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Web Accessibility: A Beginners Guide

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

September 02 10 min read

By Kimberly Spriggs 9/2/2022

You’re probably familiar with standard disability accommodations. When you look around most businesses, you will see wheelchair access, special doors, handrails, special bathrooms, and ramps. We associate the aspects of accessibility in physical space. What about the internet? As a business owner, you probably have an online presence (a nexus) representing your physical business. Did you know that the internet has its own web accessibility requirements and laws? 

It starts with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and now digital assets like, websites and mobile app counterparts are falling into legal pitfalls regarding access on digital platforms. The most widely accepted set of standards for conforming is through Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  WCAG (pronounced WEE-cag or spelling out the acronym) is a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is an international group that sets standards for the entire web.

A businesses website needs to be compliant with the ADA laws as well If a business is doing any business with the U.S. Government, they will need to be 508 Compliant as well having an audit and VPATs to ensure those standards are met.

If a businesses’ website or mobile app counterpart are not ADA compliant – litigation can be around the corner.

Digital Website Lawsuits

Female lawyer writing a brief for an ADA demand letter.
Digital ADA demand letter

In 2021 and 2022 a staggering number of lawsuits, a lot from less scrupulous legal houses and serial litigations, have clogged up the courts in the last couple of years. Frivolous demand letters overlapping legitimate complaints.

Thousands of small to medium businesses, retailers, big brands, corporate, and enterprise companies have been the target of private lawsuits over website accessibility. Businesses are settling out of court and the costs of fixing their website still remains. If you’re still concerned about legalities and demand letters for your , the best defense is having an accessible website and avoiding being sued in the first place.

Digital Accessibility, a Human Factor

The internet is a humming pulse of biodiversity, not just design, algorithms, laws, and coding. It’s also about people.

When web design is properly done is what we hope to achieve, an accessible, inclusive internet. As it stands, the internet is an important resource in many facets of life from education, health care,  employment, government, business, retail, arts, recreation, and so much more. So, it is essential that the internet and all it offers is accessible while providing equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. People make up the connectivity of the internet, why not include them all?

There is a booming aging population too in the U.S. that face dexterity issues, hearing loss, poor vision and color perceptions concerns, even cognitive problems. With approximately one in four (1:4) people estimated to have some disability worldwide ― a properly designed site with accessible design factored in closes those gaps and reaches a far broader audience.

What is the answer? First, you need to ask the right questions.

  1. What is digital accessibility?
  2. How is it managed, what is the ROI?
  3. Do you have an accessibility plan?
  4. Who (an outside agency or you) are managing the websites’ accessibility?
  5. How much do you need?

What is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the web design practice of making websites, mobile apps, PDFs, and any other digital interfaces easy to navigate, to be understood, and functional for all users including those with disabilities. The most widely accepted set of standards for managing them are through the WCAG. WCAG (pronounced WEE-cag or spelling out the acronym) is a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is an international group that sets standards for the entire web.

The WCAG are a set of guidelines and coding criteria that help to ensure a website is built to be accessible to all. The acronym used is P.O.U.R. or ‘Perceivable, Operable, Usable, and Robust enough that users with disabilities can navigate it. This means users with defining and limited abilities, including those that are visually impaired or blind, hearing impairments, or those that lack the fine motor skills to control and navigate with varying assistive technologies. Here are some examples a website should include for accessibility:

  • Alt+text, also called alt tags and alt descriptions, is the written copy that appears in place of an image on a webpage. This text helps screen-reading tools describe images to visually impaired readers and allows search engines to crawl and rank your website better.
  • Zoom or text resize functions, for visually impaired users.
  • Captions or transcripts of video/audio, for deaf or hearing loss users.
  • Screen reader software, used by many blind users, for site contents to be read aloud.
  • Keyboard navigation for the entire site (users with a lack of fine motor control).
  • Color contrast and combinations that are high enough contrast for color blind or visually impaired users.

Accessibility ROI and how is it managed?

An accessible site is also having a site that outperforms your competitors. As a matter of fact, an accessible site will allow access to more customers, and a very loyal group of repeat customers. With $13 Trillion in disposable income, people with disabilities (PWD) are the largest minority group in the world. That is 26% of the population you can target and address by having an accessible website. It is simply the right thing to do.

So, creating or fixing a site that becomes accessible will bring its own ROI.

There is also a Tax Credit.

