In this day and age, the internet permeates almost every aspect of our lives. We rely on it for communication, for entertainment, for information gathering, for shopping and so much more. In fact, for most businesses, more people can reach these businesses via their website than their physical location.
But for 15 percent of the population, those resources might not be as readily available. People relying on the use of Assistive Technologies (AT), such as screen readers, cannot access nor fully consume digital content unless it has been created in conformance with the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Organizations like the Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) have published these guidelines to create an inclusive community, while bringing to light the wide range of disabilities that exist, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning and neurological disabilities. For the 41 million Americans living with disabilities - and more than one billion people worldwide - the internet is not always a welcoming place.
Why It’s Important to Be Accessible
As the conversation around digital accessibility becomes more prominent, we’re beginning to see some high-profile cases in the media. While many can agree on the social and ethical responsibility of compliance with WCAG and other guidelines, these cases have highlighted the question of the legal obligation of companies to make their content fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Beyoncé made headlines early this year after a visually-impaired fan attempted to navigate her site using a screen reader. Lawyers argued that under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the singer was required to make her website accessible to people with disabilities. While the ADA requires that public places of accommodations be accessible, there has been no official ruling that states that websites fall under this category.
In Beyoncé’s case, her team had failed to meet the web accessibility requirements that call for each image on a website to include alt-text for those utilizing AT. Oftentimes, accessibility details like this can be easily overlooked when no one is paying attention.
However, in the case of GNC, we saw what happened when the wrong person was assigned to monitor accessibility. The company recently went to court when a user with disabilities issued a demand letter after unsuccessfully attempting to navigate their site.
Lawyers for GNC argued that the company had taken several measures to ensure compliance with WCAG, and GNC’s IT executive attempted to testify as an accessibility expert in the case. The court ruled against GNC, stating that the IT executive was not even “minimally qualified” to provide an expert opinion on web accessibility.
In the travel and tourism industry, the Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) faced scrutiny for attempting to cut corners on accessibility. Rather than devote the necessary resources to make their main site compliant with WCAG, they created a second site specifically for individuals with disabilities. The court quickly ruled that this tactic was unacceptable, and SAS’s primary website was made accessible to all end users.
With more than 88 percent of the disabled population traveling each year, it’s imperative to ensure that travel resources are available and accessible for everyone.
How to Make Your Website Accessible
If you’re starting to panic because you’re website isn’t compliant - don’t! There are several easy steps that you can take to assess the accessibility of your site, and learn how to move forward from there.
First things first: you don’t have to build an entirely new website. Services like AudioEye can perform scans of your current site, and identify areas that may need improvement. Changes can be as simple as adding alt tags to photos, so that people using Assistive Technologies such as screen readers can access the content.
It’s important that the people you trust to evaluate your website have the correct qualifications, which is why AudioEye employees are certified professionals in accessibility core competencies (CPACC). They don’t just rely on site scans that can produce false positives, rather they ensure that each site is manually tested by a QA team utilizing Assistive Technologies, and perform continuous monitoring to ensure that your site stays compliant.