Why Your Web Design Needs to Be Accessible Now
“Accessibility” is much in the zeitgeist these days. The term encompasses such a broad range of fields that we won’t attempt to map out all its applications or trace its history in this blog, except to point out that it’s rooted in the disability rights movement. The landmark legislation that this movement achieved—in the US, at least—was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which codified policies that protected people with disabilities against discrimination in employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
That was in 1990. You gotta remember, metropolitan types on The Today Show were still asking, “What is the internet, anyway?” in 1994. As the decades went on, ADA guidelines established around telecommunications turned into legislation pertaining to web accessibility, web design, and screen readers—in part because, by 2016, the UN “declared internet access a human right.” Most web design companies today understand that they need to abide by ADA compliance standards. What they may not realize is that the Department of Justice is suing corporations, such as Rite-Aid and Hy-Vee, whose sites aren’t accessible.
These lawsuits seem to presage a digital future that we may already be living in—one in which web accessibility is mandatory. At Jacob Tyler, we embrace accessibility in all its forms. Allow us to explain some basics of ADA compliance, the DOJ’s recent decisions to litigate, and how our digital accessibility services can help your business thrive.
Some Basics of Web Accessibility
At first glance, the meaning of “accessible” may seem, well, hard to access. But a word that feels technical and opaque actually refers to a sterling concept—the idea that everyone in a society deserves equal opportunity to (for example) ride a bus, move through a building, or locate information online.
When we raise the topic of accessibility, we sometimes encounter pushback that might be summed up like this: “Why should the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?” That pushback seems to be premised on the supposition that people with disabilities make up a slim percentage of the population … which is not correct.
A whopping 26% of adults in the United States have some type of disability. They’re the third largest market in the country. Most own their homes. Of the households surveyed in one study, 35% had at least one member who identified as having one of the major limitations or difficulties—physical, vision, hearing, independent living, learning, or intellectual.
Designing sites for people with and without disabilities is not only the right thing to do—and the decision that your legal department is most likely to support—but also a sound business goal. The global disability market is valued at $13 trillion in disposable annual income. Heads up to all companies who want to stay relevant: Ignore this market at your peril.
The Department of Justice is Mandating ADA Compliance
Web accessibility is shaping into such a fundamental right in our time—after all, over 90% of US society “accessed the internet from anywhere via any device” in 2021—that even the Feds have stepped in. Let’s go over the Rite-Aid and Hy-Vee cases that we mentioned above and unthread some of the concerns that they raised.
- Rite Aid: In November 2021, the DOJ announced that it had reached a settlement with Rite Aid Corporation. The issue? People with disabilities couldn’t navigate Rite Aid’s COVID vaccination registration portal. One problem, the DOJ found, was that “the calendar on Rite Aid’s website used for scheduling vaccine appointments did not show screen reader users any available appointment times.” For web users who are blind, screen readers describe images they’re unable to see, translate online text into speech, and, in sites that adhere to ADA guidelines, process dates and times on calendars that have been clearly displayed.
- Hy-Vee: A month after the Rite Aid settlement, the DOJ released another installment of “Justice News,” this time about how Hy-Vee’s COVID vaccination portal wasn’t up to spec. Same basic issues as Rite Aid—“people who used screen readers would not hear the questions on the medical screening forms,” the DOJ wrote, “and people who used the tab key instead of a mouse could not select available appointment times.” Web users with motor impairments like quadriplegia may rely on keyboard navigation (such as the tab key) rather than a mouse to click around the web. So when they land on sites that aren’t integrated with keyboard navigation functionality, to quote one user, “it’s a complex, frustrating nightmare.”
How Jacob Tyler Can Help
The cases that the DOJ brought against Rite Aid and Hy-Vee are high-profile for a couple of reasons—both web accessibility and the capacity to sign up to get your COVID shot are of immediate national concern. Plus, Rite Aid and Hy-Vee are multistate businesses, so these lawsuits might have been intended to do exactly what they’ve done: Let scads of smaller businesses know that it’s time to take accessibility seriously. Which it is—it’s long overdue.
At Jacob Tyler, we ensure that all the digital collateral we make adheres to W3C and ADA guidelines so that our clients don’t get sued—but most importantly, so that their products and services are accessible to everyone. We want everyone we partner with to understand the importance of ADA compliance for their businesses, and we strive to educate them on how difficult it can be for those who are disabled to navigate websites that haven’t been coded and designed properly. Put it this way: Don’t you want to attract 20% more traffic to your site?