An Urgent Focus on Website Accessibility

An Urgent Focus on Website Accessibility

Kim Krause Berg  

Website accessibility quietly lived alongside website usability for years until recent inclusive web design practices and giant leaps in computer technology made it possible for nearly everyone to use and enjoy the internet.

This upped the game for website designers and developers.

Now we must know how to make websites and mobile apps work for all kinds of people and all the ways they access the internet. Assistive devices such as screen readers, text to speech apps, audible books, mouse-less keyboard navigation and visual aids such as colors and font sizes are all tied to website accessibility design.

Corporations are already well aware of the rise in website ADA accessibility lawsuits. While not new, the spike in the number of lawsuits the past several years was a warning shot that unfortunately didn’t reach small business owners. Local businesses that sell products and services online are being sued because their websites can not be used by blind or sight impaired people.

Accessibility Barriers

Website barriers to entry have been misunderstood or ignored by website owners until they receive the shock of a written complaint by a law office.

We have known for years that optimizing web pages for accessibility provided an added boast for organic SEO practices, such as adding alt attributes to images or the proper use of header tags. And yet a vast amount of websites do not have alt attributes or properly ordered header tags. Both of these are tremendous aids for screen reader software.

A Word of Caution When Seeking Website Accessibility Help

Testing websites and software applications is a specialty performed by trained people who know what to look for and why. Free automated testing tools are helpful, but not equal in value. These tools may find 25% of the accessibility issues but the remaining 75% are only discovered by manual testing.

Formal accessibility testing by specialists provides feedback to see if your website violates Section 508 requirements in the USA, or legally enforceable accessibility requirements in countries such as the UK and Canada. In addition, specialists test for WCAG2.1 guidelines and compliance for websites and documents that must be accessible, such as PDF’s. For this, you need to hire someone trained in accessibility testing and remediation.

Accessibility testing is important for all computer devices, including mobile, as well as operating systems and browsers.

If you find yourself being sued by someone because your website is not accessible, please contact me. My partner, Jonathan Hochman, is an expert witness. I am certified in accessibility. Together we can guide you through the next steps.

For 2020, the best approach is to be prepared. Ask me to check your website to see if it is at risk of an ADA lawsuit. It is far less expensive to be prepared.

For additional information about website accessibility, I have written several articles. Here are few:

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Recent Articles by Kim Krause Berg on Usability, Conversions and Accessibility

Kim Krause Berg  

Web Design Ideas to Make a Great First Impression

Imagine you are setting up shop on a street in your neighborhood, and wherever you look, another shop is selling the same products and services. This is what it is like for businesses on the web. How can you stand out from the crowd?

How To Increase Website Conversions

What are the best ways to increase website conversions for small and medium sized businesses?  Is your website bringing in the results you expect? 

Why Your Online Small Business Should Meet Website Accessibility ADA Guidelines

As a small business owner, you may be familiar with federal, state and local regulations when setting up your office or store and preparing for staff and customers that includes Americans with Disabilities (ADA) requirements, but did you know accessibility ADA also applies to your website?

Website Accessibility and Do Not Enter Signs

Website Accessibility and Do Not Enter Signs

Kim Krause Berg  

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.

Handrail

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?

Accessibility and Increasing Conversions

Accessibility and Increasing Conversions

Kim Krause Berg  

One of the best takeaways readers enjoyed from my recent articles published at the Search Engine Journal was simple logic for increasing website conversions.

While You’re Here, Go There Now

The trick to optimizing calls to action is to present the action at the precise moment when your website visitor is most interested in taking the next step.

Optimize Your CTA: Better Alternatives to ‘Click Here’

How do you prevent your company from being a target for a website accessibility ADA lawsuit?

Some judges have ruled that the lack of regulation or legal standards for website accessibility does not mean that accessibility should be ignored.

How Your Company Can Prevent ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits

Next month, my topic is specifically for SEO’s who put up with user interface and programming decisions that make their work difficult, and even derail it completely. Look for it in early July.