We’ve been hearing about web accessibility lawsuits everywhere. From 2017 to 2018, web accessibility lawsuits and litigations rose by 181 percent. In 2019, lawsuits are rising at an even faster pace. Surprisingly, these lawsuits involve many major corporations, such as CNN, Amazon, Nike, and the Wall Street Journal.
Just recently, the US court has given victory to a blind man who filed a case against Domino’s Pizza after failing to order food from the company’s website despite using a screen reader app. This shows the far-reaching implications of site accessibility for all businesses.
Now the question:
Is site accessibility a legal requirement?
According to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all public areas must accommodate people with disabilities—this includes your website. Though the ADA doesn’t mention websites anywhere, the US courts interpret “places of public accommodation” to include the public domain of the internet.
In rejecting Domino’s position, the court highlighted that the ADA’s language specified it applied to services offered “of a” public accommodation, not “in a” public accommodation. This means that the law covers not just the brick-and-mortar structure but other forms of public accommodations as well.
In short, for your website to be ADA compliant, web accessibility is a must.
If there are any inaccessible sections on your website, it can be deemed discriminatory against persons with disabilities, which violates the ADA. The ADA is a strict liability law. Non-compliance for reasons such as ignorance or website development in progress are not accepted.
How is it determined if a website is accessible?
Web accessibility means that everyone, including persons with disabilities, should be able to have full and equal use of your website. This includes successful navigation and access to all types of content and features of the website. However, since there are no regulations on how to make websites ADA compliant, determining if a website is accessible is a source of heated debate.
In fact, before the company faced a lawsuit, Domino’s boasted itself as a leader in technology that provided an accessible website and app. The popular pizza chain once released a statement revealing its website’s features that helps all users connect to the brand. This includes 24-hour hotlines for those using a screen reader and its own voice-ordering digital assistant, Dom, which is available on both its website and mobile app.
To gauge accessibility US courts and the Department of Justice, US courts continually referred to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is the standard accessibility requirement for all federal websites in the US.
WCAG 2.1 Explained
The WCAG 2.1 released on January 30, 2018, contains all previous success criteria from WCAG 2.0 as well as 17 additional success criteria. Below is a summary of the entire WCAG 2.1 in simple words:
1.1: Text Alternatives – Provide text alternatives for all non-text content.
1.1.1 Non-text Content
- – All non-text content on the website must be provided with alternative text that serves the equivalent purpose, except for a few exceptions.
1.2 Time-based Media – Provide alternatives for time-based media.
1.2.1 Video & Audio Alternatives
- – Offer text transcripts and summaries to all video-only and audio-only content.
1.2.2 Closed Captioning
- – Videos with sound must contain accurate closed captioning.
1.2.3 Audio Description
- – Provide alternative videos containing text transcripts and/or audio descriptions (optional) for information not presented in the original video’s soundtrack.
1.2.4 Live captions
- – Live videos must be presented must with closed captions.
1.2.5 Audio description
- – Amended to have audio descriptions a requirement, not optional.
1.3: Adaptable – Content must be presented in different ways without losing information or structure.
1.3.1 Website structure
- – Website content should be structured with correct hierarchy, using proper markup tags and techniques such as heading tags and HTML for ordered and unordered lists.
1.3.2 Meaningful order
- – All content should be presented in meaningful order or hierarchy for better comprehension.
1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics
- – Detailed website instruction shouldn’t be reliant on a single sensory ability.
- – Website content shouldn’t be locked on portrait or landscape orientation.
1.3.5 Identify Input Purpose
- – Make the meaning of common inputs available via technologies with support for identifying the expected meaning for form input data.
1.3.6 Identify Purpose
- – Not just inputs, but all controls must be available using technologies.
1.4 Distinguishable – Make it easier for users to see and hear content by distinguishing the foreground from the background.
1.4.1 Use of Color
- – Color alone should not be used to communicate information.
1.4.2 Audio Control
- – There should be options to pause, stop, or mute all audio content.
- – The contrast ratio between all text and background should be at least 4.5:1.
1.4.4 Text Resize
- – All text must resizable by up to 200% without negatively affecting the ability to read content or use functions.
1.4.5 Images of Text
- – Images of text should not be used except if the image of text can be visually customized to the user’s requirements or where it is essential—for example, logos.
