F or years the standard practice for an online business selling products or services was to create an attractive design and promote it in search engines to attract traffic and generate revenue.

Research gathered on how people use websites, make purchase decisions and what computer devices they use has driven advances in computer technology. One of the more popular findings has been the increase in the use of computers by people with disabilities or temporary issues such as a hand injury.

Today, if someone with a disability or impairment is unable to understand content on a business web page, fill out a form or order a product from a website, they have the right to file a discrimination lawsuit.

What does this mean and is your small business website at risk?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for Public Businesses

It is the responsibility of a business owner to meet the legal local, state and federal laws for handicapped access if the shop or office is inside a building.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, businesses did not have websites. Today, most do.

In 2006, Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind because blind people were unable to access all the information and could not make a purchase from the store’s website.

Target argued that the ADA was intended to apply exclusively to physical accommodations instead of the internet.

Several years and 6 million dollars later, Target lost their case and became the first precedent in the United States regarding website accessibility for commercial websites. Since then, nearly every major corporation has faced an ADA website lawsuit.  In 2015 a sudden spike in website ADA lawsuits for all online businesses began to draw alarm.

Most companies receiving a letter of complaint work out an agreement, but some companies go to court. Domino’s pizza shop most recently took their case to the Supreme Court, who sent it back to the state level.

Put simply, courts are more likely to rule in favor of the plaintiff on equal rights, anti-discrimination ethical grounds, since the ADA law doesn’t specifically have the term “website” in it.

Most small businesses want to know how to prevent an ADA lawsuit. They do not knowingly prevent people from using their websites but are also unsure what they are doing wrong.

Design Your Small Business Website to Meet Accessibility Standards

Many small businesses or new startup companies rely on the advice of web design agencies, friends or teach themselves how to make a website using a service that provides pre-made templates.

They may be unaware of any legal requirements for their website. All websites follow protocols and requirements so that they will work on all browsers and operating systems, be secure, function properly and be understandable.

Unfortunately, they are not all properly coded for accessibility compliance. Even  pre-made website templates, WYSIWG web design software, WordPress plugins, shopping cart software, forms and WordPress themes may not be accessible.

Today’s websites should be easy to use equally by everyone. In some countries, this Is the law. In the USA,  federal government websites and any school or business that does business with the federal government must meet Section 508 compliance.

All laws or requirements are based on what is known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is an ongoing set of guidelines updated periodically to reflect changes in computer hardware and software.  It is important to stay up to date on changes and updates to WCAG and Section 508 guidelines for inclusive design. Presently the guidelines are known as WCAG2.1, with a new version already in the works for 2020.

As a business owner, it is recommended that you hire a designer trained in WCAG2.1 web design and understand who website accessibility is for.

Who Benefits from Website Accessibility?

Accessibility is for:

  • Blind or deaf/blind or sight impaired people. Users who are sight impaired, blind, color blind, wear corrective eyewear or are sensitive to color contrasts.

  • Cognition and recall. Age can be a factor for recalling large amounts of information, as well as educational levels.  The ability to remember even a few seconds in the past is difficult for persons being treated for dementia who use computers for mental stimulation.

  • Emotional or mental state. A website visitor’s emotional or mental health impact how they perceive and use websites. This includes comprehension, understandability, readability, findability, recall under stress, scanning and more.

  • Injuries and diseases that cause physical limitations. Accessibility guidelines help aid people who suffer from hand tremors from various health issues, may have an injured hand or arthritis, or are unable to use a computer mouse or keyboard.

  • Multi-tasking and smart devices. The increase in mobile devices, assistive devices such as screen readers, text to speech software and “smart” TV’s and homes enable more people with impairments to perform tasks by eliminating barriers to access.

Ultimately Your Business Also Benefits

Meeting accessibility guidelines provides competitive value.  Accessible websites perform better in search engines because many search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and accessibility code enhancements are similar.  Search engines want to present accessible pages to their users.

Is Your Small Business Website at Risk of Failing Accessibility Compliance?

There are some types of websites that attract ADA lawsuits more than others  Some states are more inclined to listen to a case and rule in favor of the plaintiff. Websites with forms, documents to download, shopping carts, appointment scheduling, registration forms, coupons, video, podcasts, slideshows with many images and online galleries attract ADA lawsuits.

Fortunately, most of the issues are easy to fix once you know what they are.

At Hochman Consultants we provide an affordable option for small businesses wishing to understand website accessibility better and more importantly, learn if their website is at risk of an ADA website lawsuit.

Contact us about a website accessibility threat assessment check to put your mind at ease and take any steps necessary to protect your business.