Summary: Why should we bake accessibility into the digital products we build?
- It’s the right thing to do
- Provides a better user experience for EVERYBODY, disability or not
- Increases mobile usability
- Improves a site’s SEO ranking
- Protects our partners from litigation
- It’s the direction the world is headed
Back in 1991, the world wide web wasn’t the robust information highway it is today, and digital accessibility was left out of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act applies not only to federal government entities (Title I), but also to state and local government (Title II), as well as businesses that are open to the public (Title III). Now that we live in a digital age, digital accessibility issues have become more evident and problematic, with lawsuits over digital accessibility continuing to rise year-over-year.
So why should we build digital products with accessibility in mind?
It’s the Right Thing To Do
This is so obvious to me that I struggle to understand why everyone isn’t passionate about accessibility! Why would we want to risk alienating portions of our audience when it is literally so easy to design for accessibility? According to the CDC, 61 million Americans have some form of disability - about 26%, or one in four people. If your website doesn’t support accessibility, and your competitor’s does - who do you think the disability community is going to support?
Provides a better user experience for EVERYBODY, disability or not
Designing your site or application for accessibility means a better experience for all users, whether they have a disability or not. For example, having high contrast between your text color and background color means it will be easier for someone with vision-related disabilities as well as for someone who is trying to read it in bright sunlight. Another example is a user who wants to watch a video on your site, but is in a quiet place, like a library. Having captions can help this user consume your content. These situations are examples of ‘temporary disabilities’ and they happen to all of us, probably more than we notice.
It increases mobile usability
Apparently a lot of people use their phones to look at websites and apps these days. It’s split about 50/50 between mobile vs desktop usage, but social media is 25% of all digital media consumption, and is mostly accessed on mobile. Which means if you are posting on social media to drive traffic to your site, most of that traffic is using a mobile device. The more accessible your site is, the more easily your audience can consume your content on a teeny, tiny screen.
It improves your site’s SEO ranking
A search engine’s ability to read and understand your site content is improved by following accessibility guidelines, which can result in improved SEO rankings. These ranking factors include:
- Image alt text - hidden descriptive text on images that is read by a screen reader
- Video transcriptions - text transcripts of everything that is said in a video
- Content organization - instructions, good button labels, headings and other navigational elements
- Semantic HTML - describes different parts of a web page
- Semantic content - context of content using not just keywords but key phrases
“The most important blind visitor to your website is Google! In the same way that creating accessible web pages helps disabled persons access your content, it also helps Google index your pages so that the right people can find your service or product.” – Jim Byrne, Founder of Guild of Accessible Web Designers
It protects our partners from litigation
According to accessibility.works, 412 of the Internet Top 500 list have gotten ADA complaints over the past four years. If the famous Domino’s lawsuit taught us anything it is this; any company with a website and a physical location, who is selling something, should get their site up to accessibility standards stat! And, if your company receives a complaint or lawsuit for accessibility - your response should be “We’re sorry, we’ll get that fixed right away!” and make good on that promise.
A few notes on the most famous digital accessibility lawsuit of all time - Robles vs Domino’s
- Domino’s was initially sued by a visually impaired pizza-lover back in 2016 because their website and app were not accessible. Domino’s argued that since the original ADA laws didn’t mention digital spaces, they shouldn’t have to comply with ADA standards. The federal district court in Southern California agreed and ended up throwing out the case.
- Robles, the Plaintiff, appealed and the dismissal of the original case was overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court. The opinion of the Ninth Circuit was that Dominos’ disabled customers should have “full and equal enjoyment of Domino’s goods and services.”
- At this point, Domino’s could have (and really SHOULD have) re-directed all the money they were spending on this legal battle into fixing their accessibility issues and settling out of court. But they doubled down and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- The Supreme Court ultimately refused to hear the case and decided to punt it back down to the district court for rehearing - however in June 2022, Domino’s finally settled the case out of court after battling this for 6 years. Even though the details of the settlement are not known, they will most likely still have to make their website and app accessible, or they risk leaving themselves open to future lawsuits. Domino’s wasted not only time and money, but likely some of the goodwill of their loyal customers in the process.
What does this mean for other companies who conduct business online? This lawsuit is now a binding precedent; the web is considered a place of public accommodation. This means if a website or app facilitates access to the goods and services of a place of public accommodation (a physical location), the ADA laws cover the website and app.
Moving forward from here
As of this blog’s release, there is currently a bill within congress to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act that sets forth requirements for consumer-facing websites and mobile applications regarding standards for website accessibility by the disabled. Specifically, the bill forbids excluding disabled persons from full and equal benefits of the services of such websites or applications.
I strongly believe it is only a matter of time before this bill is passed and all websites and applications, regardless of the company having a physical location or not, will be held to meet ADA standards.
Let’s get on the right side of history and create digital products that are accessible to our entire audience, now.