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Still Waiting for the United States to Catch Up

A group of United States senators recently wrote to the Attorney General to get an update on the Justice Department’s efforts to clarify compliance obligations for businesses with respect to website accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This has been a long time coming and this is not the first time that lawmakers have tried to obtain clarity from the Department of Justice about the lack of existing guidance.

The concern is that unclear direction from the DOJ has left many businesses exposed to litigation risk, so the senators asked for further clarity since the issue of whether the ADA applies to private websites at all—or the scope of such application—continues to be subject to conflicting judicial opinions and increasing litigation.

There are so many reasons why the law must be set on this issue. Enterprise doesn’t like ambiguity, and being exposed to legal risk is bad for all business.

Many countries besides the United States have laws requiring digital accessibility, and the issue is of increased legal concern globally. Consideration of the cost and risk of inaction is now a critical aspect of any business considerations. As digital and web use becomes intertwined all over the world, governments and regulators are mandating laws and policies that strengthen the rights of people with disabilities to allow them to participate in online digital information and services.

With legal risks increasing, smart businesses, especially those with international activities, are proactively creating accessibility policies and programs to mitigate risk and to protect both their assets and their reputations.

Integrating accessible design thinking also has many benefits beyond the obvious. It provides varied and flexible ways for users to interact with websites and applications, which are options that are useful for people with and without disabilities. User Experience (UX) is very important for everyone.  UX commonly encompasses  the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership, and accessibility is closely related to general usability – both aim to define and deliver a more intuitive user experience.

Accessibility features in products and services often solve unanticipated problems because businesses that integrate accessibility are more likely to already be innovative, inclusive enterprises. When accessibility is part of strategic corporate planning, businesses are better equipped for success in the connected world of commerce, academia, and civic engagement.

Integrating accessibility removes architectural, digital, and social barriers that can get in the way of innovation. There is very little downside to accessibility. Businesses need to protect and enhance their brands. A clear commitment to accessibility can demonstrate that a business has a genuine sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).