This March, the Justice Department is set to release official compliance standards to make corporate websites more accessible to the disabled. The release follows a 2010 amendment to the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA), which explained that websites act as places of accommodation but are often not accommodating to the disabled. The release will compel businesses to update their sites to modern accessibility standards, and will allow the DOJ to enforce the ADA across the web.
These compliance standards aren’t good news for everyone. Many businesses are unprepared to meet the needs of the disabled through user experience improvements to some of the most critical elements of their websites. Worse yet, many businesses don’t know where to begin.
The Justice Department has made itself clear that noncompliance is no longer an option. In March of 2014, the Department intervened in a lawsuit brought against H&R Block by the National Federation of the Blind. While the law doesn’t specifically spell out standards of compliance, judges have interpreted the ADA and have begun to challenge business owners. With the help of the DOJ, judges and advocacy groups have successfully compelled businesses to settle on extensive website improvements, pending the March release.
H&R Block is not alone. According to web accessibility expert David Berman, many companies including Netflix, Bank of America, United Airlines, Target, Ramada, Penn State University and Priceline have faced similar lawsuits. With the release of new guidelines in March, legal experts anticipate more lawsuits on the horizon for companies refusing to comply.
While many businesses may be unprepared to meet the challenges of accessibility, reducing legal risk is not the only benefit of adhering to these standards. Accessibility standards are based in traditional user experience standards, helping make site content more clear, concise and easy to navigate, regardless of the technology you use. Here are just a few of the benefits you are likely to see from an accessibility project:
- Improved Page Speed: Accessibility standards require developers to properly order page hierarchies, simplify code and streamline links and images. This improves page speed.
- SEO: As accessibility experts quip, search engines are blind and deaf. The more information they have to test for a particular search query, the more likely your site is to rank for popular search terms. That means that adding alt text and detailed descriptions of site elements and features make your site more crawler-friendly, thereby improving your keyword rankings.
- Improved User Experience For Everyone: While accessibility improvements make it easier for disabled people to use your site, they are not the only ones who will benefit. Accessibility standards simplify usability and deliver a more intuitive experience, making it easier for the elderly, inexperienced and infrequent web users, people with low literacy, people who don’t speak the language, people with lower bandwidth connections and people using older browsers.
These improvements open you up to a new segment of customer, now able to fully appreciate your website experience. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, there are currently over 6.5 million adults suffering from a visual disability and another 1 million suffering from an auditory disability. These customers shop, buy gifts and share things they like on social media just like everyone else.
Many companies have chosen not to wait for the other shoe to drop, instead opting to follow the guidelines of accessibility experts, consulting firms and trail-blazing brands across the world in starting the process towards creating a more accessible website for all customers. But where to begin?
The first step is reviewing the only true guideline currently available for web accessibility: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as laid out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is an international community with a board of directors and a full-time staff responsible for creating and releasing web standards. WCAG has become the go-to resource for businesses around the world looking to make their websites friendlier to the disabled.
Once you know what the standards require, your IT team can begin planning feature upgrades for your site’s various elements. If you are considering a full-site redesign, you should strongly consider designing with accessibility in mind. It is far more economical to implement an accessible website as part of a redesign then trying to retrofit your existing site.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post from Kanban on specific recommendations, tools and approaches you can take to speed your way towards compliance.