The internet is perhaps the greatest wonder – and tool – of our modern age. Its impact on our daily lives is beyond measure. Whether we use it to find the nearest pizza place, take an online Spanish course, live chat with someone across the globe, or buy a new pair of shoes, its very existence has become absolutely indispensable for three billion Earthlings and counting.
But for millions of disabled people, the vast majority of the internet’s websites are currently inaccessible. While you may find this to be of little concern to your organization (especially if it’s not a healthcare provider), we encourage you to read on. After all, it might just have a target on its back.
Web Accessibility And Why You Should Care
You probably have a vague understanding of the term and concept, but just to refresh, web accessibility simply ensures that everyone can access a website. This not only goes for people with disabilities, it also applies to people with changing abilities, including the elderly. And contrary to popular belief, visual impairment isn’t the only disability that makes web access a challenge. Other common web-limiting disabilities include:
- Physical impairment
- Neurological impairment
- Cognitive impairment
- Auditory impairment
Just to give you an idea of both the importance and reach of this topic, a staggering 1 in 5 Americans (approximately 56.7 million people) has a disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Combine this stat with the fact that the U.S. has nearly 90% internet penetration and you can begin to understand the scope of the problem. Not to belabor the point, but a study put together by Google based on data from the World Bank (WDI, 2008) and CDC.gov (NHI Survey, 2008), found that there are more hard of hearing users in the United States than the entire population of Spain.
So What Industries Are Impacted?
When it comes to web accessibility rules and regulations, you’re no doubt wondering if your organization should be concerned. The answer is yes. And the reason has three letters: ADA.
While it would be helpful if there was a clear legal definition to follow, U.S. law hasn’t caught up with technology, and case law is still being established (and more on this later). That said, the Department of Justice has started to focus on websites that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a refresher, The ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to “ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”
Today, the internet is a huge piece of tile in that rich mosaic. And any organization failing to provide full and equal access to it through their website may soon pay a price. Right now it seems that businesses that offer products or services to the public through their websites will soon have to comply. Anything beyond that is unclear. That said, these two categories alone (E-commerce and service providers) are enormous, and they encompass B2Bs and B2Cs alike.
So What Should Our Company Do?
Currently there are three main web accessibility standards:
While each has its own pros and cons, they all provide some helpful guidance. To save you some time, the Section 508 checklist is a really good starting point for a proper list. On the other hand, the WCAG 2.0 checklist arranges by concept and digs much deeper.
To save you even more time, here are some quick web accessibility basics to consider:
- Text should be large enough to be legible (and stay that way at all responsive resolutions)
- Font colors should have enough contrast from the background
- Text regions should never be more than 80 characters wide
Graphics, Maps & Tables
- Complex graphics should have a text explanation either with them or on a linked page nearby
- An infographic or graph should also have the information in text only form
- A map showing a location and/or directions should also have the plain text of the address and/or directions
- All tables should have a clear title, summary and header cells
Audio & Video
- Every audio and video file should have a transcript of any speech (either as embedded captions, on the page with the file, or linked to near the file)
- If the user needs a player or viewer to access a file (e.g. a Word doc), there should be a link on the page to where they can download the player or viewer
Carousels, Slideshows & Animations
- Carousels, slideshows and animations should be able to be paused for users who need more time to read their content
- Users should be able to fully navigate the page via tab, shift tab and enter
- There should be links to skip repetitive sections like the header and menus
- Audio and video players must be able to be navigated purely via the keyboard
- Carousels and slideshows must be able to be controlled purely via the keyboard
So What’s With All The Target Talk?
Ironically enough, when it comes to the failure to adequately provide web accessibility, the most high profile target has been Target (yes, the organization with the big, red bullseye). The retail giant was sued by the National Federation of the Blind on the grounds that it failed to make Target.com fully accessible to blind visitors. The NFB made their argument using specific language from the ADA, which states that “stores must make reasonable accommodations for the disabled.” While Target argued that this directive clearly applies to brick and mortar stores only, the U.S. District Court of Northern California thought otherwise. Target ultimately settled the lawsuit by agreeing to pay damages of up to $6 million.
And that’s at least 6 million reasons why you and your organization should start taking web accessibility seriously.
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