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Web Accessibility as Businesses Shift with COVID-19

June 09, 2020

Blog by Mike Shea

Over the last few months, businesses have had to shift their goods and services to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology and the use of the internet has a large potential to increase communication and the independence of people with disabilities. Digital services, that are now even more important than ever before, include shopping, remote work, education, healthcare, and banking. Service providers that have transitioned to digital services need to ensure that websites, mobile apps, video conferencing, documents, emails, and social media posts are accessible to people with disabilities.

Web accessibility is not an overnight fix. There are three focus areas that create a good beginning point to ensuring a website is accessible to a person with a disability. The first point is to ensure that the web page is accessible to a screen reader. This includes making sure a screen reader will pick up the information in a logical order and that the page navigation is available. The second is alternative text or alt text. Alt text should be present for all audio and video files. These are important to ensure a screen reader can relay the information to a Blind user about specific graphics within the page. The third point is color. Color within the page should provide enough contrast so that text and buttons are understandable. Contrast ratios between the foreground and background colors should be at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text or titles and headings.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) predates the internet. The ADA itself does not outline any specific guidance towards web accessibility. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has had a long-held position that the ADA does cover websites. The DOJ states covered entities under the ADA should provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the internet. Entities covered under the ADA and who use the internet for communications about their programs, goods, or services must offer those communications through accessible means as well. Web accessibility has seen a large increase of litigation, which will only increase as more people than ever must rely on the internet for everyday tasks during this pandemic. In 2018 there were about 2,250 federal lawsuits filed for web accessibility. Among these lawsuits, cases against places of public accommodation or Title III are at the highest. Most public accommodations use the web to provide e-commerce, sales, contests, deals, employment activities, communication of schedule and closure, and simple customer service. Despite the large volume of lawsuits, there are still no official guidelines for web accessibility under the ADA.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) cover a wide range of guidelines for making web content more accessible. This set of guidelines is often used as a reference by the courts as the standard for sites to comply. WCAG uses four fundamental principles to define web accessibility. The first principle is perceivable. The information throughout the website is presented in a way that is perceived by the senses. For example, a user who is blind or has low vision should be able to perceive the same visual information through sound and touch. The second principle is operable. This has a lot to do with how a person with a disability will navigate a web page. A user should be able to identify and use the controls via a keyboard, mouse, and by voice commands. The third principle is understandable. The language used throughout the web page should be clear and consistent with the presentation on screen. The last principle is robust. The content should function across a wide variety of technologies. This includes the use of any assistive technology a user may be using.

As we adapt to using the internet for more and more things due to protection put order for COVID-19, there is a need to ensure we are still able to accommodate the various abilities of all users. Developing a plan or keeping accessibility at the front of the design process will not only keep your business from an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit, but it will help make the web a place that everyone can enjoy. Good access is good business.

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