Per this interesting article in The National Law Review, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its highly-anticipated website accessibility opinion in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, reaffirming the obligation to make retailers’ websites accessible. In January, Beyoncé was served with a lawsuit from a blind woman who says her website is inaccessible because it’s presented as a “purely visual interface” that makes it impossible for blind and low-vision people to use. And the list goes on.
According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), barriers to access in the digital realm are a violation of civil rights, limiting communication and participation in society. Even though the problem is widespread across all walks of life, this problem is only getting worse.
In the United States, it is thought that disabled people are about half as likely to be online overall, are less likely to have high-speed internet, and are more likely to have only one device for accessing the internet. The disability digital divide is real, and it’s not surprising that in recent years, ADA lawsuits involving web access have been on the rise.
Pressure from the disability community is forcing industry to address the situation, and the ever-increasing importance of the digital space is increasing expectations around access and literacy, and rightly so. Not being able to use the internet can be a barrier to finding, applying for, and retaining jobs, accessing government benefits, doing schoolwork, looking for love, shopping for essentials, plus, plus plus.
In the last thirty years or so that the ADA and the internet were created, the future looked promising – open and free access for all with full inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of public and private life. So far it hasn’t turned out that way. Inclusion is not yet the reality for many disabled people.
Disabled people are being condemned and accused of filing “frivolous lawsuits” and are often accused of trying to hurt small businesses, but the truth is that accessibility is a right and a need. The integral nature of the internet makes it increasingly critical to be able to get online to conduct many functions of daily life.
Imagine for a moment that you are shopping online and want to complete a transaction. If you can’t click the “buy” button or read the price you won’t be able to complete your transaction. Or how about trying to order something that’s only described in the form of text in photos that you can’t see, making it impossible to know anything about the size, shape, color, and other characteristics of the product you want? Frustrating, right? Imagine that the information you seek is more urgent such as accessing medical records or information. Now things can get serious. The good thing though is that none of these obstacles are insurmountable with the technology available right now. Accessibility hardware and software are available for every imaginable application and this technology is getting more affordable all of the time. The real question is why many companies don’t even consider accessibility when they’re developing their online presence, including websites and apps.
Accessibility is still an afterthought when it comes to most web development, and training on the topic is not yet widespread. This is shortsighted because if accessibility is not integrated into the early stages of design and development it becomes much more costly to retrofit after the fact.
Poor digital accessibility is bad design and makes a negative statement about the organization. Being there for everyone is just common sense and good business. Accessibility improves navigability and usability not just for disabled people but for everyone, and accessibility can be a legal requirement for websites that are public accommodations, like retail sites. It is not an optional extra or something nice to have. It’s the law, and the willful decision to keep the digital space inaccessible can feel like a slap in the face. That is bad for business.