In some countries, accessible design is no more a competitive benefit but a legal must-have. There are already thousands of lawsuits where companies are accused of web inaccessibility. And, for sure, the court chooses the side of the person with a disability.
Yes, you are reading an IT blog about lawsuits. Nevertheless, these phenomena are directly related to each other.
The most recent WebAIM research report confirmed that as of February 2020 98.1% of the top 1,000,000 websites’ home pages had detectable web accessibility failures.
The topic became more relevant during pandemic days, because now digital spaces are considered as public and widespread as physical ones or even more.
Think of not being able to access the web to buy vital products, to work remotely, continue your education, attend meetings, find entertainment, maintain relationships — and without any idea on how long you’ll be isolated.
To understand how a poorly accessible website might look for blind people, look at the video illustrating how a screen reader parses The New York Times homepage from 2014.
Accessibility in web development for beginners
Notice: the material and some other articles and legal documents might use the term «websites», which as well includes apps and other forms of a company’s digital presence.
Accessible design is the practice of creating digital products that can be accessed by anyone, irrespective of their abilities. A simple example is making a text that blind people can «read».
The accessible norms or rules not only include those with permanent disabilities. Do not forget about those who temporarily lost part of their abilities: a broken arm, broken or lost eyeglasses. Moreover, there are those who lose some ability just occasionally: when they are driving or in a noisy or bright environment. And if your customers’ age is close to 50 and older, keep in mind that their eyesight, hearing, dexterity or mental capacity might get worse.
To help companies and individuals make the web world more accessible, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides us with guidelines, standards, and techniques, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is the international standard ISO/IEC 40500.
According to the document, accessibility has 3 levels: A (lowest), AA (mid range), and AAA (highest). The WCAG does not recommend Level AAA as a must-have for all websites, since it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA criteria for some content.
Inclusive web design isn’t it the same?
Inclusive design is a wider concept that includes accessibility. The first notion is about a design methodology that keeps in mind human diversity. The second notion is more about practical solutions and design elements that make a user experience open to all.
Countries with legal consequences for web inaccessibility
European union: European Accessibility Act requires these things to meet accessibility requirements:
- ATMs and banking services,
- telephones and TV equipment,
- telephony and audiovisual services,
But the rules will be applied to business only after 28 June 2025. So you have some time to be prepared.
Norway: all websites that were (re)designed after 2014 have to follow almost all of the A and AA criteria in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ 2.0.
The special state agency makes random control, usually at large companies. An individual as well may sue inaccessible web design. The government fines companies that do not comply.
UK: It is not explicitly identified to which extent companies must comply with the rules. Following the WCAG has been accepted as one of the best practices for website developers and User Experience (UX) designers. Legal cases have been rare so far.
Canada: Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates that companies in Ontario make their web content accessible by January 1, 2021 otherwise they will be fined up to $100,000 and $50,000 respectively every day.
US: There is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The document hasn’t got direct mentions of websites or other digital products. However, lawsuits filed under the document demonstrated that US courts will continue to favor the cause of web accessibility.
During 2019 federal courts saw over 2 235 lawsuits. What’s more, in contrast to Norway, the majority of the cases are aimed at smaller and medium companies.
Talking about business, the document applies to US based companies:
- that rely on the general public or for their benefit;
- that currently have 15 or more employees.
To avoid litigation, website content must be keyboard accessible, have text alternatives, and follow the international standard, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA.
If you have an office in other areas, check web accessibility legislation in other countries.
Industries: most sued in the US
Most cases come from the US, so based on their data we can identify industries which more than others need to increase their products’ web accessibility.
Warning! All industries should comply with website accessibility laws but some are more likely to be sued.
According to the 2020 Midyear ADA Website and App Accessibility Lawsuit Report, retail (including ecommerce) and restaurants (their apps, websites) have the most filings.
Fines could reach tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even hundred thousands or millions.
In 2019 a lot of companies have been sued multiple times showing that unless you act fast, there is a high probability of receiving another.
It is still disputable whether all websites (and apps) should be fined for inaccessibility. But those which have physical presence definitely should. Such websites are understood as a digital extension of said company and can therefore be subject to ADA regulations.
- During the pandemic and isolation people with disabilities need your accessible digital product more;
- B2C businesses should be better prepared (most sued industries are related to b2c model);
- If you are a e-commerce business you most likely have to implement web accessibility standards not only to keep users but also to avoid legal charges;
- It is cheaper to make your digital presence compliant to WCAG than to be fined;
- Strive for WCAG2.1 AA level whether you are subject of relevant law or not;
- Involve people with disabilities in user testing.
You are confused? — ask for help
If while reading the material you have understood that you need more accessibility in your new or current digital products, our team of experienced designers and developers can help.
Here are examples of how your accessible product might look:
We are striving to make not only accessible but also beautiful and usable software that reflects all your ideas. We will help with accessible UX and graphic design, as well as web and mobile development. Our team is ready to make your new products accessible by design and bring relevant changes to the existing website or app.