Making your website accessible to all: Disability and modern web design
Website accessibility refers to the ability of people with varying impairments to access and comprehend content, and functionality, and access all the features of your website. While there are several obvious solutions such as adding alt-text to images so that people using screen readers can understand what each image represents, there are myriad aspects to making your website accessible for all impairments. Creating opportunities for impaired users to enjoy your website not only increases your potential audience but also helps mitigate the risk of lawsuits by keeping your website ADA and WCAG-compliant. I spoke to an expert from a leading software company that helps webmasters meet these requirements. Let’s discuss the importance of making your website accessible to all!
What are the WCAG guidelines and why should you care about them?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines are designed to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor impairments. The WCAG guidelines provide a framework for creating websites and web applications that are more usable and understandable for a diverse range of users.
The guidelines are used in lawsuits to determine whether a website has properly addressed the needs of disabled users who are trying to access content and services from a website. They are organized around four core principles, often referred to as the “POUR” principles:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive. This includes providing text alternatives for non-text content, providing captions and other alternatives for multimedia, and making sure that content can be presented in different ways (e.g., larger text, simpler layout) without losing meaning.
- Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable. This involves making all functionality available from a keyboard, providing users with enough time to read and use content, avoiding content that could cause seizures or physical discomfort, and designing navigation that is easy to use and understand.
- Understandable: Information and operation of the user interface must be understandable. This includes making text readable and understandable, designing consistent and predictable navigation and functionality, and providing input assistance to help users avoid and correct errors.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. This involves using valid and well-formed code, providing metadata to help with content interpretation, and ensuring compatibility with current and future technologies.
These guidelines serve as a blueprint for what your website should be able to provide for a person with disabilities. As you can see, blindness and deafness are not the only impairments that might affect a person’s access to your website. Other impairments include people with poor vision, dementia, dyslexia, people prone to light-induced seizures, color blindness, various learning disabilities, and many more.
The Long arm of the law: The litigious landscape of an accessible web
Caring about these guidelines goes beyond showing compassion for people with impairments. The truth is that over the last several years there have been many lawsuits brought against websites that are not accessible.
Fines for WCAG violations can range from $50,000 to $100,000 dollars, not including legal fees. As you can imagine, fines of this size when combined with the cost of litigation can sink the assets of a mid-sized company.
Now, you may think that only large corporations would be targeted for such lawsuits. After all, the enforcement the WCAG guidelines is relatively new in the last 5 years. However, you would be wrong. In reality, many small to mid-sized businesses have become the target of lawsuits surrounding accessibility. While some of these claims were legitimate, there were also others that may have been more motivated by money than actual harm.
Not all lawsuits for accessibility are created equal
Most of us understand that the United States has been home to law firms that encourage lawsuits for less-than-noble reasons: Namely money. While it is certainly important that people with impairments have legal recourse to effect change over the accessibility of a given website and service, not all lawsuits are brought to bear with these altruistic motives at heart.
The numbers show that small and mid-sized websites that are sued are often settled outside of court in an attempt to avoid the lawyer fees that a trial would bring. This makes them ideal targets for law firms seeking to capitalize on the recent enforcement of the WCAG guidelines. The vast majority of the lawsuits against medium-sized companies over WCAG violations have been instigated by the same handful of law firms.
How you can ensure your website is WCAG compliant
At Apis Productions, we design websites with code that attempts to mitigate some of the hurdles an impaired person might encounter online. However, it is nearly impossible to address every impairment that exists. This is where external software and plugins come into play. We have tried several free plugins that claim to address most of these issues. However, very few are comprehensive enough to merit our confidence.
In the realm of paid-plugins, there are some that are better than others. A company that seems to constantly be innovating their product is AccessiBe. While not free, AccessiBe goes several steps beyond other plugins in that they help with legal counsel should your site be targeted for a lawsuit. Their plugin allows the user to alter the appearance and functionality of your website to meet their needs and address their impairments. The scope of this plugin is mesmerizing.
For all of our clients who are concerned with accessibility on the website, we recommend this plugin. It may well be that other products and improvements to the web itself will soften the litigious landscape of website accessibility. Until this time, Apis is here to help you make decisions to protect the integrity and accessibility of yours.