Dave Herr

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 (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’. 

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 is 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 retailer or a government agency, your own website is the primary storefront for your services. Now is the time to rethink your accessibility strategy, and ensure that all your online resources – including websites and mobile apps – follow industry standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). At the same time, you should look for ways to make your website more ‘digitally inclusive’ and expand access to support those with language barriers and hidden disabilities such as dyslexia. 

The overall goal of any organization should be to convert 100% of their transactions online.  This is not just smart for business but it’s cost effective too - we all know how costly face-to-face and telephone transactions are compared with online channels.

Finally, by 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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