In an increasingly digital world, web accessibility is no longer just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, especially for private organizations. But why is it so important? And what does it mean to have an accessible website or app?
Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, ALL users have equal access to information and functionality.
For private organizations, complying with web accessibility laws is crucial. It’s not just about avoiding legal issues; it’s about showcasing their commitment to inclusivity, equality, and social responsibility.
In this blog post, we’ll delve deep into key web accessibility laws for private organizations in the USA, UK, and EU. We’ll explain why these laws matter, the positive effects of aligning with accessibility guidelines, and the potential negative impacts of non-compliance.
We’ll also provide practical tips on how to make your website and mobile apps more accessible. So whether you’re a business owner, a web developer, or just someone interested in web accessibility, this post has something for you. Let’s get started.
What is Web Accessibility Exactly?
Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring that there are no obstacles preventing interaction with, or access to, websites on the World Wide Web by people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed. The overall goal is to provide equal access and opportunity to everyone.
For example, a person with visual impairment might use a screen reader to interpret web content. A website is considered accessible if the screen reader can accurately convey the information on the site to the user.
Similarly, someone with motor disabilities might use a special input device to navigate a website. If the website can be easily navigated using this device, it’s considered to be accessible.
The concept of web accessibility is not limited to disabled users. It also benefits people without disabilities, such as those using mobile phones, smart TVs, smartwatches, and other devices with small screens, different input modes, etc.
Web accessibility is guided by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of recommendations for making web content more accessible. These guidelines are organized under four main principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
Operable: Users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform).
Understandable: Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding).
Robust: Users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible).
By adhering to these principles, your website can cater to a broad range of needs, preferences, and situations. This not only helps to ensure that everyone can use your site, but also that your organization is in compliance with web accessibility laws and standards.
Why Accessibility Matters to Private Businesses
The Positive Effects of Complying With Accessibility Regulations for Private Organizations
Compliance with accessibility regulations is not only a legal mandate but also a powerful tool for private businesses to showcase their social responsibility and gain numerous benefits. Here are some of the positive outcomes that organizations can expect from adhering to web accessibility laws:
Enhanced Brand Image
When businesses prioritize accessibility, they send a strong message about their commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunities. This can significantly enhance their brand image, making them more appealing to a wider audience.
Increased Market Reach
By making their websites accessible to all, companies can reach a larger demographic, including the millions of people with disabilities. For example, the same World Health Organization reports that an estimated 135 million people in Europe live with a disability, and this number is expected to grow in the future due to various factors.
So if you’re a UK company looking to expand your business operations to Europe, for instance, improving website accessibility can tap into this vast market share.
Improved SEO Performance
Many web accessibility practices overlap with SEO best practices. For instance, using alt text for images not only assists visually impaired users but also helps search engine bots understand the content better.
Lower Risk of Legal Complications
Compliance with web accessibility laws can help organizations avoid costly lawsuits and penalties. In the U.S. alone, thousands of lawsuits related to website accessibility are filed each year (more on that below). By ensuring compliance, businesses can mitigate these risks.
Better User Experience
Accessible websites often lead to a better user experience for all visitors, not just those with disabilities. Features like easy navigation, clear content, and responsive design improve overall user satisfaction and engagement.
Potential for Innovation
Working towards accessibility can drive innovation. It often requires thinking outside the box and finding new ways to present information or functionalities, leading to unique, creative solutions that benefit all users.
In conclusion, complying with accessibility regulations is not just about fulfilling legal obligations; it’s an effective business strategy that can drive growth, innovation, and customer satisfaction. By embracing accessibility, private businesses can demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility while reaping numerous benefits.
The Negative Consequences of Not Aligning With Accessibility Regulations
Failing to comply with web accessibility regulations, on the other hand, can have severe consequences for private organizations. These repercussions go beyond legal implications and can significantly impact a company’s reputation, customer base, and overall profitability.
Here are some potential negative outcomes of not aligning with accessibility regulations.
Legal consequences are perhaps the most immediate and direct fallout of non-compliance. In the USA, UK, and EU, laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Equality Act 2010, and European Accessibility Act respectively, mandate that digital content must be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Non-compliance can result in costly lawsuits, fines, and penalties.
According to the 2023 MidYear UsableNet Digital Accessibility Lawsuit Report, digital accessibility-related lawsuits where a website, mobile app, or video content is the subject of a claim in federal court under the ADA or in state courts in New York and California are on the rise year-to-year. While the number of such lawsuits in 2018 was 2,314, by the end of 2023 it is estimated to reach 4,220 – almost double in five years.
In today’s socially conscious world, consumers value businesses that prioritize inclusivity and equality. Failing to ensure web accessibility may be perceived as neglecting the needs of disabled individuals, leading to public backlash, negative media coverage, and damage to your brand’s reputation.