1.4.6: Contrast (Enhanced)
- – The contrast ratio between text and background should be at least 7:1, except for logotypes, and text or images of text that are not significant or pure decoration. Large text should be at least 4.5:1.
1.4.7: Low or No Background Audio
- – Audio content with speech as foreground should have background sounds 20 decibels lower than the foreground speech content or none at all.
1.4.8: Visual Presentation
- – Text and background color should be changeable. Text should be resizable by up to 200% without assistive technology.
1.4.9: Images of Text (No Exception)
- – Images of text should only be used as pure decoration or where a particular presentation of the text is essential.
- – All content should be resizable without requiring horizontal scrolling.
1.4.11 Non-Text Contrast
- – Important graphics and icons should have minimum contrast of at least 4.5:1.
1.4.12 Text Spacing
- – Text spacing should be adjustable to make content easier to read.
1.4.13 Content on Hover or Focus
- – Where hover or focus actions trigger additional content, it should be dismissible, hoverable, and persistent. Dismissible means it can be deactivated without moving pointer hover or keyboard focus. Hoverable means hover or focus can be moved without affecting additional content, and dismissible means additional content remains visible until the hover or focus trigger is removed.
2.1 Keyboard Accessible – All functionality should be available using the keyboard.
2.1.1 Keyboard Only
- – All content and functions on a website must be accessible by using only the keyboard, with a few exceptions.
2.1.2 No Keyboard Trap
- – Keyboard-only users must never get stuck, unable to navigate, on any part of the website.
2.1.3 Keyboard Only (No Exception)
- – All content and functions on a website must be accessible by using only the keyboard, without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes.
2.1.4 Character Key Shortcuts
- – Custom shortcuts should include or can be made to include a modifier key.
2.2 Enough Time – Users should be provided enough time to read and use website content.
2.2.1 Adjustable Time
- – Users should be able to turn off, adjust, or extend time limits for web pages with timeouts, except when the limit is more than 20 hours.
2.2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide
- – Users should be able to pause, stop, or hide any moving content.
2.2.3 No Timing
- – There should be no time-controlled element or content that expires on your website. Allow users to turn off or adjust time limits, except when the time limit is due to real-time events, such as bidding in an auction or a live video stream.
- – Don’t create interruptions such as pop-ups or auto-redirect on your website. Users should be given control to disable or postpone or suppressed by the user, except those involving an emergency.
- – Users should be able to continue activity without loss of data after re-authenticating an expired session.
- – Users should be warned how much time they have before the session expires.
2.3 Seizures – Don’t design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
2.3.1 Three Flashes or Below
- – Web pages should not have any content that flashes more than three times in any one second period, or the flash should be below the general flash and red flash thresholds.
2.3.2: Three Flashes
- – Web pages should not contain anything that flashes more than three times in any one second period. This removes flash threshold allowances from success criteria 2.3.1.
2.3.3 Animation from Interactions
- – Users should be able to turn off all unnecessary moving elements.
2.4 Navigable – Users should be able to navigate, find content, and determine where they are at.
2.4.1 Skip Navigation Link
- – Web pages should have links that allow users to go straight to the main content such as “Skip to Content” or “Skip Navigation.”
2.4.2 Page Titles
- – Each webpage should have a unique, descriptive page title.
2.4.3 Focus Order
- – The sequence in which users can access your websites must be in sequential and meaningful order.
2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context)
- – The purpose of each link should be clear based on its link text alone or based on the link text and anchor text.
2.4.5 Multiple Ways
- – There should be multiple ways to locate content from websites such as search bars, navigation menus, links, etc.
2.4.6 Headings and Labels
- – User descriptive and informative headings and labels where it is appropriate to aid navigation.
2.4.7 Focus Visible
- – Ensure keyboard focus is visible in all website elements such as menu items, form fields, links, etc. Add borders or underline.
- – There should be information about the user’s location on the website.
2.4.9 Link Purpose (Link Only)
- – Users should be to determine the purpose of each link from the link text alone, except where the purpose of the link will be ambiguous to all users.
2.4.10: Section Headings
- – Use section headings to organize the content.
2.5 Input Modalities – Website functions should be accessible through other input methods than the keyboard.
2.5.1 Pointer Gestures
- – Touchscreen users should be able to operate the website with a single finger.
2.5.2 Pointer Cancellation
- – Make pointer operations consistent throughout the website to reduce accidental activation of controls.
