Does your website have a ramp?
A little over a month ago I received my handicap parking placard for my vehicle; a sign that the doctor was taking my health more seriously than I was to be sure. As age creeps in on my life and self-care becomes more important, I am learning a lot about diet, sleep, stress, and self-preservation. I never thought I would be that person searching for the magic blue parking lot paint nor did I ever picture myself with a disease that caused me to ask others for assistance reading a menu. I will say that the biggest thing I have discovered throughout this journey is that getting old really sucks.
Along this journey, I have been learning a lot of things that have applied to my work and to the consulting side of my business.
You may or not be aware of some of the regulations when it comes to websites but it is something I have learned quite a bit about in the two years. Web accessibility is more than an ethical issue: it’s also legal and you risk fines if the justice department finds you guilty.
The Americans with Disabilities Act enacted by Congress prohibits discrimination against people based on their disability. This we all knew.
While it is normal to look at a building and notice the handicap ramp or automatic door openers, how many of you have looked at your own website in the same manner? Don’t feel bad; for a long time I never thought about it either.
Within the ADA is website accessibility, a legal requirement that focuses on ensuring that working-age adults have equal opportunity like other people, to websites they need to access.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first law that took into account the needs of disabled people. It is after the Rehabilitation Act that ADA came into action.
Did you know that if your eCommerce website is not ADA compliant, it is at high risk of legal action? To remain ADA compliant, you’ll need to ensure that ALL of your pages are appropriately coded and navigable.
The definition of website accessibility is that anyone can access, read, understand, and use your website content. It’s not a minor issue: in fact, the economic impact of web inaccessibility is about $16.8 billion.
The number of web accessibility lawsuits that were brought to federal court citing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reached a new record in 2022, with plaintiffs filing 3,255 lawsuits—a 12 percent increase from 2021.
The intensifying velocity of web accessibility litigation can be attributed to several factors.
First, people with disabilities need access to usable online experiences, particularly as digital technology becomes more necessary and prolific in our day-to-day lives. Second, while the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide established benchmark standards for compliance, these have not been officially written into regulations supporting the ADA.
The absence of clear, defined regulations for web accessibility in places of public accommodation means specific expectations vary drastically across organizations and industries. To add to this confusion, different U.S. circuit courts interpret the ADA differently as it pertains to web accessibility, resulting in conflicting precedents. For example, while some courts maintain that an inaccessible website only violates the ADA if it has a “physical nexus”—meaning it’s tied to a physical location, like a brick-and-mortar office or store—others hold that the ADA applies to “internet-only” websites, like online-only retailers.
There are many reasons why you should make these changes and adjustments now rather than wait. A groundswell of litigation, including class action lawsuits against consumer brands, demonstrated that web accessibility remains a high priority for people with disabilities and their allies and unfortunately an enticing environment for opportunists that know they can sue you and will not hesitate to do so.
The web accessibility standard conformity is under federal jurisdiction. Websites and web applications are defined as places of public accommodations especially those that offer public services such as federal websites. All public sector bodies and commercial facilities need to offer equal access to their web pages in conformity with the WCAG 2.0 requirements.
As an experiment, I had a trained web tester browse 20 websites that I chose to see if they were compliant. These websites belonged to fire departments, police departments and emergency management offices and the results were conclusive; NOT ONE WEBSITE PASSED AS COMPLIANT.
Another consideration for those of you that read my blog is this: private entities that receive federal funds must also maintain digital accessibility. That covered almost every client and partner that I have personally.
Think about this: a blind man sued Domino’s Pizza because there was no way for a blind man to order pizza from their website. Now imagine the lawsuit that comes from an EM website that does not allow for that same blind man to access evacuation and shelter-in-place instructions.
There are many rules and regulations that accessible websites must follow. One such area, which is difficult to understand, is what constitutes a “designated accessible website,” as outlined in Section 508.
The federal government states that you must ensure users can access a “working” website and it’s a requirement for all federal agencies and local government entities. The most recent changes to Section 508 guidelines define this term as a site that provides users with “the ability to navigate, read, and interact with the website’s content.
The guidelines also state that the website must provide a way for users to submit feedback. If a site doesn’t offer this information, it may no longer be considered accessible on search engines.
Section 508 doesn’t spell out any technical standards. Instead, it requires you to develop an effective plan for making your site compliant. We are presently working on our own site now that we have added a new staff member to oversee these changes.
