Pretty much every business has a website these days – whether you sell goods or services, or merely provide information about goods and services. If your company is in this group, this post is for you.
Recently, claims that websites are not accessible to disabled users have skyrocketed, and my guess is they will only continue to increase. The problem is that there are no federal guidelines governing the accessibility of websites under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). And, not all courts even agree that the ADA applies to websites. So, the plaintiff’s bar is exploiting that rocky landscape to assert claims and demand settlements because they know settling for nuisance value is much cheaper than fighting it out.
Now that you are aware of the issue, you are probably asking yourself:
“Staci, what can I do so my brand is not a target? There must be someway to help with this problem.”
And you would be right. While there is no guaranteed solution given the lack of guidance from the government on this issue, we have developed best practices, so that your website can be accessible and inclusive to all of your customers, fans and followers, as follows:
- Have an easy to find section on your website that addresses accessibility and make sure it provides a way for a user of your site to report problems. I prefer this to be a stand alone link on your websites footer, but I have also seen companies put it in their FAQs or similar places;
- Provide accessible alternatives, such as a staffed customer service line, or preferably an on-line chat function to protect the privacy of your users for assistance in accessing the information, goods and services found on your website;
- Designate someone within your organization to be your accessibility coordinator;
- Add an accessibility policy to your IT manual, showing that you have a plan to address the issue and are auditing your site for errors regularly;
- Review your main pages (such as your landing page, shopping cart etc.) and make sure they are compliant with the Level AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG-2”), published by the World Wide Web Consortium; and
- Make sure newly launched pages are compliant with WCAG-2.
And just so you know, even if your current site was created under WCAG-2, error codes are still extremely common given the fluid nature of the web, differing operating systems and browers, and the heavy use of images and video by fashion brands.
Ready to start? There are a bunch of free “website checkers” like the one found here.
Hopefully this will help you stay off the radar, avoid spending money on litigation and allow you to focus on building your brand.