Dave Herr, Texthelp

No time like the present

Don’t wait for legislation before re-thinking your web accessibility strategy...

Man using a tablet device

As a nation the US has long been a technological leader, especially in the field of Information Technology. Google? Facebook? Twitter? Apple? Microsoft? They’re American names you might well have heard of. So it’s surprising - and troubling - that we lag behind other developed economies in giving citizens equal access to online services that so many of us depend on.

Recently announced delays in plans to address how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to the Internet came as a blow to many of us in the accessibility and accommodations world.  While the Department of Justice says that it’s seeking additional public comment on proposed regulations outlining accessibility standards for state and local government websites, this bottleneck couldn’t come at a more critical time - and the delays in action don’t help anyone.

Our economic peers are moving fast...

New EU legislation compels all public sector bodies to make their websites and mobile apps more accessible to users with disabilities. And while the detail of how this is implemented is up to individual member states, the positive implications for Europe’s economic muscle are inescapable. 

Closer to home, Canada is already deep in implementing a comprehensive accessibility program that includes websites and mobile apps. 

With the presidential elections later this year, US public sector organisations may see a great excuse to do nothing for the time being. But as many Universities, Local governments and private corporations are already finding out, time is a costly luxury they can’t afford. While the DOJ continues to drag out the final language on the ADA and public web sites, they continue to single out organizations under the Project Civic Access program.

It’s over a quarter century since Congress rubber-stamped the ADA, putting the onus on employers and public service providers to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for people with disabilities.

While the ADA does not specifically cite websites, its potency in cyberspace has already been tested in a number of high-profile court cases. Businesses like Expedia.com and Hotels.com have been sued successfully by customers with disabilities who’ve been unable to use online products and services ‘without substantial extra effort’. 

Education is under the microscope, too...

Right now, the websites of 350 institutions are being scrutinized for their accessibility - by students, parents, staff and the public - by the Office for Civil Rights. The OCR crack-down insists that schools need to comply not only with the ADA, but also Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The threat of lawsuits for non-compliance is certainly focusing schools’ attention.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that any service provider – public or private – should design their websites with the same level of care they would use to make adequate provisions for disabled visitors to their office or retail store.

Back in 1990, the Internet as we now know it didn’t exist... 

Today, the web has profoundly transformed the way that government entities serve the public. In particular, it’s a lifeline for millions of citizens facing physical and cognitive challenges.  These people depend on State and local government websites to file their tax returns, renew drivers’ licenses, pay fines, register to vote and apply for jobs or benefits.

The role of these government online resources can’t be understated. In addition to increasing the convenience and speed in obtaining information or services, they significantly reduce the cost of delivery for public service providers. These benefits, however, may be of little comfort to the millions of people (100 million in the US) who lack the necessary digital skills to use online services.

1 in 5 people in the US have some form of disability...

And while many States and localities are taking continual steps to improve the accessibility of their websites, the job’s far from done. Back in 2010, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), with the intention of ‘making programs, services and activities offered over the web accessible to individuals with disabilities’. More recent updates in March 2015 extended the deadline, but it’s clear there will be new regulations coming soon.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) suggests these new accessibility regulations will be ‘economically significant to the tune of $100 million annually’. What’s more, the provision of accessible websites will ‘significantly increase the opportunities for citizens with disabilities to participate in, and benefit from, State and local Government programs, activities, and services’.  This ground-breaking regulation isn’t likely to be fully enforced until 2018. But that doesn’t mean you should do nothing until then.

Whether you’re a school, a retail business or a government agency, your website is the primary storefront for your services. So don’t wait for the threat of legislation to drive your business and marketing strategies. Now’s the time for every public-facing organization to rethink their accessibility strategies, ensuring that all their online resources – including websites and mobile apps – follow industry standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

There are plenty of ways to make all your digital content more inclusive...

like expanding access to support those with language barriers and hidden disabilities such as dyslexia. The tools to do it are readily available. At Texthelp we can adapt your existing site in a matter of hours, so that visitors with literacy challenges are able to hear on-screen text read out loud.

Making your online storefront accessible makes smart business sense, when the costs of online engagement are greatly lower than face-to-face and telephone transactions. And while you’re reducing the risk of future litigation, you’ll be tapping into a golden opportunity for richer, more valuable experiences for all your customers and end-users, today and tomorrow.


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