One example of a company’s image being damaged due to non-compliance with web accessibility rules is the case of Domino’s Pizza. In 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal from Domino’s Pizza after a blind customer sued the company for having an inaccessible website and mobile app.
The plaintiff argued that he was unable to use screen-reading software to access the online ordering features, which violated the ADA. The lower courts had ruled in favor of the plaintiff, stating that the ADA applies to websites and apps, and businesses must ensure they are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
This lawsuit garnered significant media attention and highlighted the importance of web accessibility for people with disabilities. Domino’s Pizza’s reputation was negatively impacted, as the case brought attention to their lack of compliance with accessibility guidelines. The company faced criticism and public backlash for not prioritizing inclusive design and failing to provide equal access to all customers.
By not making your website accessible, you exclude a significant portion of potential customers. We’ve already mentioned the huge number of people with disabilities among the world’s population. Many of those can be your prospective customers or clients if you take care to improve the accessibility of your site or app.
Decreased Website Usability
Web accessibility often overlaps with good web design principles. An inaccessible website is likely to offer a poor user experience, leading to high bounce rates, low conversion rates, and ultimately, lost revenue.
To sum up, aligning with accessibility requirements is not just a legal necessity but a social responsibility and a sound business strategy. By ensuring your website is accessible to all, you demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity, enhance user experience, and open your business to a wider audience.
However, the web accessibility legal landscape across the globe is not uniform, and regulations can vary greatly from one country to another. Being aware of these differences will allow businesses to better navigate and adapt to the diverse regulatory frameworks.
Let’s delve into specific laws in various countries.
Key Web Accessibility Laws Related to Private Organizations in Different Countries
In the United Kingdom, web accessibility isn’t merely a good-to-have feature; it’s a legal requirement for all organizations, including those in the private sector. This mandate stems from the UK’s commitment to fostering equality and fairness for all individuals, particularly those with disabilities.
The primary legislation governing web accessibility in the UK is the Equality Act of 2010. Although there’s no explicit standard for web accessibility specified for the private sector under this Act, all goods and service providers are expected to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate people with disabilities. These adjustments could include ensuring that websites are accessible to screen readers for the visually impaired or providing alternative text for images.
It’s worth noting that the phrase “reasonable adjustments” doesn’t come with a set definition. Instead, it’s determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account factors such as the size of the organization, the nature of its services, and the resources available to it.
Despite the lack of explicit standards, many private organizations in the UK adhere to the WCAG that we mentioned earlier. Following these guidelines can help organizations ensure they’re meeting their obligations under the Equality Act.
According to the Family Resources Survey (FRS), 16.0 million people in the UK had a disability in the 2021/22 financial year. With so many individuals potentially affected, the importance of creating accessible digital spaces cannot be underestimated.
In the United States, web accessibility is primarily governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legislation applies to private businesses that fall into one or more of twelve categories, including lodging and businesses serving food or drink.
The ADA law aims to ensure that businesses are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. This extends to their online presence, meaning that websites should be designed and developed in such a way that they are accessible to users with various types of disabilities.
However, it’s important to note that while there are accessibility standards and guidelines to follow for websites and web applications, there are no formal laws specifically governing web accessibility in the U.S. The ADA does not explicitly mention websites, but several court cases have interpreted the law to include them within its purview.
Failure to comply with the ADA can lead to costly lawsuits, damaged reputation, and more. For instance, private institutions of higher education are governed by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes provisions for web accessibility.
Moreover, federal agencies, as well as the private sector, are facing increasing pressure due to a growing focus on web accessibility by the Department of Justice. This implies that all organizations, whether in the public or private sector, should pay close attention to web accessibility to avoid potential legal issues and showcase their commitment to social responsibility.
It’s also worth noting that some states have their own specific laws related to web accessibility. For example, in California, the Unruh Civil Rights Act requires businesses to ensure their websites are accessible.
To comply with these laws and guidelines, businesses often follow the WCAG as well.
In conclusion, while the laws may not be explicitly detailed, web accessibility is a significant concern for private organizations in the USA.
In the European Union, web accessibility laws have up till recently been focused on public sector bodies. The EU Web Accessibility Directive (Directive 2016/2102) obliges websites and apps of public sector bodies to be more accessible. However, this directive does not apply to the private sector.
In 2019, the EU brought in new legislation – the European Accessibility Act (EAA). In contrast to the Directive 2016/2102, the EAA primarily targets private sector entities that offer goods or services to consumers residing in EU member nations.
It’s crucial to understand that these regulations apply not to businesses based within the EU, but rather to those catering to EU customers – the laws are enforced considering the customer’s location, not the organisation’s. For example, if you’re an American company that wants to sell its products to consumers somewhere like France, you must comply with the EAA provisions.
