This article in the Washington Post about lawsuits being brought because of the lack of laws pertaining to new technology and the 1990’s era ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) is interesting. It emphasizes once again that this problem is not going away anytime soon and it is becoming very expensive for all concerned.
While the ADA has not yet been amended to specifically address websites, several courts have now held that the act does apply to online accessibility and successful lawsuits are increasing in the United States, and elsewhere around the world there is a push towards increasing regulations to improve accessibility. In the UK, The Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations 2018 is based on a wider European Union Directive, which requires new public sector websites and apps to meet certain accessibility standards.
According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 billion people globally live with some form of vision impairment, so this is also a huge market of potential customers to be served through accessible technology and making digital content more accessible to this audience.
Accessibility is like cyber-security in that it needs to be considered a continuous process, not a one-time action to be taken. Websites are not static. They are dynamic entities that are always changing as new pages and content are developed, edited and replaced, and site function or navigation changes. Much like cyber-security and physical vulnerabilities must be constantly assessed, upgraded and maintained, it’s just as important to test and remediate for accessibility in a methodical way. Accessibility must be an integral part of every web development cycle to ensure that all the moving parts of a website are manageable for both industry and people with disabilities.
With the latest technology, accessible websites can be rich with images and videos, unlike just a few years ago. As an added bonus, because search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on the perception of relevance, the best practices of web accessibility align with SEO best practices! This consideration alone makes it critical to ensure that web content is properly categorized and structured, alt text is descriptive and includes context on why it appears with the rest of the page content, and anchor texts appear with links that describe the destination page, to name a few. These are all positive features for both SEO and people with disabilities.
As the internet permeates all aspects of modern life, more critical services such as medical care are moving online, and in the retail environment businesses are increasingly providing content through websites and apps that supplement the in-person shopping experience. Because of the public nature of the web and the high relevance of all of this content, accessibility on websites and apps is required, no longer optional.