Here's what you need to stay ahead of a ADA/website-related lawsuit.

Is your website ADA compliant? Can a person with disabilities effectively browse it? If not, you may be losing revenue, and, worse, you may get hit with a lawsuit.

We hear of accessibility-related lawsuits more frequently. While it's easy to dismiss these lawsuits as frivolous, ADA compliance is a requirement. If you are not compliant, it's only a matter of time until you receive a "pleasant surprise" in the mail.

The challenge is that most merchants don't know what to do—and thus, nothing happens. Take this opportunity to switch from sitting duck to being the leader in your industry.

In this webinar, Joseph Maxwell of SwiftOtter, and accessibility aficionado Paul J Adam discuss the importance of making sure your website is accessible to use, as well as:

  • What to do when you get a demand letter (or served papers)?
  • The benefits of investing in accessibility.
  • The process to achieve WCAG compliance (the international standard for accessibility)?
  • The less-talked-about subjects, like accessibility for videos.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility ensures your website is “accessible” to all visitors—even people who cannot use a monitor or keyboard or hear sounds.

This is very similar to how brick-and-mortar stores have wheelchair ramps, lower counters, and other techniques to ensure everyone can access everything.

Why is this important?

If you want to keep your profits (where they belong), this webinar is for you. Retailers are getting hit, right and left, with lawsuits alleging the website is difficult to use by people with disabilities. Between bros, we tend to dismiss these lawsuits as frivolous and wasteful. The reality is far different.

People without disabilities don’t understand what life is like with disabilities. Empathy should be the end of the story. To back this up with numbers, the CDC states that 5.9% of the American population is deaf and another 4.6% have difficulty seeing. In theory, you should see a conversion rate boost by making your website more accessible. Your competitor’s websites are unlikely to be accessible, which makes you more attractive.

In addition to disabilities like visual and hearing impairments that may initially come to mind, what about situational disabilities? You’re in a noisy room and can’t hear the video, or you’re outside, and the sun makes it hard to see the screen too well. Making accessibility upgrades will improve the user experience and benefit anyone that visits your website.

Once you face a lawsuit, you react. This can be costly in more ways than just financially. The rush work never is as fast as desired—not to mention you face added stress. Get ahead to prevent this from happening. It’s a “when” not an “if.”

Who's talking?

Paul J. Adam is a web and mobile accessibility specialist. He has worked with companies like Pearson and Atlassian and the state of Texas. If you haven’t heard the word “Atlassian”, it is ubiquitous in the service provider circles. They make tools like Jira, Confluence, and Service Desk. He has tremendous experience with audits and ensuring websites are properly accessible.

Joseph Maxwell comes from the development side of the house. He knows just how critical it is to ensure your website is accessible by all.

What's the ADA?

The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, was originally instituted in 1990 to end discrimination against those with differing abilities. We see the changes from this in our everyday lives, from wheelchair ramps to access buildings to employers providing reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals. It’s even common to see accessibility options in video games today.

What does that have to do with eCommerce? The ADA was amended in 2008 to expand on the original act. Title III requires “any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation” to provide accessibility features. While websites are not specifically mentioned within the ADA, there is enough ‘gray area’ that websites have been hit with lawsuits for not being ADA compliant.

What is WCAG?

While the ADA may not have specific wording regarding websites, WCAG does. WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, are established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). If you’re unfamiliar with W3C, they also develop the HTML standard.

WCAG 2 came out in 2008 and is the international standard. WCAG 2.1 is the current version, although 2.2 is in draft phase to be finalized in December 2022; if you’re building a new website now, it’s worth looking at 2.2 as this will be the standard soon. There are three levels to WCAG: A, AA, and AAA. The higher the level, the better the user experience, but what you’re legally required to meet is Level A and AA. Level AAA is ‘nice to have’ and would provide the most accessible website possible, but maybe a little difficult to achieve initially. Set your sights on Level A and AA to start. You can use the WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Checklist and filter by Level A and AA to see what is required to meet each level.

How does this affect our search engine optimization?

At this point, a website’s accessibility (or lack thereof) does not affect your search rankings. This is a response from John Mueller at Google:

I won't say never, but I'm not aware of any immediate plans. In general though, when sites are hard to use, people steer away from them anyway, so over time things like recommendations & other signals tend to drop away, resulting in the site being less visible in search too.

— johnmu of switzerland (personal) (@JohnMu) April 4, 2020

Google doesn’t specifically use accessibility features as a ranking metric, but there are SEO benefits to investing in accessibility improvements. Adding alternate text to images, proper page titles, and sitemaps will all make your website easier to crawl, which will boost your SEO ranking.

How do you know where your website currently stands?

There are easy tools that you can use to evaluate your website’s accessibility quickly. WAVE are two examples of Google Chrome extensions that you can use right now. Once you add one of these extensions to your browser, you can use them to find any areas that may need some work. WAVE, for example, will point out the areas that need immediate attention, items that should be reviewed by the evaluator, and things that are done well and meet accessibility guidelines.

