The sign on the glass entrance doorway to the store made it very clear who they refused to serve. “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” became so prevalent that most people know to wear shoes and a shirt if they want to buy a soda and chocolate bar.
Stores used to say they only served white people. Today, some businesses may not hire employees based on religious preferences, gender identification or sexual preference. Several companies publicly state they will not sell to specific groups of people they dislike. For these companies, an executive decision is made to deny service to groups of people. It is their right to discriminate they claim, and they will take that right to choose to the highest courts in the land.
The old stone walkway to my 19th century farmhouse is uneven, not level and has steps to negotiate before reaching the wooden steps to the porch. I know which friends and family I need to escort into the house.
“When are you going to build the handrail I keep asking for?” one of them asked me the other day.
I explained that my requests for help with the walkway are not a priority because everyone who lives in the house, with the exception of me, has no problems with it. The most I got was when one of the kids sprinkled sand down so that the gaps between the stones would fill in. It looked terrible and most of it washed away.
My 80 plus years old friend sympathized and told me that one of her family members finally installed a handrail for her, after 3 years of asking. I held her hands and silently hoped it wouldn’t take us that long.
I walked her to the 18th century barn we are renovating, to a section that is being remodeled for meetings and small events and is nearly completed. It will not pass code now because it is not accessible.
There is a huge step required to get into the room. We will need a bathroom and it was recommended we get a compost one, which is a cheaper alternative and avoids needing permits, plumbing, electrical and more. Everyone thinks the 36’ RV that no longer runs but is sitting on the farm could be converted into a small office with a compost commode, but again, it would not be accessible for a wheelchair.
In other words, when you run a business, it requires planning ahead. It may require getting permits and knowing local laws and regulations. You need to consult with insurance companies and lawyers to be sure you are not held liable.
Is this the same situation for website businesses?
Website Accessibility Discrimination
When a few blind people found a few law firms to represent them, they went in search of business and public facing websites with accessibility violations they could sue for. They found plenty.
While website ADA lawsuits have been ongoing for years and years, this year there is push back by website owners who are nervous about being targeted. Rather than build an accessible website, or learning what that even means, some website owners and companies with websites feel they should have a choice for their web design and functionality.
Someone wrote on Facebook, “Forced compliance for groups you don’t care about is a bit absurd.” It reminded me of the signs on storefronts informing customers who they refuse to serve. But, websites don’t have such signs.
Despite the fact that nearly every country has anti-discriminatory laws, with several adapting those laws to public facing websites, and each state in the USA having their own ADA compliance guidelines for website development, there is nothing to prevent a company from choosing design tactics that turn specific people away. They can prevent someone with poor eyesight from zooming in on the content from a mobile device if they choose to. Or, they may not know there is code that allows users to zoom in or out, and code that prevents it altogether.
They can prevent someone who does not have a mouse pointer from accessing pages. They can use colors over colors with no contrast, apply all images and no text at all, animation and automated sliders if they want to. They can completely ignore colorblind users, people with hand tremors and people with attention and cognitive impairments that prevent them from conducting tasks such as reading, remembering where they are on the site or pointing a mouse. If they wish to, they can prevent screen readers from properly accessing pages to be listened to and if they wish to, they can only show videos to sighted people and podcasts to hearing people.
It is certainly a choice to design an online business that prevents customers from entering and conducting business.
Put Up A Sign
Several states are fighting website accessibility ADA lawsuit claims from certain people who look for sites to sue, and law firms that see opportunities through ignorance of WCAG2.1 guidelines or, as in the case of federal websites, Section 508. Most ADA lawsuits are traced to the inability by someone to use assistive technology to complete a desired task. Since an ecommerce website, for example, needs revenue, it would seem illogical to prevent customers depending on assistive devices from making a purchase. But this is exactly what is happening.
Should an online business post a sign that warns the users they did not design for? If it is okay to do this with a physical business building, is it okay to clearly state on every web page who is not welcome there?
If you choose groups of people to avoid with your web design, do you warn them?