Most people take websites for granted. They pay bills, book flights, and download white papers online with relative ease. But not everyone assumes that digital tools are designed with them in mind, and that’s a failure for everyone.
One in four U.S. adults report having a disability that impacts major life activities. That’s 61 million friends, neighbors, and family members who deserve a digital experience that is just as user friendly as anyone else’s.
Integrating website accessibility into your design process and culture is a step toward addressing this very human problem of exclusivity. And while a sense of justice is enough to move many organizations to act, there is also a strong business case. Offering a user experience that caters to only a select group of users alienates potential brand advocates and carries serious legal risks.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III Regulations, public properties, including public websites, have to adhere to accessibility parameters. In other words, your digital presence must be designed and coded so that people can carry out their desired tasks, from completing a form to making a purchase. This should extend beyond your basic site to search tools, mobile apps, and social media.
Organizations often find themselves on the wrong side of this issue. Rather than proactively carving out a path to invite accessibility in as a priority, they are reacting to negative feedback and even lawsuits. These companies are well meaning but don’t know what to do to ensure compliance.
To help keep you up to speed, here are six ways accessibility may impact businesses and website design in the near future:
1. Lawsuits will escalate
From 2017 to 2018, the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA shot up from 814 to 2,258. This trend will likely continue as more users hold noncompliant websites and other digital tools accountable.
Recent high-profile lawsuits have called out Winn-Dixie, Beyoncé, Burger King, Rolex Watch, and Amazon. In a particularly unsavory 2019 story, instead of fixing its online ordering feature, Domino’s pizza responded to a blind customer’s lawsuit with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to quash the case.
2. Standard design processes will change
To achieve a more inclusive user experience, designers and developers follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for web standards. It’s part of their process, showing up as captions on videos for people with impaired hearing or spoken versions of site copy read aloud by screen readers.
Before accessibility can become an intrinsic part of the website design process, organizations will have to rally their troops and emphasize its importance. In the near future, writing alt-text for images, ensuring all content can be accessed with a keyboard, and making sure text can be viewed at 200% without impairing readability will be second nature.
While we aren’t there yet, the additional steps needed to build a compliant site will become standard procedure over the next few years.
3. Know-how will develop fast
Remember the 1990s when accessibility ramps were tacked onto commercial buildings like ugly metal afterthoughts, function-rich but design-poor? Today, ramps are architectural features, such as switchbacks crisscrossing wide flights of stairs, and curving slopes that add to a structure's beauty.
In digital, we aren’t working with hammers and drills, and we’ve had 29 years to appreciate the precepts of the ADA. The speed at which website accessibility can and should evolve will be much faster than its brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Plus, adherence helps companies compete more effectively for the more than $645 billion of disposable annual income that Americans with disabilities control, creating an additional layer of urgency.
4. Site facelifts will facilitate compliance
Organizations regularly upgrade their websites and apps to make them faster, more secure or better optimized for search. Add accessibility to that list.
When talking to our clients about site improvements, accessibility is at the forefront of conversations about website facelifts. These are often great opportunities to ramp up (pun intended) inclusion efforts.
5. Someone will own accessibility
Who on your team will lead an initiative around accessibility? How will this person develop knowledge and implement more stringent ADA accessibility user testing? Is this a role for design/development or someone in HR/legal?
More organizations are asking themselves these questions, and many are looking to outside partners to help them get and stay compliant. Whether it’s handled internally or externally, accessibility will become part of someone’s job description.
6. Audits will head off future legal fights
ADA lawsuits and subsequent news stories can burn through an organization’s brand equity, repel customers, and rack up hefty legal expenses. When performed by a trusted digital partner, an audit can bring to light web accessibility infractions so that you can deal with them before they impact your audience. (One caveat: beware of predatory auditors. Scammers have been known to offer auditing services and then threaten to expose noncompliant clients to the ADA if they don’t sign on for follow-up projects.)
As organizations take first steps to prioritize accessibility, initial results might look and feel like that ugly ramp from the 1990s. At Fusion Alliance, the growing pains have been worth it to ensure that our user experience offers everyone the same level of respect and compassion.
Making accessibility part of your digital design conversations now will better serve every human in the future. Don’t wait to talk to your team.