Digital Website Accessibility in IR: Understanding Why it’s Critical

Four people reading about website accessibility

Important Accessibility Regulations

As we mentioned in Part 1 of our blog series on Digital Website Accessibility, the legislation you’ll hear most frequently in the United States in relation to digital accessibility is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is a civil rights law requiring equal access for people with disabilities. As Q4’s partner, Ian Lowe, eSSENTIAL Accessibility Chief Marketing Officer, mentioned in our joint webinar on May 19, this law predates the digital world. Subsequently, however, the Supreme Court declared that a company can be sued under the ADA. As a result, it’s been applied successfully to digital accessibility situations, and the growing volume of related case law and decisions provides critical guidance regarding the expectations of internet accessibility for public companies. 

Another important piece of legislation in the United States is the Rehabilitation Act. The Rehabilitation Act determines how federal agencies interact with certain vendors. Section 508 demands that federal organizations purchase and use information and computing technology  (ICT) that is digitally accessible. So this requires Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)  compliance. The federal organizations know that this piece of software or ICT is compliant with the use of a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT). The VPAT gets filled out by the vendor and describes the way that they are or are not accessible. He points out that VPAT is now being used in the private sector as well, where corporations are increasingly demanding that third parties document their level of accessibility before completing a purchase or a renewal of software in order to prevent lawsuits or demand letters whenever they can.

Why is Website Accessibility Important?

Website accessibility is crucial for various reasons, including legal, ethical, and practical considerations. Here are some key reasons why website accessibility is essential:

  1. Inclusivity: Accessible websites ensure that people with disabilities can engage with your content, use your services, and participate in the online community. By making your website accessible, you promote equal opportunities and create a more inclusive digital environment for everyone.
  2. Legal Compliance: Many countries and jurisdictions have enacted legislation requiring websites to be accessible. Non-compliance with accessibility guidelines can lead to legal action, fines, or damage to your reputation. Ensuring website accessibility helps you avoid legal complications and meet regulatory requirements.
  3. Enhanced User Experience: Implementing accessibility measures often leads to an improved user experience for all visitors, not just those with disabilities. Features such as clear navigation, better contrast, and descriptive alt text for images benefit everyone by making your website more user-friendly and easier to understand.
  4. Wider Audience Reach: By making your website accessible, you expand your potential audience, as millions of people around the world have disabilities that could affect their ability to access online content. An accessible website helps you tap into this significant user base, potentially increasing your customer base and revenue.
  5. SEO Benefits: Many accessibility best practices overlap with search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. By ensuring your website is accessible, you can also improve its search engine rankings, making it more visible to potential customers.
  6. Corporate Social Responsibility: Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility showcases your company’s dedication to social responsibility and ethical business practices. This can enhance your brand image and appeal to customers, investors, and employees who value socially responsible organizations.

What if you receive a demand letter? 

Lowe explains that if you receive a demand letter informing you that your digital experience does not meet accessibility standards or is blocking someone from experiencing it, you do not necessarily need to panic. However, you do need to take it seriously and follow the steps below.

  1. Assess the demand letter’s legitimacy with your legal counsel.
  2. Validate the technical claims.
    1. Are the claims true?
    2. Are the claims material to someone using your site and performing the activities they would like to perform?
  3. Strategize, consider and select the appropriate response in partnership with your legal counsel.
  4. Audit your entire digital portfolio.
  5. Communicate your commitment to accessibility publicly.
  6. Adopt a comprehensive digital accessibility policy.

Stay tuned to see a checklist for adopting website accessibility from this webinar.

Click here to watch the full webinar and hear from Q4 and eSSENTIAL Accessibility industry experts.

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