Hopefully, you never, during the infancy of the internet, bought into the widely held iconic belief that “If We Build It, ‘They’ Will Come.” This erroneous belief had law firms deliriously dreaming of clients flocking in droves to their websites, just throwing money at them. While this is a warm and fuzzy, romantic notion befitting a Hollywood movie, it has no bearing in the real world, especially the business world. Many of those feverishly built websites now lie dormant gathering virtual dust.
But you were realistic- you knew that the internet could deliver a whole new world of clients. You’d build a website, and using a number of vehicles and mechanisms, such as Google Ads, Search Engine Optimization, article publication and distribution, press releases, etc., and you’d eventually get people to your website.
However, just having a website isn’t enough in today’s competitive online world. An ugly monster has raised its threatening head. Now, your website could be a victim of Americans with Disabilities Act (non) compliance. Just imagine what that might mean for your business.
In 2018, there were more than 2,000 ADA website lawsuits filed in federal courts across the U.S. This is a considerable increase of 181 percent over 2017, with the majority of lawsuits originating in Florida and New York.
In most of those cases, the private businesses can’t be sued for damages under the ADA. Instead, they are sued for compliance, plus attorney fees. Even businesses who agree to settlements, or those that lose their cases, still must pay attorney fees and promise to become ADA compliant within a certain amount of time.
These lawsuits typically settle for between $2,000 to $20,000, but the cost could be considerably higher if defendants chose to fight in court. According to one ADA defense attorney, “Any case appealed to the 11th Circuit has not gone the defendants’ way.”
One major issue confounds law practices- there are no definitive federal regulations describing what must be done to make their websites ADA accessible. (The ADA regulation was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, long before there was the internet, formerly the World Wide Web, or websites, like we have today.)
Let’s get one thing straight, there are two terms that are closely related, but separate: ADA website compliance vs. website accessibility.
For websites to be ADA compliant, they need to be accessible.
And website accessibility could mean two different things depending on context: first- the process of making a website’s content and functionality accessible to those with disabilities, and second- just how accessible IS your website.
Here’s what it comes down to:
ADA compliance is a legal matter- are you compliant with the law?
Accessibility is a technical issue- how easily can disabled people access your website?
Question: How do we make our websites accessible?
Answer: By developing a website where everyone, including people who are disabled, has “full and equal” use of the website.
And how is “full and equal” use determined?
U.S. Courts use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA as the standard to determine if websites are accessible. The WCAG success criteria are made up of 38 requirements.
If your website fulfills those 38 requirements, GREAT! But, even if your site doesn’t, it still can be accessible.
Remain open-minded that accessibility is not a set-it-and-forget-it practice. Each time you upload new content to your website, it should meet the WCAG success criteria.
There are at least 5 critical items that could address the most common complaints in demand letters and lawsuits.
1. Input Alt Text. Using the Alt Text tag, you’re indicating/describing the meaning of the image. (This is also an under-utilized SEO ‘trick.’)
2. Make sure to have your YouTube videos use Closed Captioning. This is a fairly easy function to implement when editing your videos.
3. Ensure your website is navigable without the keyboard. Unplug your keyboard to see if you can navigate throughout your website.
4. Forms with field labels. Code your forms to that the field labels such as “first name” and “email address” can be read by screen readers.
5. Use descriptive anchor text (your major keywords) for the links on a page. This is good not only for ADA compliance but is also one of the 200 criteria in Google’s algorithm that are used to determine your website’s page rank.
The impact of ADA compliance for accessibility is likely to remain somewhat vague for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, the best option for most businesses is to do their best to abide by the WCAG standards.
There were a record number of lawsuits filed in 2018, 2019 is expected to decimate that record. To be sure, updating your website, or building a new one, to be ADA compliant is a process that takes time. I’m not sure if it’s for you, but you should start today doing what you can.
Contact us to see what it might take to make your website ADA compliant. Call (818) 991-7135.