Last month the Department of Justice published its official stance on web accessibility, what it means and how it relates to state and local governments, as well as any businesses working with the public. The guidelines separate government-related entities under Title II and public businesses under Title III.
The purpose of the guidelines is to afford people with disabilities online accommodations equivalent to those already at storefronts and government buildings. When we look at concepts like handicap parking spots, ramps, braille, and the even context that a sign can give to customers, often, the equivalent accommodations are missing from websites. This discrepancy of accessibility between brick and mortar locations versus the growing online presence of businesses is being outlined and addressed with web accessibility tools and emerging best practices.
The full guidelines note public business as retail stores and other sales or retail establishments; banks; hotels, inns, and motels; hospitals and medical offices; food and drink establishments; and auditoriums, theaters, and sports arenas.
The Importance of an Accessible Website
Since 2008, there have been some significant legal decisions regarding website accessibility, with lawsuits having ramped up in recent years due to the number of services being offered online. Notably, Rite Aid and Kroger recently reached settlement agreements with the United States over their online COVID-19 Vaccination Registration Portals. Both websites were found to have been inaccessible to some users with disabilities. These settlements join other recent accessibility-related agreements, including those for service-driven organizations such as H&R Block, Peapod, and even several universities.
What these companies all have in common beyond the issues of accessibility, is that more of their users are turning to technology for business. Many users who were previously unable to use websites due to disabilities are beginning to use sites for services. As technology grows in its ability to empower disabled users, it is important to use these advancements to provide disabled users with the same experiences that websites intend for all.
Providing an Accessibility Statement
Based on what the recent guidelines suggest, any public-facing business with a website should take publishing an accessibility statement into consideration. An accessibility statement ideally provides users with significant insight into measures taken to address website accessibility and information about how users can provide feedback regarding accessibility issues they might run into while using the website. Right now, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the best measuring sticks for overall site accessibility, with WCAG 2.0 having been released in 2008 and WCAG 2.1 in 2018.
All this isn’t to say that businesses should live in fear of lawsuits over small oversights regarding accessibility, but it is vital to take measures to make content and services accessible online. An accessibility statement can provide the context users need to understand what a site is capable of accommodating, along with a way for users to provide feedback when they do run into accessibility issues. This way, businesses can grow their online presence based on the needs of their users. Accessibility statements might seem daunting, but with the general guidelines in place now, it is as good a time as any to start.
If you have a business with a website, there are services out there that can provide an outline for an accessibility statement. The W3C school is a good example. Additionally, if you are using a CMS to manage your website, there are free plugins and likely modules that you can leverage to generate a framework for a customizable accessibility statement. You can even delete the plugin after generating and publishing the statement to reduce clutter in the backend. If you need further assistance regarding website accessibility, check out our ADA compliance services or contact our website experts.