Tax Credits to Help Digital Accessibility – up to $5000 annually

Up to 5000 reasons to make your site accessible. Most professional in the accessibility world understand this. While addressing your site’s accessibility needs there is an investment, in doing it right. The federal Disabled Access Credit is where the IRS will allow small businesses to claim a credit of up to $5,000 each year to offset 50% of your accessibility-related expenses. Bottom line, the federal government will write you a check to reimburse 50% of your accessibility spending (up to $5,000 annually). Since this tax credit is annual, it can be claimed every year to offset what you spend on making your site, mobile app, or digital platform ADA compliant.

If you work this in an accessibility strategy, you may be able to claim up to $10,000 for the whole project. Why delay your accessibility work until next year? That is like is leaving money on the table. With 5000 reasons to get the process rolling, there really is no better time to set up and ADA consultation.

How to create a good accessibility plan and policy

Having a good accessibility plan may sound easy but it can be confusing. If you are working with an agency, ask them if they have done accessibility work, if they know what the ADA laws require for digital assets, what WCAG criteria are and if the are comfortable in coding and fixing these issues in those environments. A good accessibility plan should look like this.

  1. Choose an Accessibility Standard: most widely accepted accessibility standards are those produced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
  2. Conformance Expectations: Define how your organization will measure the conformance expectations and how to address any shortfalls.
  3. Define the Scope: Define how you want to break down the process and how these digital accessibility guidelines will be applied. Will it be inhouse remediation, or an outside team like Accessiblu? (Hint: Both of them!) Define the teams and their capabilities. Follow through with the application of accessibility policies. 
  4. Setting Milestones: Creating a process that includes developing a roadmap, setting priorities, creating budgets, and allocating work to either an agency, or staff.
  5. Maintenance and Review: Digital accessibility is not a “one and done” project. It must be maintained continually to keep up with changing content, technology, and staff.

Managing Website Accessibility

Managing a more accessible site means improving the user experience (UX ) ― for all visitors, not just a user with diverse abilities. Some users need specialized tools to engage with the site and have a good user journey and experience. Not all disabilities are permanent or need special devices, just good design like zooming capabilities, alt+text, labeled headers, or captioning for videos to start.

Hiring an expert is a good start. If you are in a redesign, start at the beginning and make the site accessible if they or the agency can manage these regulations and criteria you are in the more stretch. If they are not understanding what is required, this may end of with legal implications. Hiring an accessibility expert is the key, and not as expensive as a court date.

A team like Accessiblü with over 26 years’ experience in digital creation, management, and now paving the way with accessibility design in the last seven years, we can do it all, start to finish. With proper auditing and monitoring capabilities, our team can offer the proper guidance and training your team to take the site forward. We can build it from an agency perspective, while keeping your digital landscapes aesthetically-accessible.

Redesigning your site? If you are in the process of designing or building a new website, discuss your accessibility requirements with your designer, developer, or an agency like New Possibilities Group (NPG) who specialize in accessible designs. If you decide to redesign your original asset, you will need to pay for an audit from a respected business who can manage and report findings on accessibility issues.

Overlays, no way! You will be tempted to listen to the great pitch and try ‘Overlays’ and unless you wish to end up on the legal side of an ADA non-compliance demand letter, overlays are not ADA compliant and not accessible. Buyer beware.

Read more detailed information about digital overlays causing more problems and legality issues than solving accessibility needs.

When designing a site with accessibility barriers removed have proven results in higher engagement, more conversions, and ultimately more revenue. If you don’t serve this user segment, one of your competitors will.

Better than No Accessibility

There is no such thing as 100% digital accessibility compliance. Too many variables. A respectable number is 80-90%+ but you shouldn’t hang on perfection. Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. With every accessibility improvement your site becomes more usable. Slow and easy wins the race. Now issues will be easily recognized and quicker to target. The design will feel more organic too, flowing better, and easier for users and visitors to enjoy.

That’s a goal worthy of you.

Accessiblü, creating equitable pathways to accessible opportunities

Accessiblü can help you find and prioritize the highest impact fixes to get the most improvement as quickly as possible.

At Accessiblü we are working at being the forward-facing leaders on digital and website accessibility. We work closely with our clients to bring the accessibility experience to both their employees, and to the digital communities. Our values are very clear: inclusion is at our center for change.

We practice what we preach. Every project we undertake is unique to the construct of the businesses we work with. Having companies claim overlays can fix everything is not accurate has caused even more legal troubles for those who use them. We offer real-time digital accessibility remediation through AI and hands-on screening, rooting out the causes for inaccessibility. Our team of experts is comprised of brilliant developers, and techs, and some who have disabilities themselves. Again, we practice what we preach.