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September 27, 2021
By: Jennifer M. Sender

The internet provides freedom beyond the four walls of our homes and offices. Yet, for many disabled people, the internet can be filled with as many obstacles as the physical world. To address this lack of access, websites and mobile apps which offer goods and services are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). In 2020, the number of lawsuits alleging lack of digital accessibility increased by 25%. 80% of the ADA lawsuits were filed against retail stores.

Accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits. Compliance with the guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) establishes acceptable accessibility. W3C provides a set of “success criteria,” commonly referred to as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.1. The purpose of WCAG 2.1 is to make content such as text, images, sounds, code and markup on websites and apps more accessible. Compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA is generally accepted as compliance with the ADA.

The WCAG 2.1 guidelines are based on four principles of accessibility. The content must be:

  • Perceivable (user can detect the contents of the page and user interface).
  • Operable (user is able to interact with the components of the page, such as navigation features and user interface).
  • Understandable (user is able to understand the content and how to use the user interface).
  • Robust (the web page must remain accessible to a variety of user agents, including assistive technologies).

The guidelines include such elements as contrast, text alternatives, not using design content known to cause seizures or physical reactions, functionality from a keyboard (not all individuals are able to use a mouse), allowing sufficient time for the user to read and use content, and captioning of videos. W3C is drafting additional guidelines to expand the WCAG 2.1 guidelines to address user needs of people with cognitive or learning disabilities and users of mobile devices and e-books as well as publishing requirements and emerging technologies like virtual reality.

Companies new to digital accessibility issues should take immediate steps. By installing Microsoft’s free “Accessibility Insights” browser extension, companies can review their website pages and see information as to what to fix, why and how.   A consulting firm can then assist with testing and developing web content for accessibility. Thorough web accessibility testing should include automated, manual, and functional testing. Manual testing by persons with disabilities is especially beneficial because many usability issues are only identifiable by human testers with disabilities and/or who use assistive technologies.

13% of all adult Americans reported they are blind or have vision issues, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Web content accessibility also affects a wide range of disabilities, including auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. Accessibility provides better access to all potential users and should be a business priority.