2.5.3 Label in Name
- – The visual labels of controls should be a trigger for speech activation.
2.5.4 Motion Actuation
- – Any website function shouldn’t rely only on device motion or user motion (such as tilting or shaking the device).
2.5.5 Target Size
- – Controls and targets for pointer inputs such as links should be at least 44 by 44 CSS pixels to make operations easier, especially for touch screen users. Exceptions are when there is an equivalent control at the same page, when it is in line with a sentence or block of text or when the size of controls is adjustable.
2.5.6 Concurrent Input Mechanisms
- – Websites should allow users to choose different ways of inputting content.
3.1 Readable – Make content readable and understandable
3.1.1 Website Language
- – The default language for your website.
3.1.2 Language of Parts
- – Indicate any change in language for an entire webpage or within parts of the content.
3.1.3: Unusual Words
- – There should be a mechanism to identify definitions of unusual words or phrases, including idioms and jargon—such as a slang dictionary.
- – There should be a mechanism to identify the expanded form of abbreviations used in the website content.
3.1.5: Reading Level
- – For content that requires reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level, there should be an alternate version that does not require advanced reading ability.
- – There should be a mechanism to identify the pronunciation of words that can have different meanings based on pronunciation.
3.2 Predictable – Web pages should appear and operate in predictable ways.
3.2.1 No Focus Change
- – Nothing should change on the webpage merely because a user focuses on an item. Users must actively choose to activate an item by hitting enter before a change takes place.
3.2.2 No Input Change
- – Nothing should change on the webpage merely because information is inputted into a field.
3.2.3 Consistent Navigation
- – The navigation layout should be consistent throughout all pages. Navigation menus or links should be placed in the same location.
3.2.4 Consistent Identification
- – All important website elements, such as icons and buttons must identifiable consistently across the website.
3.3 Input Assistance – Help users avoid and correct mistakes in inputting information
3.3.1 Error identification
- – Input errors should be easy to identify, understand, and correct.
3.3.2 Form labels and instructions
- – Forms and input fields should be labelled programmatically so that users know what input and what format is needed.
3.3.3 Error suggestions
- – If there is an input error, the website should give suggestions on how to correct it.
3.3.4 Error prevention on important forms
- – For important pages such as those for financial transactions and legal commitments, users should be able to confirm, correct and reverse inputs for errors.
4.1 Compatible – Ensure all content is compatible with browsers and assistive technologies.
- – The website’s HTML code is clean and free of errors. Particularly, start and end tags must be nested according to specification to ensure that assistive technologies can parse the content accurately and without crashing.
4.1.2 Name, Role, Value
- – Use HTML specifications for any script you author for your website, especially for third party codes such as widgets.
4.1.3 Status Messages
- – Developers must code status messages to be recognizable by assistive technology. This ensures that all users are notified of important changes in content that are not given focus without interrupting them.
Consequences of non-compliance
Not abiding by the law could cause a lot of damage to your business. The cost of court fines alone could go from $15,000 to $55,000. If the company is unsuccessful during the trial, the fine could increase to more than $150,000. This does not include the expenses for hiring legal representatives and re-designing your website.
An even bigger consequence of inaccessibility is the damage to your reputation. Going to court will mean bad press, and bearing the tag “discriminatory” is a bad mark that could negatively affect your brand loyalty.
You are also making your brand lose the opportunity to tap millions of potential customers that include users with accessibility requirements. Here’s a more specific look at the number of people in the US who live with various disabilities:
- At least 10 percent of people in the US have reading difficulties. Meanwhile, 35 percent of US entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Bill Gates is a classic example.
- 15 percent or 37.5 million American adults aged 18 and above report some trouble hearing.
- Up to 7 percent of working-age adults have severe dexterity difficulty. This means they may have problems using a mouse, and rely on the keyboard instead.
- More than 3 percent or 3.4 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either legally blind or visually impaired.
As an additional benefit, you should also know that accessible websites rank higher on search engines. Most accessibility guidelines, such as using unique and descriptive page titles, meaningful image alt tags, standard HTML codes, and video transcriptions, can boost your SEO.
Web accessibility is a serious issue. However, many businesses fail to realize it. According to statistics, less than 10 percent of websites completely follow the WCAG standards.
By employing an accessible design, you are not only mitigating the risk of lawsuits by doing the ‘right thing,’ but you are also building a good brand reputation and strong following of vocal brand advocates.
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