The EAA is the most recent regulatory framework with a broader scope than any previous ones. The Act encompasses a wide array of products and services, extending beyond just websites and mobile applications. For the first time, whether you’re offering public services to EU citizens, or selling goods or services to EU customers, the same accessibility standards apply.
The new legislation presents a significant shift for private sector companies. In simple terms, if you’re a private sector entity operating in the EU, you’re required to ensure your offerings comply with the EAA’s stipulations.
Embracing these guidelines from the onset and integrating accessibility from the design stage implies more than just regulatory compliance. It signifies providing a more inclusive experience for a broader audience, tapping into new markets, bolstering your brand’s reputation, and fostering innovation.
By adhering to the EAA, your goods and services will become more accessible and user-friendly for all, not just individuals with disabilities. This is because inclusive design often enhances usability for everyone, making it simpler for clients to locate information or finalize transactions.
Currently, the options for individuals with disabilities are often restricted due to the limited availability of accessible products and services. However, the EAA aims to broaden these choices and stimulate more competition among brands. This shift will empower consumers, and if you fail to adapt, you risk losing your market share, as they can simply opt for a superior experience elsewhere.
Moreover, failure to ensure accessibility in accordance with the EAA can lead to penalties, legal proceedings, or unfavorable reputation.
On the bright side, you still have time to comply with this new EU regulation, with the deadline being June 28, 2025.
As you see, ensuring web accessibility in the developed regions of the world is becoming more important not only for the public sector but for the private sector too. That means you as an entrepreneur either play by those rules or run a risk of facing serious consequences, such as lawsuits or losing a large market share.
With that in mind, how exactly can you make your website or application more accessible to people with disabilities? Here are a few recommendations.
Tips on Making Your Business Website or Mobile App Accessible
First and foremost, you need to adhere to the WCAG Guidelines, which, as discussed several times in this post, are recognized globally and provide a comprehensive set of recommendations for making web content more accessible. WCAG 2.2 is currently the standard that businesses should aim for. In particular, you should:
Provide alternative text for non-text content: Include descriptive alt text for images and other non-text elements to ensure that users with visual impairments can understand the content.
Use proper headings and structure: Use heading tags (H1, H2, etc.) to organize the content hierarchy and provide a clear structure. This helps users navigate the website easily using assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Ensure keyboard accessibility: Make sure that all interactive elements, such as buttons and links, can be accessed and activated using only a keyboard. This is crucial for users who cannot use a mouse or have mobility impairments.
Provide captions and transcripts for multimedia: Include captions for videos and audio content to make them accessible to users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Additionally, provide transcripts for audio content to allow users to access the information in alternative formats.
Increase color contrast: Ensure sufficient color contrast between text and background colors to make the content more readable for users with visual impairments. Use WCAG-recommended color contrast ratios to determine the appropriate contrast levels.
Make form inputs clear and accessible: Use clear labels and instructions for form fields. Ensure that users can easily identify and understand the purpose of each input field.
Design for resizable text: Allow users to resize the text on your website or app without causing any layout issues. This is particularly important for users with low vision who rely on larger text sizes.
Provide skip navigation links: Include a “skip to main content” link at the beginning of each page to allow users to bypass repetitive navigation menus and go directly to the main content.
Test with assistive technologies: Regularly test your website or app using screen readers, keyboard-only navigation, and other assistive technologies to identify and fix any accessibility issues.
Remember, that these tips are just a starting point, and you need to take many more steps in order to make your web or mobile solution truly convenient for ALL people regardless of their health condition or user preferences.
Let Us Handle Your Web Accessibility Needs
Navigating the complex landscape of web accessibility compliance can be a daunting task, especially if you are not familiar with the technical aspects of web development or the intricacies of accessibility standards.
We offer comprehensive web accessibility services designed to ensure your website or mobile app is fully compliant and user-friendly. Our services range from accessibility audits to identify potential issues, to redesigning and redeveloping your digital platforms with accessibility in mind from the get-go.
Our team is dedicated to creating digital platforms that are inclusive and accessible to all, while still providing a seamless user experience. By entrusting your web accessibility needs to us, you can focus on what you do best – running your business – while we ensure that your digital presence is accessible, compliant, and ready to serve your diverse customer base.
At GetDevDone, we believe that accessibility is more than just a legal requirement – it’s a commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunity. Allow us to help you fulfill that commitment.
Contact us today for a free consultation and find out how we can make your digital platforms more accessible.
On October 5, 2023, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) unveiled the much-anticipated WCAG 2.2, marking the culmination of five years of dedication and innovation. In this post, we're diving deep into the latest updates to the key web accessibility guidelines and sharing our unique approach to putting them into practice.