As you created your website, did you have accessibility in mind? Accessibility ensures that your content is accessible to anyone, regardless of their ability. Because of a recent influx of lawsuits against websites that aren’t accessible, this topic has been much more widely discussed.
Even though accessibility is based on legal principles, such as whether or not a website is a place of public accommodation of the ADA, it is primarily rooted in the technical side of your site.
Even though there have been some differing court opinions, I am going to discuss accessibility as though all business owners should have this set for their site. In this episode, I’ll discuss what accessibility is, the current status of website accessibility, accessibility statements, and how it might impact you and your business.
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In this episode:
[02:50] – What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?
[03:41] – Some people have interpreted parts of the ADA to necessitate certain requirements from website owners.
[04:56] – What do you need to do to ensure the accessibility of your website to everyone?
[05:52] – Danielle briefly mentions a few examples of accessibility tweaks you can make on your website.
[06:34] – Danielle talks about the first step to avoid a compliance lawsuit and ensure the accessibility of your website.
[08:00] – Here are three reasons why adding an accessibility statement to your website is critical.
[08:56] – At a minimum, add these three things to your accessibility statement.
[10:33] – Danielle discusses what to do with your accessibility statement once you have it and how she and her website designer worked together on implementing hers.
[11:58] – Take these three actions steps to make your website accessible to all.
Links & Resources:
- Accessibility Statement Generator and WCAG Checklists
- W3 Accessibility Statement Generator
- WCAG Standards
- “ADA Accessibility for Your Website – Here’s What You Need to Know”
- Marketing Queen Consulting
- Businessese on Facebook
- Businessese on Instagram
- Liss Legal
- Liss Legal on Instagram
Sample Accessibility Statements:
Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to episode 31 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today, we’re talking about website accessibility.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
To start, I wasn’t sure if this was a topic that I would cover at this time. First, it’s a very technical topic, although it’s certainly based in the law. But, on the legal side, there has been a lot of litigation in recent years and some conflicting decisions in the courts. I’m probably going to eventually do an update to the episode, but it’s a topic I’ve received many questions about in the past couple of years, so I thought it was important to talk about where we are now and how it might impact you. Additionally, I talk a lot about website policies, and it’s important to discuss accessibility statements, which I’ll do in this episode.
For anyone listening far into the future, this episode is being recorded in September 2021, so please verify if there have been any major updates to the law and I’ll do my best to update the show notes if there are any major changes so you’ll know before you start listening.
Now let’s get started. Before I talk specifically about websites, let’s talk about accessibility in more general terms. Accessibility is the ability to access things, regardless of your ability. This can come up in a lot of different ways, like, for example, product design.
On the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is also referred to as the ADA, was passed in 1990. The ADA prevents discrimination against people with disabilities in a number of areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. I also want to note that your business could also be impacted by state or local laws too, so be sure to review any requirements.
For example, under the ADA, if a private employer has 15 or more employees, they must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. This might include modifying equipment or providing assistive technology options.
Parts of the ADA have been interpreted to require that websites must also be accessible. More particularly, the idea that websites are places of public accommodation, especially if there is a commercial component to your site, has been a big question.
This has led to a lot of lawsuits regarding website accessibility. I saw stats that estimated there were over 20,000 lawsuits filed related to accessibility in 2019 and 2020. This includes lawsuits under ADA Title III and similar state legislation regarding civil rights, especially in the states of New York and California. And please note, this is just filed lawsuits, and doesn’t consider demand letters that companies may receive.
Since there’s no definitive federal law regarding privately owned websites, we’re going to proceed with caution and assume that your site needs to be accessible under the ADA or other laws. This helps to protect you from demands or lawsuits, and it benefits your audience, of course, by ensuring that everyone can access your content.
So what do you need to do to ensure your site is accessible?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Making your content accessible is driven by standards from the World Wide Web Consortium, which is also known as W3. They’ve created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which you’ll see as WCAG, and the acronym is usually pronounced as WCAG. I’m going to link in the show notes to the WCAG guidelines.
There are two versions that are often referred to, with the more recent being WCAG 2.1. WCAG 2.2 is currently in draft form and was expected to be released this year, so we may have a new set of standards to review soon.
