The numbers tell it all: 48 million people are living with some form of disability, and that’s in the United State alone. There’s a huge demographic out there in need of assistive devices in order for them to navigate independently online through websites and various platforms.However, even with the plethora of assistive devices available, all of these are rendered useless if the websites and platforms themselves were not optimized for accessibility.
As an attorney, it’ss easy to overlook the necessity of web accessibility. However, what if we tell you that there might be significant losses and lawsuits ahead? You see, according to recent statistics, it was found that there was a 177% increase in website accessibility lawsuits.Thus, we believe that it is critical for attorneys and law firms to prioritize accessibility optimization ASAP.
What Is web accessibility?
In a nutshell, web accessibility is the method of developing your website and other digital resources to allow the use of assistive tools so that people with disabilities can navigate and use your online platforms with ease and confidence. These disabilities include permanent and conditional disabilities from those who are visually challenged to those who reside in locations with limited network connectivity.
Web accessibility goes beyond people with limited access. It also enriches the overall user experience of people without disabilities, in turn boosting your SEO scores as well.
Why should attorneys be concerned with web accessibility?
There’s a common misconception that the legal industry is not a target for legal action leading many lawyers and their firms to take web accessibility issues lightly. However, it is important to reiterate that no one is spared from the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA).Surprisingly, it’s not just those who are legitimately disabled who are willing to report these types of violations but legal trolls as well.
Failing to make your website accessible and thus ADA compliant can compromise your profession and your law firm’s reputation. It will also serve to alienate the huge demographic of our country’s disabled population. As mentioned previously, this will lead to even more loss of potential clients and revenue.
The Case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC
Take a look into the case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC. The plaintiff, Mr. Robles, a blind person, was unable to order from Domino’s Pizza after multiple attempts. Apparently, that’s due to Domino’s Pizza’s failure to accommodate Mr. Robles’ screen reading software efficiently.
The plaintiff claimed that it was a violation of his rights since Domino’s Pizza is a place of public accommodation. In the end, even while there are no specific regulations on web accessibility, the Court still ruled in favor of Mr. Robles, asserting that inaccessibility is equivalent to a denial of goods and services in the same way that they are offered in the physical store.
Web accessibility standards
To dive into the topic with more depth, let’s discuss web accessibility standards even further.
Each country has its own stand on web accessibility. While there are no legally required guidelines as mentioned, this practice is still regarded here in the U.S. as a generally-accepted protocol.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The World Wide Web Consortium (or W3C) has released the Web Accessibility Initiative (or WAI). It is a set of website accessibility guidelines referred to as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
WCAG prioritizes four principles. Namely, a website should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. It was last updated in June of 2018.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
This law was enacted way back in 1990. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on one’s disability. Title II and III of ADA particularly prohibits this type of discrimination from access to products, services, programs, and activities being offered both by government and public entities. This act ensures that no person with disability will suffer from a lack of access to any area of American life.
We recommend looking into the ADA Tool Kit provided by the government to make sure that your online platforms are ADA compliant.
Section 508 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It requires federal agencies to make their technologies accessible to people with disabilities. The requirement includes two factors: electronic and information technology (or EIT) and information and communication technology (or ICT).
Section 508 also involves any entity receiving federal funding.
You can check out Section 508 Standards from the U.S. Access Board as a guide.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
VPAT goes through the levels of compliance based on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for all ICT products. These include software, hardware, or any digital content intended to be marketed to the Federal government.
ANPRM, NPRM, and SANPRM
Aside from those already enacted, here are further updates on web accessibility stipulations.
In 2004, the Department of Justice (or DOJ) moved to update ADA regulations through the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (or ANPRM).
In 2008, the DOJ further issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (or NPRM) to finally adopt the ADA Guidelines revised in 2004.
In 2010, the DOJ again considered revising the ADA Title II regulation in particular to finally establish specific technical requirements related to web accessibility.
In 2016, a Supplemental Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (or SANPR) was issued.
To date, the DOJ still has not issued any updated guidelines on web accessibility.
Although the DOJ has not updated their guidelines, it is wise to apply web accessibility standards to your online platforms. It is the best way to mitigate risks and boost your online reputation and engagement. You can start by familiarizing yourself and adopting the standards established by WCAG and Section 508.
Accessibility Guide and Accessibility Statement
As an alternative (or temporary) solution, you can also publish an accessibility guide and statement on your website that seeks to provide necessary information on your website’s accessibility protocols. An accessibility guide can provide your online visitors a set of instructions on how they will be able to use and navigate through your platform freely with their adaptive devices, along with other alternatives in case of further accessibility issues.
This statement serves as a voluntary declaration of intent that you have taken actions to be compliant to the established web accessibility standards.
As an attorney, it is your responsibility to protect your profession and firm’s reputation by taking proactive measures on website accessibility even with the current lack of regulations. This is not just your service to your online platform, but to the millions of people with disabilities who are accessing it.
David Gevorkian – CEO/Founder
David started Be Accessible because of his passion for website accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions creating websites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating web interfaces usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.