People with disabilities have struggled daily to find adequate and equal accommodations in all aspects of their lives, however, disability rights are civil rights and it is important to understand, even in the digital realm of content and websites, that your content must be accessible to every person in your audience, and the Americans with Disabilities Act helps regulate and ensure equal access to all.
In the world of digital publishing, a common misconception is that if your content resides within a responsive framework then your content experience is ADA compliant, but there is more to accessibility than a responsive website. Most websites today are published through responsive frameworks – the main catalyst for this was not the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but the fact that all search engines started to penalize website owners whose sites were not mobile friendly. Within the space of a few years all websites transitioned from fixed layouts to responsive experiences. But it isn’t just the content that is embedded into the responsive CMS that needs to comply, but also the content that you layer on top such as video, animations, and of course content packages such as documents ( PDFs, word docs or Flipbooks).
There are many considerations to make on websites and platforms to ensure it is accessible to all, for example, those with vision disabilities often use screen readers when browsing online, so it is imperative that images include alternative text, and that the website has consistent navigation elements for these users to access the content well.
ADA compliance is becoming so important that many organizations have started recruiting dedicated ADA compliance officers within their organizations. In December 2022, there were over 50,000 compliance positions advertised on indeed.com. So is the demand and seriousness of the situation.
So why is it so important now? Well let’s look at some of the 4 key risks that companies expose themselves to by not being ADA compliant.
The Americans with Disabilities act is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities. To be compliant websites must ensure that all content on their site, whether in the CMS, even layered or embedded within it, must be accessible by the technological aids that people with disabilities use to access content online. Failure to do so means that you are breaking the law. Under US law an individual is entitled to sue companies who do not comply with that law. In 2021 there were 2,352,web accessibility law suits, up 14% from 2020. And according to the 2022 ADA Lawsuit Report (Usablenet) there could be an estimated 4,455 by the end of this year. Almost a 100% increase on last year.
ADA lawsuits cost money. Should you receive an accessibility demand letter under the ADA then you are looking at a minimum of a $40,000 fine which would be, conservatively, broken down as follows:
- $15,000 – $25,000 for the plaintiffs lawyers
- $10,000 for your defense attorneys fees
- $10,000-30,000 for an accessibility audit and remediation;
That is not even including settlement terms that are arbitrated. You are easily looking at $50,000 per lawsuit. The cost of the legal fees greatly outweigh the cost and resources required to make websites accessible to everyone.
The publicization of non-ADA compliance fines and charges against your organization will of course damage your standing in the marketplace but even before it gets that far, if you are looking to sell into federal or large blue chip organizations then you will be subject to a vetting process that now often requires you to submit verification of your ADA compliance. If you do not have such measures and policies in place then your company will most likely be rejected as an approved vendor.
Also, in a lot of cases if your content is not compliant then it probably isn’t suited to today’s audience. According to a calculator by Bank My Cell, in 2022, 83% of people own smartphones, and those readers have a pre-conformed idea of how your content should be presented while they are using their mobile device, and expect that content to conform to how they wish to consume the content. In addition, 74% of web visitors will exit your content experience if it is not at least responsive. So ensuring your content is responsive to all devices will help keep your audience satisfied and engaged. And if it is not responsive, or compliant to the ADA regulations, bad reviews or complaints can be detrimental to your online reputation.
A number of years ago Google announced that it would start penalizing websites that were not mobile centric, so most companies had to revamp their websites. Millions of websites had to update or die over a couple of years. The same will happen with ADA compliance over the next couple of years whether from the search engines own initiatives or via new legislation in the US and EU. Those who don’t update and comply with the accessibility legislation will find their website ranking and score suffer greatly, which means there will be less visitors to their websites as it will be harder to find, and less conversions overall.
When the time comes that you have to go through all of the content on your site and change it to ensure that it is compliant, you will have to make a decision on what content you want to keep and what content you are willing to cut because you most likely will not have the resources to do it all. Removing valued content will also affect your current online presence, so it is always best to ensure each piece of content meets the ADA accessibility standards before going live, and updating as you go along to ensure that search engines continue to rank your content and see it as compliant to continue to be placed in front of your potential consumers. Luckily SEO and accessibility go hand in hand, read more on the link between the two at the connection between accessibility and SEO.
When building a home you are always told it is better to plan for the future now, than try to retro fit it later. The same ethos applies to creating digital content experiences. It is better that you do it now than have to go back through everything that you want to keep online later. If your website, or any digital content that you currently have online is not up to the ADA standards, it is time to start addressing it. And it would serve you best to continue to ensure each piece of content produced meets these accessibility standards before it is released each time, instead of having to go back and change everything due to a compliant, legal issues, or lowered search rankings. Doing it now, and continually throughout your content creation process will save resources in the long run.
This still requires resources and significant training for all of your staff on how to transition and maintain compliance going forward, but doing it now over time and each time content is produced will allow you to balance the resources and plan accordingly, a complaint in the future will not only greatly affect your objectives and deliverables but it will also require legal fees and resources and will disrupt your business. This is why there are currently 50,000 compliance vacancies in the US job markets alone today.
The ADA is now law, and the awareness of the law and the important role it plays for the digital community is increasing every day. It is also important that you seek to accommodate every person who visits your site and consumes your content, so it has never been more important to ensure your content is accessible to all and compliant with the ADA legislation. An internal compliance officer is a great addition to any business, but if you are not there yet in your resources you can still add accessibility validation and reporting into your roadmap, and take the measures to ensure your content is accessible to all now, as it is easier to avoid the legal challenges, reputation adjustments and add the resources now than it is after you have a compliant. Disability rights are civil rights, and with a little consideration when producing content, you can ensure your content is accessible to anyone who consumes your content.
Experios is 3D Issue’s all new Content Experience platform that allows you to build both internal communications and external content easily, while implementing your company branding. You can create annual reports, newsletters and brochures for your employees as well as your customers. Experios also comes with an accessibility validator that automatically checks your content for accessibility issues like color contrast, text size etc. and will alert you before your content is published, making it easier than ever to stay ADA compliant. You can get started with Experios for free today, schedule a demo or start your free trial.