When your site fails to be accessible: laws, lawsuits, and access
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities, and this extends to websites. Your website needs to meet certain baselines and standards such as color contrast, alternative text, video captions, and more. These help ensure that those with vision impairments can utilize tools like screen readers. Some of these standards are costly, but necessarily, yet many businesses are not aware of or heading the requirements.
The law isn't the only reason you should make your site accessible, equal access is a human right, not a privilege. And you should hire disabled people to do that, among your other design needs. A quote from the self-identified disabled designer Liz Jackson, "The idea that we [people with disability] are recipients of design has embedded itself into our language even though we are responsible for the internet. We created email. We created the bicycle. We created cruise control, curb cuts [...] Our ingenuity changes the world yet we are perceived as recipients." People with disability are competitive hires.
Web accessibility doesn't only help those with disability.
What happens when your website, intentionally or unintentionally, falls short of these standards?
Your website isn't accessible and some groups can't access your content, products, or services. Technology is a vital resource for everyone, but especially those who may not have equal access to physical space. And if you need to convince others on your team to serve as many members of the community as possible, another major impact of violating these standards?
In 2018, one source reported over 2,000 websites were charged in federal court for failing to uphold ADA compliance. However, the total number of suits is speculative with one source reporting over 5,000 web accessibility suits in the first 6 months of 2018 alone. Often, these types of lawsuits aren't for damages, but for compliance and legal fees. The average cost of such cases ranges from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.
But how do these costs weigh against up the legal costs?
Teresa Huber, Get ADA Accessible's president, quoted the cost of making a small 10 page site would cost approximately $1,500. But for larger, more complex sites? It can cost hundreds of thousands, if not more.
In 2017, Kylie Jenner Inc., Jenner's make up company, was sued by Antoinette Suchenko, an user who is blind, for failing to meet accessibility standards. Hooters was sued on similar charges. But neither of these were the most notable of such suits.
In 2018, over 50 colleges and universities were sued for failing to meet compliance. Cornell and Northeastern were among those sued.
“These cases are reflective of a larger systemic problem -- that there is a lack of a strong commitment by many institutions to try to be as inclusive as possible," said Peter Blanck, University Professor of law at Syracuse University.
So what do you do?
The National Federation of the Blind has many resources available about web accessibility. Tools like SiteImprove are also great for crawling your website and reading accessibility errors.
There's also many videos available online and programs like Site Improve can help flag accessibility errors. When in doubt, budget for and prioritize bringing your site into compliance.
A Basic Accessibility Test
Screen reader, header tags