Are You Being Proactive?
Are You Being Proactive?
To provide equality, the Americans with Disabilities Act established that all individuals, including those with disabilities, must have equal access to places of public accommodation. While this might conjure images of braille signs for the visually impaired, building entrance ramps for wheelchairs and closed captioning on the television for the hard of hearing, equal access also applies to intangible locations, including websites.
When websites have barriers that inhibit access for individuals with disabilities, it becomes a civil rights issue, one that the Department of Justice is aggressively defending. In order to avoid legal action, as well as the associated time and cost, ADA compliance is a requirement for all businesses with an online presence.
WCAG and Section 508
The Web Content Accessibility Standards (WCAG 2.1) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were established to help the fight toward equality and to encourage global cooperation. By taking proactive measures and following these standards, your organization will benefit by avoiding a costly and potentially damaging legal battle and prospective customers who may need additional online support due to a disability will have a better overall experience with your company. The sooner you understand the importance of web accessibility, the better.
Benefits of Being Proactive
The Internet is an important resource, one that affects many aspects of our daily lives. The Internet is used in school systems, employment agencies, hospitals and other healthcare organizations, government institutions and more. It is also one of the quickest and easiest ways to do business, especially for individuals who have a disability. While 3.9 billion people globally use the Internet, close to 56.7 million Americans, or 19% of the population, had a disability in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It’s the Right Thing To Do
Every disability comes with its own unique set of challenges, depending on type and severity. For example, someone who struggles with motor impairments might have difficulty leaving their home and going into a store. Being able to purchase supplies directly from their home is a significant benefit and can often be a key component of maintaining independence. Someone with a visual impairment might need to use assistive technology while using the Internet, such as screen reading software. By being proactive, your organization can give equal access to important resources for individuals with disabilities, helping to improve the quality of their daily lives.
It is also important to remember that web accessibility is a legal requirement. A lack of proactive web accessibility compliance can lead to a demand letter or, even worse, a lawsuit. Due to an increase in telecommunication use, there has been a rise in accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court. If those organizations had taken proactive measures sooner, they could have avoided significant legal challenges. At the current rate, it is expected that the number of federal lawsuits will continue to grow, so the sooner you act, the more secure your business will be.
Regardless of the situation, being proactive will save you time and money, alleviating problems before they happen and providing you with much-needed peace of mind.
Dangers of Waiting
Among the many lawsuits that have been filed in recent years was a suit against a popular supermarket chain. In 2017, a judge in the Southern District of Florida ruled that Winn-Dixie’s website is heavily integrated with physical store locations, which makes it subject to ADA requirements. The ruling further stated that Winn-Dixie’s website is inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments who rely on the use of screen reader software.
Due to Winn-Dixie’s violations, they were ordered to update their website to follow standards set in place by WCAG 2.1 with associated fees near $250,000. In addition, they will likely be subject to attorney fees and other damages. Had Winn-Dixie taken proactive measures ahead of time, they could have prevented a lengthy trial and such a costly outcome.
Demonstrate Your Commitment Ahead of Time
If an organization is caught unprepared, having not taken appropriate measures early on, the court will examine various aspects of the case before making their ruling. They will evaluate if the organization knew there was an issue with inaccessibility beforehand, what steps were taken to address such issues and if those issues were ignored either by mistake or intentionally. Evidence, as it relates to these aspects, will play a large part in reducing the severity of the litigation process.
Prior litigation results have demonstrated that organizations proved to have taken steps to address or prevent obstacles prior to the lawsuit being filed have a more defensible approach.
Ways to Be Proactive
Assess Your Current State of Compliance
One of the easiest ways to be proactive is by contacting an experienced consulting firm. A consulting firm can be an important part of your team when it comes to the function and compliance of your website. In order to assess where you are in the process, your current level of accessibility must be established. Web accessibility audits, both automated and manual, measure the accessibility level against standards enforced by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) and Section 508 standards. Web accessibility audits are often the first step to improving your website, as they can demonstrate ways to improve the user experience, issue guidance on how to repair barriers and provide an overall report of ways to meet compliance standards.
Develop Plans for a Path Forward
Your chosen firm will also develop a roadmap to streamline the effectiveness and efficiency of repairing the issues identified in the audit. Each of those issues will be prioritized based on high-impact needs and a personalized plan will be put in place to outline which remediation services are deemed appropriate. By using a collaborative approach, your consultant will work side-by-side with your organization to remediate the issues and help bring your website to compliance with ADA standards.
In the event that a lawsuit is brought forth while proactive measures are taking place, your consultant can expedite their process; by already taking proactive steps, the severity of the legal process will likely decrease.
Cooperation and Appropriate Measures
In April, Virginia federal judge Judge James P Jones found that New Peoples Bank, Inc could not be sued for an inaccessible website under ADA Title III, because it voluntarily remediated their website to make it accessible.
In the case, Carroll v. New Peoples Bank, Inc., Carroll alleged that the bank’s website was inaccessible because it failed to provide alternative text for images, had forms that were not labeled appropriately and used links to the same URLs redundantly, rendering keyboard and screen-readers essentially unusable.
A Willingness to Be Inclusive
Before filing the lawsuit, Carroll sent a demand letter to New Peoples Bank, Inc.; once it was received, the bank immediately took action, voluntarily retaining a third-party firm to consult about their web accessibility and ultimately improving their website to meet standards put in place by WCAG 2.1.
These active and voluntary measures influenced Judge Jones in his decision to ultimately dismiss the case, because the allegations were no longer credible thanks to the quick remediation by New Peoples Bank, Inc.
If your organization is curious about web accessibility, or hasn’t taken proactive measures to establish web accessibility compliance within your website, now is the time to act.
At ADA FOR WEB Solutions, our leading experts with over fifteen years of experience can assist you in taking the necessary steps to establish a compliant and accessible website for your business.
We provide a comprehensive menu of services that is collaborative and worry-free, regardless of where you are in the process. Don’t allow your organization to be caught on the wrong side of the law – act now and contact ADA FOR WEB Solutions to learn more today.