Have you ever priced what it would cost to make your website accessible for the hearing or visually impaired?
I have. And I didn’t like the answer.
Have you ever seen the price of litigation if someone with a disability decides to file a complaint with the federal government under ADA Title III?
I have. It starts at about $225/hour and could end with a hefty fine or settlement.
It is no secret that people with disabilities often need accommodations to help them get what they need - and it’s no different online. Websites, mobile apps, PDFs all fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). So if you didn’t already know, your online presence may be liable for “discrimination” under the law.
It didn’t use to be this way, but digital access to content (like website compliance) was added to ADA ten years ago (2010) when the law began requiring that public spaces be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Ever since, the number of lawsuits has snowballed into the thousands - with a 177% increase from 2017 to 2018, a landslide that continued into 2019.
I mean, even Beyonce was sued over it.
If you need proof, you can see a current running list of settlement agreements on the ADA website, including Universities, Medical Establishments, and tiny small businesses.
People with Disabilities - Accessibility Terms to Know
ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act - A civil rights law established in 1990 and put in place by the federal government that prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals.
Title III of the ADA - Although still rather muddy, Title III requires places with public accommodations and commercial facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities - and this strangely includes web-based and mobile applications. It’s not limited to brick and mortar. There are certain exclusions, however, like religious entities including churches, private religious schools, thrift shops, adoption agencies, and daycares.
Section 508 - This requires that Federal agencies make their web content and technology compliant to ADA.
WCAG - Separate from the government requirements, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are international standards that the world wide web follows and recommends to make the web more accessible for people with disabilities or people with limited accessibility (like people without computers who have to use cell phones).
For example, the web content accessibility guidelines 2.1 recommends that content orientation isn’t restricted to portrait over landscape, or vise versa. So if someone in a wheelchair has a tablet that can’t rotate because it’s attached to the chair, the application should work both horizontally AND vertically.
Another example, someone who is hearing impaired wants to watch a video. That video would need to have real-time closed captions that were in sync with the audio for that individual to get the experience they want from that content.
The cost of web accessibility (WCAG) is high
ADA Compliance first requires that you assess the damage, starting with an audit from $500 to $10,000. And the cost of making your website accessible ranges from $3,000 to $50,000. All in all - you are talking about $3,500 and up depending on the size of your site, the code the website is written in or software used, how many pages of content, photos and videos, etc. And of course - choosing ADA website compliance consultants can be tricky. Ultimately, the service or consultant you choose is going to impact the price that you pay and the value you receive.
When we say accessibility - we are really just talking about making it easier for people who can’t see or hear very well to be able to get the information that they need or want online.
Examples of tools and features that disabled individuals might use:
- Large text
- Keyboard navigation
- Interactive elements
- Screen contrast
- Text to speech conversion tools
- Website color accessibility checker
You may already know that people with disabilities have special screen readers or keyboard accessibility that helps them get what they want. They might use their arrow keys or shift-tab more than we do - but in the end, the way you implement your website design and website content is what helps meet the web content accessibility guidelines.
Once you have an ADA compliant website, you will have to keep it compliant.
Keeping your website in line with WCAG means hiring a consultant, or getting technical training and re-auditing your website on a regular basis.
The only way for your website to stay compliant is to first, never change or add any new content, or second, keep WCAG from changing. So, basically, it is impossible unless we want to stay here in 2020 forever.
If you add a new page of content or a new photo - your website newbies have to be compliant. Just as technology is changing every day, phones and computers are being updated, browsers and software are being upgraded and so are the accessibility guidelines.
Is a website ever really 100% compliant?
Let’s say that you go through the process of auditing and hiring a consultant to make your website compliant, and you end up with a certificate (or not, because you don’t actually need one).
Does this mean that your website is truly compliant? Does it satisfy the DOJ’s “clear as mud” rules? Will the court accept it, or did you miss something that you could be sued over?
The answer, still unclear.
There is no “checklist” that ensures your website is truly 100% compliant. WCAG comes into play because website owners are encouraged to meet those standards. But even then, it’s only a hint to conform to WCAG 2.1 A & AA.
You're on the Right Track with empathy
The fact that you're asking about ADA is an important step in the right direction. ADA compliance is not a feature, it is the application of accessibility principles, based on the fact that you have empathy for the people who want to learn from you or become your customers.
Just for a moment, ditch the compliance concern, and focus your attention on the people you want to serve.
The right place to start your evaluation of your website is always from the customer's point of view. It just so happens that this includes not only those who need special help because of an accessibility issue but actually all of your web visitors who need you to help them learn about and navigate the solutions to the problems they are working to solve.
ADA compliance should be an extension of a customer-centric approach to all of your entire digital brand story. In fact, that's what all high-performing websites do - communicate a deep understanding what's happening with the potential customer- that's their brand story.
Sweep Away Lots of ADA Concerns
If you could take many of the ADA concerns off the table, simply by choosing a web approach that provided less maintenance, better support, and helped more people go from just visiting to becoming a customer - wouldn't you want it?
You can switch from a website that has lots of ADA challenges and requires ongoing ADA maintenance, to one that makes compliance much easier. That can be done by simply moving from WordPress or some other open-source solution to a SaaS website in which all of those challenges melt away.
Now take the next step
If you started down the road toward more empathy and a focus on the real needs and concerns of your web visitors (and potential customer), then why not take it to the next level. It's about building a buyer's journey that will make all of your marketing and sales more effective because you'll be dialed in on more than compliance.
A deep understanding of your future customers should be the basis on which your entire website and marketing structure is built. It's more than simply a persona document, or even a customer survey. Empathy that is activated into your marketing can take care of compliance issues but also, improve all of the other engagement with web visitors.
The simple fact is that with the right approach, your investment in compliance can get you a lot more - it can help you reposition for growth because it is built around what your buyers need when they visit online.