There are three primary success criteria of web accessibility according to WCAG 2.0: web content, web technology, and web architecture. Web content refers to menus, text, and images; it’s all considered part of your site. Web technology covers Flash animations, video files, and compressed images. Finally, web architecture refers to the overall build of the website; it’s essential to consider your website’s navigation structure and ensure that it has an accessible design.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Accessibility is an international standard detailed in the WCAG. The guidelines stipulate that all government websites and private businesses offering services to the public conform to the standards. Accessibility compliance includes websites and mobile apps because the law interprets them as places of public accommodation.
WCAG is currently in the 2.1 version, so websites are expected to update from the WCAG 2.0 version. In practice, the guidelines dictate that web content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (The POUR rule).
ADA Law and Website Accessibility Guidelines
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs everything to do with website accessibility for people with disabilities. ADA outlines that any person or organization must make their website readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities if it is for use by the public. It means that your site must be navigable to disabled people using assistive technology.
To meet website accessibility legal requirements, one needs to ensure that all of their website’s pages are compliant with web accessibility guidelines.
All websites and web pages need to have “text equivalents” for images and graphics. Each ‘text equivalent’ means describing the same information in an alternative format equally usable by screen readers, such as Braille or large print. Also, ensure that all of your site’s images are accessible to disabled people, including text alternatives for pictures for the blind and those with low vision.
You can test most websites for structural accessibility. It means that you should make sure that your website has no barriers to keyboard users. For example, if it is difficult for a person to navigate the site with a mouse, you need to make the necessary changes to make it easier for them to navigate the website with a keyboard. It can include using text alternatives for buttons, short pages that don’t require scrolling, and other things of the kind.
Nonvisual Accessibility refers to information that you can only find with keyboard navigation. You should make sure that all nonvisual information on your website is accessible with keyboard navigation. You need to place all nonvisual content in an easily accessible ‘tab’ on your keyboard shortcuts and menu structure.
While many people think of websites as something to look at, they’re also repositories of information. When you created your website, you probably did not have web accessibility in mind so you now have to make sure that the information you give is in a way that is accessible. Avoid using complex language and phrases, and use shorter sentences and paragraphs. It will help if all of your site’s content is viewable by everyone. It includes images, layouts,and anything else on your site. For example, if you have a detailed ‘off-screen’ picture of your product, you need to make sure that it is viewable by everyone.
What Kind of Access Is Required?
The law requires your website to be accessible to people with disabilities – they don’t simply say “make your site accessible.” The law gives you a duty to make your site as accessible as possible and provides detailed guidelines for doing this.
In practice, you’ll have to comply with web accessibility guidelines that regulators or associations have determined. The most prominent of these is the W3C (Web Accessibility Initiative). They have many policies that you should follow. However, the most important ones are those in their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The W3C’s WCAG is a comprehensive document that outlines how every piece of your site must meet specific accessibility standards. It also outlines all of the various tools available to check your site for errors. If you have to comply with website accessibility legal requirements and guidelines, the WCAG will be your most important resource.
You can access some online resources to test your site, but often these tools are unreliable and don’t give you everything you need.
The reason why I took the time to place this blog is because I realized that having a compliant website is just as important as having a ramp to your door. This is why EG Weiss has added a web accessibility specialist to our staff. As I learned more about these requirements, I realized that so many of you do business with the government and/or communicate with the public that I would encourage you to reach out and let us assist you.
Think about the consequences and liability of an emergency management website that is used to post severe weather or evacuation information yet is not compliant and therefore holds no real information for a minimum of 15% of your community (Overall, there are about 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, making up 13% of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021. This group includes people with hearing, vision, cognitive, walking, self-care or independent living difficulties.)
What about your organization’s website that holds directions to follow in the event of an active shooter yet your students or employees cannot read the instructions?
Do Websites have to be Accessible?
Yes, websites have to be accessible to users who need assistive technologies. By making websites accessible with knowing website accessibility legal requirements, you need to help those who need to hear content or read it without straining.
The advancements in web development have certainly made building an accessible website easier. In the future, organizations and businesses that don’t respect web accessibility standards will find themselves struggling in a competitive world. It is time that your site is accessible to people with disabilities.
Reach out to us on my website if you have questions or realize you need assistance. www.EGWeiss.com
EG Weiss & Associates is proud to have added a Certified DHS Trusted Tester to our team to help you with your accessibility issues.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Trusted Tester is a person who is certified to provide accurate and repeatable Section 508 compliance test results for software and web applications. Trusted Testers follow the Section 508 compliance Application Test Process, use approved testing tools, and evaluate software and web applications for compliance with Section 508 standards.
Trusted Testers play an important role in ensuring that companies comply with Section 508. They can help companies identify and fix accessibility issues, and they can also provide guidance on how to make websites and web applications more accessible.