lawsuits, hefty fines and negative publicity.

One news channel in the US describes businesses "sitting ducks for lawsuits" because their websites aren’t ADA compliant”

Is Your Website At Risk Of A Lawsuit?

Take a quick FREE scan of your website to discover violations that could leave you open to accessibility lawsuits.

Having An Accessible Website Can Boost Your Business

Having an accessible website means that it’s more usable to more people, including persons with disabilities, as well as other segments of the population such as senior citizens, persons with low literacy levels, people with low internet bandwidth and non-techie people.

This in essence opens your business up to these market segments.

When users have positive user experiences, they are more likely to become a first-time and recurring customer, and are more likely to share their experience with others.

But, how impactful can opening up your business to these segments be to your business? Let's answer this question by looking at some revealing statistics...

Disability & Accessibility Statistics

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 2 billion people live with some sort of disability globally.
  • In the US there are about 56.7 million Americans with a disability (according to the US Census Bureau).
  • A press release from the European Parliament states that around 80 million people in the European Union (EU) currently have a disability
  • WHO statistics indicated that 217 million people worldwide had moderate to severe vision impairment in 2015, with this number expected to rise to 588 million by 2050
Customers served! US$ 300000000000 Amount persons with disabilities spend annually... That's 500 Billion!
71%

Leave Your Website

Web users with disabilities will simply leave your website if it's not accessible to them.

67%

Abandon Transactions

Two-thirds of e-commerce transactions are abandoned by people who are blind because of lack of accessibility.

90%

Return Customers

They would often return and spend more with a company that provides an accessible online experience.

REFERENCES:

Despite the growing number of accessibility lawsuits, many businesses have been slow to adopt an accessibility strategy. This means that making your business website accessible now gives you a clear competitive advantage.

It’s estimated that companies without accessible websites are losing $6.9 billion a year to competitors whose sites are accessible.

Benefits of Having An Accessible Website

Comply with legislation and avoid lawsuits
Improved Customer Experience
Gain The competitive edge
Avoid Bad Publicity
Increase Your Revenue
Reach More Customers
Improved website SEO
Gain repeat customers
Peace of Mind

How To Get Your Website Accessible

In order for your website to become accessible it has to undergo remediation, which essentially involves fixing the things on your website that makes it difficult for persons with disabilities to use, in accordance with applicable standards and guidelines.

Website Accessibility Standards and Guidelines

Most website accessibility legislation, be it ADA, AODA, EAA or any other international regulation, are generally based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

The WCAG explain how to make websites accessible for persons with disabilities and other limitations such as blindness, low vision, learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, deafness, hearing loss, speech disabilities and physical disabilities. The guidelines are written by accessibility specialists, volunteers and disabled people at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). 

The most recent version of WCAG (WCAG 2.1) focuses on four main principles for creating an accessible website.

  1. 1
    Perceivable - Visitors must be able to perceive, or understand and be aware of, the content and information that’s presented on your website. This means content must be evident to at least one or more of their senses (sight, sound, and touch). This includes issues like captions for videos, text that can be adjusted for contrast, color, text size and spacing, font, and similar factors that make it easier to read.
  2. 2
    Operable - This means the ways that someone can use (operate) the site. All visitors should be able to utilize every part of the site’s functionality, from navigating a page, to selecting a link from a menu, to playing and pausing video and audio. Generally, you would want to aim for a simple and straightforward website that doesn't have too much excess functionalities that could impede users with disabilities and limitations. This is particularly relevant to people with motor disabilities, weak muscles, injured limbs, etc. An operable site needs to be navigable entirely by keyboard, sight-assisted navigation, and other alternatives to a mouse.
  3. 3
    Understandable - the content on your website - including your written and graphic design content - should be easy for everyone to understand. There should be a lot of technical terms or complex jargon, don’t have complicated instructions that are difficult to follow, and have consistent directions that won't confuse readers. Your webpages should be organized intuitively and your navigation readily available to visitors on most if not all pages.
  4. 4
    Robust - This is about using clean code (HTML & CSS) that meets recognized standards, and being compatible with assistive tools that people with disabilities use to browse online

The guidelines are broken down into three levels of compliance, namely:

  • Level A - This is the lowest level and includes relatively easy enhancements to make. This level represents the bare minimum of accessibility. Clearly, we can and ought to do better than the minimum, but it is a beginning.
  • Level AA - This is the intermediate level. It contains enhancements that are more difficult to implement but also increase accessibility.
  • Level AAA - This is the highest level of standards, the most difficult to meet. However, they do yield the greatest accessibility for the largest possible number of end-users.

