Dave Herr, Texthelp

Golden opportunity: don’t wait for legislation to re-shape your web accessibility strategy

1 in 5 people in the US have some form of disability. Now’s the time to rethink accessibility strategy, and ensure that all online resources follow industry standards like compliance with latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).


Golden opportunity: don’t wait for legislation to re-shape your web accessibility strategy

It’s over a quarter century since Congress rubber-stamped the Americans with Disabilities Act, 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’. 

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that any service provider – public or private– should design their websites with the same care that they would make adequate provisions for disabled visitors to an 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 who 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 online resources can’t be understated. As well as increasing the convenience and speed in obtaining information or services, they significantly reduce the costs of delivery for public service providers. Those benefits, however, may be little comfort for the over 100 million people (US Census) 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 of 2015 have extended the deadline, but it is clear that there will be new regulations coming soon.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) suggests that these new 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 it’s an excuse to sit around and do nothing until then.

Whether you’re a retailer or a government agency, your own web site has becoming the primary storefront for your services. Now’s the time to rethink your accessibility strategy, and ensure that all your online resources – including web sites and mobile apps – follow industry standards like compliance with latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). At the same time, look for ways to make your website more ‘digitally inclusive’ and expand access to include support for language barriers and hidden disabilities such as dyslexia. The overall goal of any organization should be that 100% of your potential web site visitors can access and conduct business on your web site. Excluding such a large percentage is just not smart business and for government organizations looking to reduce costs by moving more services online, it increases costs by forcing these visitors to go back to more expensive methods of applying for government services.

As well as reducing the risk of future litigation, you’ll be tapping into a golden opportunity for richer, more valuable experiences for all your customers... today and tomorrow.

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