Legally blind Florida resident Juan Carlos Gil, who recently won an accessibility lawsuit against Winn-Dixie, has turned his attention to the vehicle retailer AutoNation, who has 300+ retail stores nationwide. The lawsuit claims that their websites do not work for persons with disabilities. While it may seem, on the face of it, a bit odd that an individual who is legally blind may want to buy or finance a car, it’s a legitimate request and one that has created a stir in the auto dealership world.
Why is website accessibility important?
Though a legally blind person is not able to drive a car themselves, they certainly ride in them. They also purchase or finance them for loved ones or businesses. Therefore, they have every right to research what deals exist locally on an auto dealership website as any visitor without disabilities. This locality is where dealerships fall into trouble. It is unreasonable to make a person with disabilities venture all the way to the dealership to find out what deals are available, when a person without disabilities can simply look on the website and find out the same information.
As such, all auto dealership websites need to do their best to accommodate all users. Offering an online rebate, rate or deal on a site that doesn’t work for persons with disabilities is in effect offering a deal only to certain people. That is obviously not legally fair and is the perfect recipe for a lawsuit like the one filed by Juan Carlos Gil. So what can auto dealers or any large ecommerce site do to mitigate their risk while offering a fair digital experience for all?
Creating or retrofitting a website against WCAG conformance standards
First and foremost, auto dealers can make or retrofit their sites to be WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) conformant. The generally adopted standard that has been used in every case so far is WCAG 2.0 AA (now 2.1). This series of guidelines and rules for making the website experience work for virtually everyone, regardless of disability, is the standard that auto dealerships and all businesses/institutions/organizations should familiarize themselves with. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have a team redesign the site according to WCAG 2.1 specifications. Though this is the easiest way, it’s also the one with the biggest price tag and can take time. If you are planning a site redesign any time soon, make sure the company you hire knows all aspects of design and development for ADA conformance.
Retrofitting your existing auto dealership website is an option as well. It can be done incrementally, or in stages. Each stage gets the site closer to working for everyone. While retrofitting a site obviously has a cost, it allows for spreading out the cost over a year or two. Of course the risk is that the longer your site isn’t conformant, the more ripe your business is for a lawsuit.
Auditing your existing website for ADA compliance issues
If you aren’t redesigning your site, the first step is to have an ADA conformance audit performed by certified professionals like ZAG Interactive. This audit will determine all of your Accessibility issues, provide solutions to you or your development team, and make recommendations on what should be fixed first.
Best practices for ADA conformance
While fully retrofitting or redesigning your site is the ideal solution, there are small things you can do right now to make your site work better for those with disabilities.
Alt text: If you are posting images on your site with offers like “0% down on 60-month financing”, you need to have the ALT text read the same information, or have that information in the body of the text nearby. A person with low vision cannot read the image, so ALT text is the only way you are providing the information about the deal.
Image links: If you have image links, those images must have ALTs that describe the link and where it is going. For instance, If you have an image that reads ‘1000 Dollar rebate for qualifying Military Veterans’ and that image links to the term & conditions page, the ALT must read something like “1000 dollar rebate for qualifying military veterans. Click here to read about the terms and conditions.”
Slider carousels: If you have any ‘carousels’ banners that automatically scroll on their own, turn off the carousel effect. Making carousels work for persons with disabilities is not beginner HTML. Having carousels that automatically rotate can make the rest of the page unnavigable since screen readers often get hijacked when a carousel switches to a new panel. In effect the user may be reading about the new 2020 SUVs, only to have the reader abruptly stop, mid-sentence and talk about whatever button is in tab three.
If you own or manage a website for an auto dealership, it’s essential that you understand the legal landscape and make a plan for your website that works for your budget and your visitors. Remember that website ADA conformance is about making your sites work for all customers. It’s not just an issue of doing the right thing, or mitigating potentially expensive lawsuits, but instead about embracing an untapped customer base. Want to discuss your site conformance with a certified professional? Get in touch.