If 2020 taught us anything, it’s not to predict what might happen in the year ahead. From massive fires in Australia, to murder hornets and of course a global pandemic – it’s difficult to know with any type of certainty what may happen in 2021. However, with the digital world being more important than ever, the concept of a more inclusive web has never been more of a priority. As such, we expect some significant progress in the world of website ADA conformance in 2021 and beyond.
Time is Up for Third Party Exemptions for ADA Conformance
Currently, there is a third-party exception for ADA conformance which we believe will continue to be further eroded in 2021. In March of 2014, H&R Block and the U.S. Federal Government entered into a consent decree that kicked off the current scramble to make our collective digital presence accessible. H&R Block had three years, that’s March of 2018, to either provide an accessible third-party service or to create an accessible experience themselves. In the years since, most businesses have been savvy enough to know that any third-party digital services should offer a fully accessible experience. This simply makes sense for site visitors but also limits legal liability when the time comes that third parties are no longer legally exempt.
Coming “Summer 2021”: WCAG 2.2
WCAG 2.1 was released in June of 2018 and the next iteration of guidelines, WCAG 2.2 will ensure that sites remain accessible for the disabled as technology evolves. While not a prediction, this fact will change how businesses build websites against current conformance standards, and how they run ongoing scans against these standards. Automated tools will be updated to scan against these standards, and manual testing will also reference this updated set of website accessibility guidelines.
WCAG 3.0 Draft Changes the Accessibility Game
In January 2021, the first public working draft of WCAG 3.0 was released. While this draft is a radical departure from current standards, we believe that in 2021 website owners will start to prioritize proving their sites are conformant. Since WCAG 3.0 will result in sites getting a numerical accessibility score that will be publicly available, companies, organizations and institutions will be increasingly looking at ways to monitor their site’s conformance. This means increased use of manual and automatic site testing tools, and an increased focus on how sites can achieve the highest scores. The bottom line is that we expect that stakeholders of accessible websites will start to plan for a new way of testing and validating accessibility.
Rise in Website Accessibility Lawsuits
2021 is likely to see an increase in website accessibility lawsuits increase due to two driving factors:
- The influx of telecommuting and stay-at-home workers during the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified accessibility shortcomings in websites and apps. Since there is no workaround, like coming into the office or location, site owners can expect to see more lawsuits as a reaction.
- The U.S. presidency change has led some to believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will finally step in to establish official website accessibility guidelines, exemptions and timelines for businesses. This anticipation will add fuel to the practice of “settle or else” demand letters from law firms before such guidelines become law.
Additionally, there may be a backlog of work orders once the DOJ sets a timeline for site conformance. In response, the demand will greatly outstrip the availability of website conformance companies like ZAG Interactive to complete audits, remediate existing sites or build new ones. The variable in this prediction is whether this happens in 2021, 2022 or 2023.
With normal life on hold for many while we continue to endure the pandemic and other hardships in 2021, it’s a great time for businesses and organizations to rethink who they want their brands to be and represent. If inclusivity is part of that brand credo, then website accessibility needs to be a top priority as well. Talk with a website ADA conformance expert at ZAG today about your accessibility needs.