4 Reasons for Digital Accessibility Compliance

Compliance concept art. Hexagons with the words compliance, requirements, transparency, terms, regulations, law standards and audit.

Digital accessibility isn’t just a buzzword used for good PR. Accessibility means making your content accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities who make up as much as 25% of the U.S. population. Digital accessibility can boost your visibility, enhance revenue, help protect you from ADA lawsuits, and more.

Here are four reasons why you need to make digital accessibility compliance a priority. 

1. It’s the Law

Whether your organization is a private enterprise, a school, a government entity, or a nonprofit, there is some legislation that tells you that digital accessibility compliance is required by law. 

Federal law addresses accessibility with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which says that no organization can discriminate against a person based on their disability. Many federal cases have referred to this legislation when addressing digital accessibility lawsuits. These lawsuits have been on the rise over the last few years, and continue to to be in the news regularly. 

While the ADA does not explicitly spell out digital accessibility requirements for private companies under Title III of the ADA, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued guidance affirming that it does apply to websites and other digital resources, and suggests WCAG as the standard to follow. Title II of the ADA has been recently updated to require WCAG compliance for all state and local government agencies. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has also been updated to require WCAG for any organization receiving funding through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act also prohibits discrimination, applying specifically to schools and government agencies. It applies to any organization that receives federal funding and requires digital accessibility compliance with its specific guidelines, which are based on WCAG. 

Additionally, many states have their own digital accessibility compliance legislation and guidelines. It’s important to be aware of the laws that apply to your organization to ensure your compliance. As a rule of thumb, adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) will mean you are likely compliant with other standards and guidelines for digital accessibility compliance. WCAG is the gold standard for digital accessibility for many countries around the world, and it is referred to in a number of settlements and decisions for digital accessibility lawsuits. 

Digital accessibility compliance is also required if you want to do business with many countries outside the US. The European Union (EU), as well as a large number of other countries, have developed their own digital accessibility standards. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities also recognizes the rights of people with disabilities to full access to information and communications. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) ratified a treaty that advances the right to read for people with print disabilities. If you wish to do business internationally, you should be sure your digital information is accessible. 

2. Lawsuits are Expensive

An inaccessible website means people who use assistive technology (such as screen readers or connected Braille displays) cannot fully access the information on your website or your digital documents. This means you could lose business, receive complaints, and in some cases, face an accessibility lawsuit. Win or lose, a lawsuit is expensive. It costs you in legal fees, court costs, manpower, and time. It disrupts business and can damage your reputation.  

The average cost of a digital accessibility compliance lawsuit is $10,000 in lawyer and settlement fees in addition to the lost time and wasted manpower. And this doesn’t include the cost of the website and document remediation, which you will have to do anyway. In most cases, the plaintiff is happy to have the issues corrected. They are not always eligible for damages, aside from the legal fees. But some cases can be far more expensive, such as these two:

National Federation of the Blind vs. University of North Carolina Health Care System

The UNC Healthcare System was ordered to pay $125,000 in damages to settle claims that they violated federal disability rights laws by failing to provide accessible documents to its patients and customers. UNC patients Timothy Miles and John Bone repeatedly requested their billing, patient history, after-visit summaries and other important information be provided in a more accessible format, and neither were provided with accessible documents in a timely fashion. According to Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, “With today’s technology, providing bills, medical records, and treatment instructions in alternative formats, such as Braille and large print, is readily achievable.”

Aleeha Dudley vs Miami University

Aleeha Dudley was a student at Miami University of Ohio and unable to access her classwork due to accessibility issues because she uses assistive technology to access digital information. The university was required to make its website and materials digitally accessible, develop an accessibility plan, and hire a web accessibility coordinator, acquire new software and train its faculty in digital accessibility. Additionally, Dudley was awarded over $100,000 in damages to cover costs associated with transferring schools. Dudley switched to Ohio University to pursue her four-year Bachelor’s degree and Miami was required to pay for her tuition, books, plus room and board.

3. Increased Revenue

Digital accessibility compliance can result in increased revenue. According to the CDC, as many as 26% of adults have some kind of disability. Making your digital information accessible for everyone, including people who use assistive technology to access your website and digital documents, means you are not excluding the large market share of people who have disabilities. Organizations spend a lot of time and money to increase market share, and accessibility is a great way to be sure you’re not excluding part of your market.

Another bonus is that including elements such as closed captioning, audio and video transcripts, text alternatives for images, and headings, will increase your search engine optimization (SEO) and boost traffic to your website. Search engines use text and metadata on your website to direct their search results, so the more text you include the better your results. When all users can experience your website, there is a lower bounce rate, more conversions, and less negative feedback

4. Improved Reputation

Having a website that meets digital accessibility compliance requirements also allows your organization to demonstrate its social responsibility. Many organizations are now publishing their accessibility policies and practices. As an employer, being able to say you have established an accessibility culture can be a big draw for prospective employees. A 2018 McKinsey study on diversity showed that companies that embrace diversity are “27% more likely to have superior value creation and 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.” People want to work for organizations that demonstrate social responsibility, inclusion, and that are actively against discrimination.

Your customers will be happy to know that your organization is inclusive and that it supports all users equally. The negative publicity that could be caused by accessibility lawsuits is countered by the positive impact of word of mouth from your disabled customers who are happy to praise organizations with whom they can easily and independently do business. Additionally, accessibility compliance means your website is more usable for all users – not just those with disabilities. Things like captioning for videos, headings, simple language, and a clean design with fewer distractions make for a better experience for everyone. 

Avoid the Risks and Reap the Benefits

Being proactive and inclusive about digital accessibility compliance avoids risk and has some distinct advantages. Digital accessibility compliance helps avoid lawsuits, expensive settlements, and complaints. It also boosts your market share and your SEO, while enhancing your reputation and benefiting all customers, including those with disabilities. 

 

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Tammy Albee

Tammy Albee | Director of Marketing | Equidox Tammy joined Equidox after four years of experience working at the National Federation of the Blind. She firmly maintains that accessibility is about reaching everyone, regardless of ability, and boosting your market share in the process. "Nobody should be barred from accessing information. It's what drives our modern society."

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