People with disabilities should be able to use your sites and apps.
Making buildings accessible to people with disabilities has been mandatory for many years. In fact, it’s now just a common part of doing business.
What many businesses do not know is that as they expand into the online space, their web properties also should be accessible to those with disabilities.
There are two laws in particular that small businesses need to consider when it comes to accessibility in the online world.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Most entrepreneurs are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s the premier law for ensuring equal opportunity for people with disabilities when it comes to seeking work, receiv-ing government services or accessing public accommodations.
That last category—public accommodations—covers a wide range of private businesses: hotels, restaurants and bars, theaters, doctor’s offices, grocery stores, retail shops, daycare centers, gyms and more.
A growing number of lawsuits have argued these businesses’ websites should also be considered public accommodations and, thus, accessible to people with disabilities.
The Justice Department is looking into the issue, but won’t propose formal rules until 2018. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the DOJ from going after businesses whose websites aren’t ADA accessible—as it did a few years ago, when it reached a settlement with online grocer Peapod.
The Rehabilitation Act
While the ADA might be the best known law regarding people with disabilities, it’s not the only one that business owners should know.
The Rehabilitation Act—Section 504, to be specific—prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by federal agencies, in programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors—many of which happen to be small businesses.
So while the Justice Department won’t roll out its accessibility rules for businesses until 2018, if you’re a government contractor, your site needs to be accessible now. Blind and low-vision users, deaf persons and those with physical disabilities should be able to access your content.
Proposed Legislation and Legal Issues
The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act both have sections on enforcement and private rights of action. Plaintiff’s firms are lining up to find wronged parties, or better yet, engage with a single plaintiff that “tests” the web accessibility of any entity covered by either law.
If that person encounters a barrier to posted online content, whether that means videos, classes, advertisements, inquiry forms, terms and service, etc., the law firm could file suit following a long and drawn-out attempt at cash settlement.
So how can you make sure your website or app is compliant if the DOJ won’t issue its rules until 2018? DOJ is pointing to the Web Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, as the foundation for its proposed rules.
It should be noted that these rules (WCAG 2.0) have already been wholly adopted by all of Europe in the past year.
We have some catching up to do, but we also have a clear example of what compliance with these rules will look like.
Why It Matters
Accessibility isn’t simply a matter of compliance. It’s also the right thing to do.
After all, people with disabilities want to be able to share the same experiences as everyone else in the world. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you couldn’t apply for jobs, pay bills or shop online simply because a website didn’t have the right code?
Business owners are an innovative and resourceful group. We can—and must—meet the challenge of offering full access to all customers.