March 01 2019

Website ADA Compliance for Small Businesses

More and more large companies, Accessibility plugins vs retrofitting your siteorganizations and institutions are choosing to make their websites work for people with disabilities and conform to the current WCAG AA standards. Some are adopting it as a result of pending litigation, some are making their websites conformant to embrace persons with disabilities as
valued customers, and many others are simply happy to have it included in their new site redesign at the recommendation of their web design and development agency.

Smaller companies, organizations, and institutions, however, are stuck in a bigger bind. Rarely do they have their own website development team and often they have no one on staff with any technical website knowledge at all. They may be on a robust content management system (CMS) like Kentico or Sitefinity that can allow them to customize a website for conformance, but more often they have a license-free CMS like WordPress based on a pre-existing theme that isn’t conformant, or simply chose a DIY site like Wix or Squarespace which too aren’t conformant.

So, what are smaller companies left to do in this bind? The options are limited but important to understand.

Option 1: Ignore Website Compliance Guidelines, For Now

The first option is one almost every small company has done, at least for a little while: do nothing right now. There is a chance that you will not be sued or served a letter and you can therefore roll the dice. Even though there were at least 2,258 website ADA lawsuits filed in 2018 (beating the old record by nearly 3 to 1), that is still only a tiny fragment of the number of businesses in the United States. There are no accurate numbers for how many ADA demand letters have been sent out. These demand letters are sent to businesses demanding a financial settlement for inaccessibility. The number for that is most undoubtedly much higher than 2,258 and causes most businesses to panic. But, if this is a risk your business is willing to take, it’s certainly a viable option.

Option 2: Use a Third-Party Website Accessibility Tool

You can engage a third-party website accessibility tool like Audioeye or Userway. These tools are “built into” your site and basically take over when a person with disabilities needs to access your site. They are inexpensive, simple to install, and cover a wide area of issues. They help persons with no vision, low vision and folks who are keyboard bound. In short, they take existing sites and with very little effort, greatly increase their usability. The downside? Perhaps most problematic for these add on tools is that they don’t solve all conformance issues. They are a band-aid, albeit a good one. Userway, for instance, makes sure that their language around accessibility always says ‘more accessible’, not ‘fully accessible’. This isn’t a scam on their part - they really do increase accessibility on the pages they serve. They just cannot promise full WCAG AA conformance. Additionally, they require a learning curve for those with disabilities. Persons with disabilities like to use their own tools in ways they know, just like anybody else. Imagine changing game systems from Xbox to PlayStation. You may have the same games on each, but there will be frustration as you try and do the things you are used to with a brand new controller that doesn’t work the way you are used to.

Option 3: Audit and Fix Your Website Site Conformance Issues

Your third option is to pay for a website ADA conformance audit and then fix the issues found. Many of your issues will be simple, like missing ALTs, or non-descriptive links. But your audit will only be as good as the auditor. It’s hard to know if you are getting a good value if you don’t understand what it is you’re looking for in the first place.

Even if you get a thorough audit, if you use a DIY design/hosting service like Squarespace, you are still limited by what you can and cannot fix. You can claim that the issues Squarespace and Wix cannot fix are ‘on them’ and therefore a ‘third-party’ issue, but there is no guarantee that claim would hold up in a court case. The Department of Justice thought it was alright for H&R Block to claim that their google maps were third-party and outside their control, but the Winn-Dixie case established that Winn-Dixie had to “make sure their third-party vendors that are integrated into their website are also accessible to people with disabilities.”*

Option 4: Redesign Your Website Against ADA Guidelines 

The final option is a website redesign. While this option is the most extreme, it also offers the most advantages. You get a new, fresh-looking website that has been strategized, designed and developed against ADA conformance standards. You will also get the peace of mind of knowing that you are providing a site that reaches ALL of your customer base, including those with disabilities. The primary drawback of course is obvious: a site redesign can be expensive - more expensive than any of the other options. But let’s look at the real cost in comparison to the other options outlined above.

  • A site redesign could be less than a legal settlement. Settlements may invariably require you to redesign your site anyway.
  • Fixing existing ADA issues is always more expensive than making ADA conformant code from scratch. A site redesign gets to throw away all the old issues because the design and code base are fresh.
  • You probably have a site redesign in your project pipeline in the next 24-36 months. Adding conformance to a redesign is actually the cheapest and safest way to get it done. It’s just a part of the existing redesign, and not its own budgetary beast.
  • You get to get in front of the issue, announce you are creating a site that will work for everyone including persons with disabilities.

As a smaller business, each day comes with its own challenges of how to make money, make customers happy and certainly avoid litigation. If you would like to discuss your specific ADA conformance situation, we’d be happy to talk to you and evaluate which option might be right for you.

  • Website Compliance

posted by
Will Creedle
Will Creedle
Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC)

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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