Avoid Legal Woes and Improve Reach Through Web Accessibility

A WebAIM survey of web accessibility reveals that nearly 8 out of 10 web accessibility practitioners believe that websites and apps are not made compliant because of the lack of awareness or the skills and knowledge in implementing web accessibility. Many organizations simply do not prioritize it. However, the same study shows that organizations acknowledge the impact of web accessibility, with at least 80 percent of respondents saying that it has a significant impact on their businesses.

Web accessibility has become a necessity in establishing an online presence. The reasons for this need can be summed up as follows: the need to avoid legal entanglements and the ability to reach or serve a wider audience or potential customers.

Is it difficult to attain web accessibility?

Before discussing the benefits of web accessibility, here’s a point that is worth emphasizing: making a site accessible is not really that difficult. In the past, doing it for an already existing website would have entailed a major overhaul or significant changes in a site’s code. Online store or website owners would have to change the entire layout or colors of their sites to cater to people with visual difficulties. It would also be necessary for them to revisit their site’s code to insert captions, text alternatives, multimedia content alternatives, or make their pages compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers.

However, thanks to technological advances like AI and OCR, things have become considerably easier. Web accessibility solutions like accessiBe are now available to make virtually all kinds of websites accessible without having to commission another web development project to implement the necessary changes.

To demonstrate this ease, here’s a look at how accessiBe works.

The first step is to examine if a website is already compliant with web accessibility guidelines or if it needs some work. To do this, accessiBe provides a quick tool called Ace (ADA testing platform). All you need to do is to enter the URL of your site and click on the Get Results button. 

Ace will indicate if a site being examined is compliant or not. If it is non-compliant, it offers pointers on how the accessibility issues can be fixed. Site owners can work on the changes or improvements they need through these pointers. However, there is a more convenient solution: using accessiBe’s AI-powered solution.

To quickly turn a non-compliant site into one that is fully web-accessible, the process is as follows:

  1. Obtain a script from accessiBe
  2. Copy the script into your website’s code

To get the script from accessiBe, you need to sign up for an accessiBe account. Once you have an account, head </>Installation tab to find and copy the accessiBe script.

Paste the accessiBe script (as shown below) right before the end of the code of your site’s body. accessiBe readily provides specific instructions for installing the script to sites created using different website builders or platforms.

In summary, you just have to (1) test if your site is web-accessible or not, (2) sign up for an accessiBe account, (3) copy the accessiBe script, and (4) and install the script into your site’s code. No overhaul is needed. There are no apps to install and update.

Once accessiBe is installed on a site, it provides a persistent button on all pages, which can be any of the buttons shown below depending on the customizations made. 

The web accessibility button allows any user of a site to change the way a page looks and behaves to make it suitable for their individual needs. It allows the user to change color combinations, adjust text sizes or font spacing, modify the alignment of texts and page elements, mute sounds, stop animations, hide images, or put up a virtual keyboard.

There are many other options available to allow those who have hearing, vision, or motor difficulties to interact with a website more conveniently. accessiBe also makes web pages compatible with screen readers and other assistive technology solutions.

Additionally, accessiBe provides preset profiles to let site users with specific needs proceed with using a site with just a few clicks. Someone who has epilepsy triggered by flashes or strong color contrasts, for example, can choose the Seizure Safe Profile to instantly turn off animations and reduce colors on a site. Those who have reading and focus issues can turn on the Cognitive Disability Profile to display various assistive features to facilitate focus.

There are other similarly convenient solutions similar to accessiBe like Textise and Instant Web Compliance. Using them may involve a few more steps or requirements, but they work in essentially the same way described above. They can make any site web accessible through a simple script, which creates a new graphical user interface (GUI) on top of a page to enable changes without having to do significant tampering with a site’s code.

Website owners can always choose to do it the traditional way. They can hire web developers with web accessibility expertise to examine their pages individually and introduce compulsory changes. It will be a costly and time-consuming process, though. 

Mitigating legal liabilities

Logically, companies are expected to regard web accessibility as a must amid the flurry of lawsuits targeting establishments that do not have web-accessible sites. Netflix, Nike, Domino’s, and several other companies have become defendants in lawsuits that invoke laws such as Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, it appears not many companies put up websites that are web-accessible from the start.

Aside from US laws that make web accessibility compulsory, similar legal requirements are imposed in other countries. The European Union, for example, has the European Accessibility Act that includes a section for web accessibility standards called EN 301549. Companies that refuse to make their sites web accessibility because they are not serving customers in the United States would have to rethink their positions.

While some dismiss web accessibility lawsuits as frivolous, the fact remains that they threaten to disrupt business operations or lead to unnecessary expenses. Even respected academic institutions such as Harvard and MIT have become targets of web accessibility lawsuits. These institutions had to resort to settlements that cost more than a million dollars. If they had to drag the case in court further, the expenses would have ballooned. One estimate puts the cost of addressing one web accessibility lawsuit at around ten grand.

Recently, bipartisan legislation was floated in the United States House of Representatives to resolve the allegedly abusive and predatory web accessibility litigation. This may sound promising, but the threat of disruption, encumbrances, and costly legal expenses remain. As such, it is better to make a site web accessible rather than dealing with the costs and inconveniences whenever a case is filed.

Improving reach and customer service

Aside from evading legal woes, another advantage of making sites web accessible is the possibility of gaining more customers or audiences. The World Bank estimates that there are over a billion people with disabilities worldwide. This translates to around 15% of the global population, who are more likely to use the internet, consume web content, or engage in online shopping if they are given the means to use web pages.

A study by Nucleus Research found that as much as $6.9 billion in potential sales are lost by e-commerce sites because of their lack of web accessibility. More than 70 percent of websites reportedly lose potential sales because they do not provide accessibility features. Customers hop to alternatives because their special needs are not being served.

Moreover, web accessibility also brings with it the advantage of improved usability. Websites that are built with accessibility in mind tend to be better designed and coded. As such, they appeal to users who prefer more intuitive designs and interfaces. At the same time, they tend to be favored by search engines. As a Nielsen Norman Group article on SEO and usability puts it, search result rankings are becoming tied to usability because of search engines increasingly snooping on user behaviors.

The takeaway

Given the availability of quick web accessibility solutions, there is no excuse for companies to avoid or delay making their online stores or sites web-accessible. The benefits are difficult to forego, and the threat of litigation is even more compelling. Quick web accessibility solutions are not free, but the cost does not compare to the cost of a traditional solution and the expenses and lost revenues attributable to inaccessibility.

Image: Unsplash

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