Updated: Dec 7, 2021
Under the World Bank data, as of October 2020, over a billion people (15% of the total population) have any kind of disability. In the age of digital technologies, it's necessary to keep principles of equality and non-discrimination to provide everyone with opportunities to access web resources and use the benefits they give. Such a topic is always on the agenda, especially in the US, based on the number of lawsuits against different domain leaders. Let's consider what web accessibility is, which legal base regulates it, and what exactly companies should do to make their resources convenient for everybody.
Website Accessibility Laws And Regulations In The EU, Canada, And The USA
Everyone, who has a disability like low vision, hearing loss, cognitive or movement limitations, deserves to use websites and applications, as well as people with robust health. Governments and organizations all over the world contribute to web accessibility legal base development. But, unfortunately, acts and guidelines don't cover all the aspects of this issue. Anyway, let's see which documents businesses should pay attention to.
The World Wide Web Consortium has created a few generations of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The last version was edited by Oracle and Adobe specialists. The documents concern content accessibility and use four general principles to provide it. Thus, to be accessible, the content must be:
Perceivability is provided with pre-recorded audio and video content, synchronous subtitles (including stream content), translation of resource content into a sign language, and the user's ability to control colors, sound, font size, etc.
If the website or app is operable, it enables to adjust the content viewing time, using the "pause" and "keep playing" functions. Under this guideline, understanding means compliance with the re-authentication norm, considering the human body's reaction to screen flashes, implementation of the simplified navigation, and data entry features during resource components development (changing).
The document recommends giving users the ability to translate content into different languages and ensure a high degree of clarity. The creators of this document call for web developments with clear logic and an understandable interface. Following WCAG, the product owner should provide help in its web portal usage (to post guides/ to place "assistance" or "client support" buttons, etc.).
The web portal must also be robust. The content should be rendered with correct and error-free use of markup languages.
There are three levels of compliance with this document: А, АА, ААА (A - basic, АА - middle, AAA - advanced). Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to satisfy all the points of the WCAG while creating an attractive resource from a marketing point of view. Moreover, in any case, efforts will not ensure absolute availability. Therefore, the European Community (and not only it) often focuses on AA compliance.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are recommendatory documents, which means they have no legal force. But implementing solutions to the European Union Web Accessibility Directive 2016/2102 require EU member states to form website content in compliance with WCAG 2.1, AA standards. Meanwhile, each member state is empowered to independently determine the size of penalties for non-compliance with such a provision.
In Canada, website accessibility is regulated by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It is a normative document that determines even employment and design of public premises standards, as well as information and communications ones. However, according to p.2 Art. 14 of Ontario Regulation 191/11, which is also the part of AODA:
...designated public sector organizations and large organizations shall make their internet websites and web content conform with the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, initially at Level A and increasing to Level AA.
... By January 1, 2021, all internet websites and web content must conform with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
The document stipulates that any company must have an accessibility policy. The last one helps enterprises become more open to different types of audiences and empowers teams to set goals for eliminating barriers to the use of any products, services, and websites by people with disabilities. Every three years, companies must form an accessibility compliance report and submit it to the authorized state body.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates general discrimination against people with disabilities in different areas, similar to the AODA. By the way, ADA and website accessibility regulations have practically nothing in common. There are no provisions about the availability of web resources in this document. Based on the Anglo-Saxon legal system peculiarities, the primary source of regulation here is a legal precedent. Therefore, it is the most common practice of filing lawsuits against companies in the US that do not provide a high level of accessibility to people with disabilities. The judicial practice, in this case, is different, but many judges refer to the mandatory compliance with WCAG 2.0, standard AA (See Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores; Andrews v. Blick Art Materials, LLC). They consider web resources to be "places of public accommodation" in the view of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title III).
Among the most famous cases concerning website accessibility:
Nat'l Ass'n of the Deaf v. Netflix. It was a class-action suit where plaintiffs asserted that Netflix streaming service had provided irrelevant subtitle content and demanded injunctive relief.
Domino's Pizza, LLC v. Guillermo Robles. The plaintiff had vision problems. He was unable to place an order through the Domino's app using text adaptation software. Robles won the dispute. The court concluded that:
...alleged inaccessibility of Domino's website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.
Bishop v. Amazon.com and Maria Mendizabal v. Nike. Both lawsuits relate to challenges in familiarizing with the content and the inability to adapt it to people with disabilities needs.
To unify the approach, the Online Accessibility Act Bill was submitted to the US Congress. It will amend the ADA and regulate the issue of website and app accessibility.
How To Test Website Accessibility And Avoid An Unfortunate Situation
As seen, governments use different legal regulations on web portals accessibility. But the issue for business representatives around the world remains a common one. What to do if acts and laws refer to recommendations, and it is not always possible to fulfill the last ones perfectly?
It’s not just about disabled users being able to access your website — it’s about everyone being able to access your website.
Trenton Moss, Founder at Team Sterka
There are different opinions about the application of ready-made digital solutions to keep accessibility. Some find them effective and use products like accessiBe, Userway, Equalweb, etc. Others feel that compliance actions are complicated and cannot be covered by such software. Here are some tips on how to check the accessibility of a website and act under the law without additional tools:
Why companies should add accessibility to websites
Following Statista, almost 4.66 billion people use the Internet as of October 2020. It’s over half of the Earth's population. Imagine how many clients you can gain and retain by adhering to the accessibility guidelines. All these people will be able to solve their issues with your product or service. What could be better for business development?
Compliance with requirements is a difficult process that takes effort and investment. Yes, that's right, since a company needs to consider the WCAG recommendations when developing any new service and improving the old one.
It is core to care and think about those who need it. Making web resources accessible is just a small part of what humanity can do to help everyone feel convenient, using equal abilities.