The demise of brick-and-mortar retail operations is just one of many examples illustrating our preference for website shopping. Once thought to be the exception, it is now regarded as the rule. The same trend applies for ordering food, banking, and applying for jobs, to name a few more.
The use of websites continues to grow and with that dynamic comes a need to make these online properties accessible to those with disabilities. It is no different than malls and office buildings providing ramps for those in wheelchairs or braille on elevator buttons for the blind. Today these efforts for the disabled are rightfully coming to the digital world.
Unfortunately, this movement is being fueled by several litigious law firms which are sending demand letters to businesses they believe are not responding to the disabled. And while there are no legal standards on the books at this time it is likely that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) will have regulations in place sometime this year. Now is the time to analyze your websites to see if they are accessible to the disabled. It’s the right thing to do and also could be a way to avoid costly lawsuits.
Keep in mind that most businesses are behind the 8-ball because when the ADA was put in place in 1990 the authors of this legislation had never heard of websites and how they would impact our daily lives. The Internet was in its infancy and no one – including the Federal government – could envision how e-commerce would evolve.
With a few tweaks to a website, businesses can avoid lawsuits and do what is best for those with disabilities.
Just consider the challenges these people have with tasks most of us take for granted. Driving. Walking. Viewing a sunset. Listening to music. Now extend that to purchasing something, applying for a job, or listening to a lecture online. Those with hearing, visual, and physical challenges are clearly put at a distinct disadvantage as the pervasiveness of relying on websites becomes more ingrained in our daily lives.
It’s clear that businesses have financial and moral obligations to serve these audiences.
Keep in mind that there are no clear-cut definitions of compliance and verdicts have varied state-to-state. So an innocent verdict in one jurisdiction doesn’t set precedent for a similar verdict elsewhere. Some judges view a website as a “place” while others do not.
It appears as though businesses with both brick-and-mortar and online capabilities are most at risk. Take, for example, a retail operation. How would someone with a visual disability buy a dress online without actually being able to see the smaller picture? She couldn’t determine the actual color or style. The same challenges are apparent in navigating an online job application and not being able to properly identify the various boxes due to visual or physical disabilities.
A good place to start is to review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 established by the International Standards Organization (ISO).
The following are among the guidelines that will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these.
- Websites should have darker words, outlines, and more contrast on letters for the visually impaired.
- There will be “zoom” pages or screen magnification software giving users the ability to make type larger.
- Voice over features telling people what is on the screen or helping with website navigation
- Head-tracking software that can move cursors
- Slow keys which adjust the sensitivity of the keyboard
- Dictation commands
- JAWS(Job Access With Speech) software that provides speech and braille output
- Captioning for hard of hearing
- “Descriptive audio captioning” so that visually impaired can hear what a speaker is wearing, what the background looks like, etc.
- Ability to re-size text and to increase contrast.
- Software that allows visually impaired to accurately “jump” to different sections. This is particularly important on job applications. There have been lawsuits claiming that an individual didn’t get a job because the website didn’t accommodate a disability.
The digital world will continue to evolve and businesses have a moral obligation to make information available to as many people as possible through their online properties.