Accessibility laws use the levels of compliance to guide businesses. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the US recommends WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the best practice for small businesses.

The full WCAG 2.1 is fairly long and complex, with extensive stipulations and requirements. Further, the language used in the WGAC is very academic and technical and can be a real turn-off for many people.

As a business owner it's hard just to learn about the specifics, not to mention actually doing what it takes to remediate your website and get it up to compliance. But that should not prevent you from taking the needed action.

Website Accessibility Solutions

There are 2 types of remediation that can be done to websites to get them up to accessibility standards, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Manual Remediation
  • Automated Remediation

Let's firstly understand what they are and how they work, and then we'll look at the pros and cons of each.

Manual Accessibility Remediation

This involves hiring a website accessibility consultant to review and analyze your website to determine what it's accessibility shortcomings are. They will then manually go into the coding of your website and make the necessary changes.

Manual remediation is costly; getting your website would generally cost in the thousands for the initial remediation, and then ongoing costs for continual analysis (as your website updates with new content) and associated remedial maintenance.

Automated Accessibility Remediation

Automated Remediation installation of a widget, such as the UserWay Accessibility Widget, on your website that scans the website and uses AI technology to automatically make the necessary corrections.

Installing the widget on your website is a quick and painless process. Once installed, there will be a small non-intrusive icon on your website. Visitors can use the icon to access the widgets accessibility interface.

The widget works in the background to continually keep your website accessible, and the interface is designed to address accessibility requirements relating to the user-interface (UI), design, and readability of your website by enabling users to modify your site’s design to meet their individual needs.

Automated vs Manual Accessibility Remediation

Now, here's a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of accessibility remediation:

Factor

Manual Remediation

Automated Remediation

Remediation Process

This is where a website accessibility consultant goes into the coding of your website and makes the necessary changes.

Installation of a widget on your website that scans your website and uses AI technology to make the necessary corrections.

Compliance

Manual remediation can get your website to 100% compliance.

Typically gets your website to 70%-90% compliance depending on the solution you use, but also depends on the structure of your website; if it’s a poorly structured website, the compliance rate by be as low as 40%-50%.

Cost

Relatively expensive. Costs thousands to get done.

Relatively affordable. Most widget cost about $50 per month.

Time-frame for Remediation

Can take months to complete

24 - 48 hrs from initial installation

Known Limitations

-

Widget do not automatically create captions for videos nor remediate PDF or SVG formats as part of the standard

Guarantees

Some companies offer litigation protection and $1,000,000 guarantee.

Some companies offer litigation protection + $10,000 guarantee to businesses using their widgets.

Conclusion

Accessibility on websites is about making information and content on websites sensible, meaningful, and usable for people with disabilities and limitations. Ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority, as in recent years many services have moved online and people rely more and more on websites to conduct many aspects of daily living.

In fact having an accessible website is no longer a choice or a trend, but is required by law. It is an increasingly pressing matter, as the number website accessibility lawsuits against businesses has increased tremendously in recent years.

Furthermore, having an accessible business website has other important benefits. About 20% of the global population has some level of disability. It's a segment that spends approximately $500 billion dollars annually.

Having an accessible website means that it’s more usable to more people, including persons with disabilities, which allows you to reach more customers, improve customer experience, gain the competitive edge, gain repeat customers, and therefore increase your revenue.

As a business owner it's in your best interest to not sit and hope that you wouldn't be faced with legal action, but to act now and get your website accessible, and reap the rewards.

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