In fact, attorneys will sometimes use WAVE to check websites. Using these tools and making sure you have zero errors will help protect you from a lawsuit. It’s important to point out that you should still conduct user testing to be sure, but these tools are helpful in guiding you to the areas that may need initial attention.

What does the accessibility process look like?

To start, there are two key points as far as general understanding is concerned. First, building in accessibility features is easiest from the ground up. Just like trying to add an elevator to an existing building, adding accessibility to an existing website is typically more difficult and more costly in the long run. Second, accessibility is a process, not just ‘one and done.’ You can’t go through the audit process, make necessary improvements, and then forget about it altogether. You should plan on adding accessibility into all the steps of the normal development process going forward. Your team should be developing with accessibility in mind.

If your website is already established or you’ve received a letter or lawsuit, you’re going to want to start by auditing your website. This can take an average of 2-4 weeks to complete. The audit will reveal all the issues that need to be addressed, and these should be put into your usual issue tracking system (Jira, for example). From there, you should prioritize all issues– start with any blockers, and then move on to other critical issues, then the medium issues, and so on. Once the work is complete, use a tool like WAVE to double-check that everything has been addressed. Then, plan on scanning your website on a regular basis to ensure you’re maintaining compliance.

How much will this cost?

The cost of making your accessibility upgrades is subjective– it’s going to vary from project to project. Once your audit is done, an estimate would be to count on 5-10 hours per blocker. This is a very rough estimate and will depend on the blocker. Some might only take a half hour to fix, while others might take upwards of 20 hours.

Consider testing with applicable personas

The automated tools like WAVE and axe are helpful, but nothing beats having a real user test your website. One way to achieve this is to utilize a user testing service like Knowbility. Knowbility, for example, has a program called AccessWorks which will recruit people with different disabilities or who use different assistive technology. This will give you a lot more real world feedback.

Is there anything I can address right now?

There are a couple content-focused areas you can quickly evaluate without having to get too technical. First would be the contrast ratio. Contrast ratio ensures easier readability. Your contrast ratio should be 4.5:1 or better to be sure people of all abilities can clearly read the text. The most common place where this could be an issue is the hero or banner images– any place where there is text over a color or picture. There are testing tools out there for you to check, and some design tools have a contrast checker built in. Our designers may have fantastic monitors so they may not see the issue with putting white over a light blue, but an average user or someone with disabilities could have a much harder time reading that.

Another area of content you can address right now is any videos or images on your website. All visual content should be captioned. This can mean adding alt text to images or captioning all videos. and Rev are two helpful captioning tools that you can use so that you’re not asking too much of your employees.

Also, you should be sure that all baked-in text is read aloud. For example, if you have a phone number or url in an image or video, you need to be sure that a screen reader can read it, or that it is said out loud in the video so that it gets captioned.

How do people with disabilities navigate a website?

Without knowing someone who uses assistive technology, it may be challenging to envision what tools are out there and how they work.

Screen Readers

While there are options that present a website in Braille, most are software-based. Mac users can use Voice Over. Windows users can use Jaws for Windows or NVDA.

You can watch a video about NVDA here

Take a moment and enable Voice Over. Navigate to your website and ask yourself how easy it is for you to browse. Close your eyes and continue the journey. It’s not easy.

Braille Keyboards and Displays

For those that are blind and can’t or don’t want to use a screen reader, there are braille displays and notetakers. This connects to a device and transposes the text on screen to braille.

Watch a real user explain her braille display and notetaker

Screen Magnifiers

Screen magnifiers do what they sound like– the magnify or zoom in on any area of a screen. Some also have screen readers, or the ability to change the colors and contrast to make it easier for those with vision impairments to see the screen. Mac and Windows devices both have built-in magnification options. Mac’s have both keyboard shortcuts as well as scroll gestures that can be enabled to zoom in and out on your screen. Since Windows 98, Windows devices have had Magnifier that can be enabled.

Additionally, there are stand-alone magnifier options, such as the Dolphin SuperNova range of accessibility devices.

Mouse Alternitives

For those with motor skill impairments, there are many more ergonomic mouse options than just the traditional mouse design. AbilityNet has a great list of mouse alternatives, including hands-free devices such as head and eye tracking, as well as foot mouse systems.

Sip and Puff

A Sip and Puff (SNP) is an assistive device that allows those that are unable to use their hands to control things like their motorized wheelchair, and can be used as a computer input device. SNPs are controlled by air pressure, where users ‘sip’ or inhale and ‘puff’ or exhale to control the device.

Watch Jared, an Ad/Web designer, use his Sip and Puff

Further reading and resources:

Joseph Maxwell

President / Senior Developer at SwiftOtter - @swiftotter_joe