Within WCAG, there are different levels of conformance, based on where your site falls in terms of adoption of the recommended standards.
A few examples of web accessibility include:
- Using alt tags for images, which allows a screen reader to read the alt text.
- It may include closed captions on videos
- It can also include font sizes and color contrast.
Since this is a legal podcast, and I’m the first person to say that I hire people to handle all of my tech needs, I’m not going to dive into too many details on each of the WCAG standards. There are a lot of great resources out there. I’m going to link the show notes to the WCAG guidelines.
I do, however, want to focus on the legal side. Many online business owners want to know how to avoid an ADA compliance lawsuit, which is understandable. Plus, they want to ensure that their websites are accessible to anyone, regardless of their ability.
Generally, the first step is going to be to review the WCAG standards and aim for AA level conformance. If you aren’t sure where to start, this is where I usually recommend either finding a great self-audit tool, or work with someone on the technical side who has a strong understanding of the WCAG requirements and what type of remediation may be necessary.
I work with a lot of bloggers and I know that remediating years of content can be daunting, but this is where I recommend talking to someone on the tech side to see what the best options are.
Over the years, I’ve looked at a lot of different checklists regarding WCAG standards I really like the information produced by Kris at accessible.org. I’m going to link it in the show notes. There are a couple of really great WCAG checklists that help to distill the standards into more easily understood actions.
I personally think W3 is the best resource for accessibility statements.
They’ve stated that an accessibility statement is important for the following three reasons:
- To show your users that you care about accessibility and about them;
- To provide them with information about the accessibility of your content; and,
- To demonstrate your commitment to accessibility, and to social responsibility.
Additionally, there may be some laws that require accessibility statements, like the EU Website Accessibility Directive which involves public bodies.
According to W3, there are 3 things your accessibility statement should contain at minimum:
- First, a commitment for people with disabilities
- Next, the accessibility standard applied, like WCAG 2.1
- And last, contact information in case users have an issue.
They go on to advise that you should also include the following:
- Any known limitations to your content, to avoid frustration to your users.
- Measures taken by your organization to ensure accessibility
- Technical prerequisites, like supported web browsers,
- Environments in which you’ve tested your content.
- References to any applicable laws or policies.
I know this sounds like a lot, especially if you are more on the creative side and not into the tech piece. But, I am happy to say that W3 offers an easy-to-use generator for accessibility statements. And it’s free.
The site I previously mentioned, accessible.org, also has a free template statement that is an excellent resource.
I’ve been asked a few times if I plan to add an accessibility statement to the Businessese store. Currently, I don’t plan to since there are great free tools available and I tend to send people directly to the source at w3. I have, however, drafted some for my legal clients who don’t want to DIY their statements.
Once you have your accessibility statement, what should you do with it? I typically recommend having it linked in the footer of your website, along with any other website policies.
I recently redesigned my Liss Legal website and I had a couple of key goals in mind for the design. One of which was to ensure that the site was accessible. My website designer, Crystal from Marketing Queen Consulting, is passionate about accessibility and she helped me with so many aspects of accessibility in the design process, from picking the appropriate colors to ensuring all of the copy was accessible to a screen reader. I’m going to link to an article in the show notes that she has on her blog regarding accessibility. She is someone who also embraces making things simple and I think her blog post really does help to simplify some of the tech aspects.
We talked about accessibility a lot and once we finished with the design, it was easy to move through my accessibility statement since it was clear where we fell with the WCAG standards.
This wraps up the overview on website accessibility and let’s close with action steps.
- First, is the content on your website accessible to everyone? Are there changes you can make to ensure your website is more accessible? Consult the WCAG standards or a checklist to see what changes you may need to make.
- Next, do you have an accessibility statement on your website? Check out the link in the show notes for more information about what to include or reach out to your lawyer.
- Last, as always, if you have questions about your accessibility statement, please talk to a lawyer. I offer this type of service through my law firm, Liss Legal. If you have questions, I’d be happy to discuss them with you. Visit Lisslegal.com to learn more. And, if you have questions on the tech side of your website, definitely talk to an expert who is well-versed in accessibility.
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