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Don’t Focus On The Laws, Try This New Approach to Web Accessibility

By: Aylin Dunham
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How to Approach Web Accessibility

For the past 17 years, the number of complaints and lawsuits over web accessibility issues have been on the rise. Advocacy groups have our attention and continue to press hard for equal access to the web. With outdated laws, websites are sometimes in a grey area, and updates seem slow to come. But instead of waiting and fearing the possibility of a lawsuit, organizations with websites should be thinking about accessibility differently. Changes should be made on the principle that no matter the type of disability or the severity of the impairment, everyone should have equal access to computers and the web.  

Frequent Lawsuits

The first lawsuits that gained national attention were directed toward companies that provide video content, including Netflix, iTunes, and Hulu. These companies settled and agreed to policies which ensure all of their video content is closed-captioned. Next came cases against universities, some which have resulted in the removal of online educational content. Since 2015, there have been over 240 web accessibility related lawsuits against private companies. These lawsuits are justified based on the position that the web is a public space. As a public space, ADA laws apply in the same way that they apply to public buildings. Although some argue that websites are in a grey area, these lawsuits are usually settled or decided by a court in favor of the individuals with disabilities and advocacy groups.

Vague Legal Requirements

The ADA was passed in 1990 and amended in 2008. Think about the web in 1990 — chances are you weren’t even using it yet. Even 10 years ago, in 2008, computers weren’t as much an essential part of our daily lives. These laws are not clear in regards to websites and the Internet being a public space. Due to the lack of clarity, organizations remain in fear of lawsuits. They often choose to wait to be told what is required of them. But, with the recent cancellation of a proposed rulemaking notice for the Rehabilitation Act, it’s beginning to seem like clarification will not come quickly. This is why we need a new approach to web accessibility.

Learn What an Accessible Website Means

This new approach is one that begins with understanding what it means for a website to be accessible. It’s time to learn why implementing accessibility measures like audio description and closed captioning is important, and who it directly impacts. Start with the basics, and understand why access to the web is really a basic human right. Then use WCAG 2 criteria to discover what types of changes need to be made to improve user experience for all types of visitors.

Focus on the Benefits

The challenge of making the web accessible to everyone can seem overwhelming at first, especially because there are so many different ways content can be delivered. Understanding the benefits can help. Whether used by someone with a disability or not, there are many styles and preferences for viewing the web. But, when you focus on the positive impacts Universal Design will have both on your site’s visitors and on your business or organization, then the legal aspect won’t be as troublesome. Do what’s right for the people, and compliance will follow.