October 15 2015

Important Update on Website Accessibility Guidelines

ADA website complianceThe Department of Justice (DOJ) has set out to add new ADA regulations for the web in April 2016. It’s entirely possible they will pass the deadline and push back the date (they’ve done it before). But make no mistake, it is coming and it’s important for every website owner to be aware of what it means for their site.

There are currently several lawsuits involving conformity and the web in the courts now and the DOJ itself waded into this in a big way when they took on, and eventually settled with, Peapod. We have gleaned from that case as well as other notable cases (National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation among others) which way the wind is blowing. While we cannot guarantee when the regulations will come into being, we have a very good idea about what they will be and more importantly who will have to adhere to them.

Why April 2016?

First let’s address the elephant in the room: summer 2015 came and went and the big announcement from the DOJ about regulations didn’t happen. Instead, they kicked it down the line to April 2016. No one is 100% sure why, but the guess is they are still figuring out how to implement this. Some believe that they may come out with a tiered approach, e.g. Level A compliance must be met by April 2018 and Level AA by April 2019. There will also be a list of who must be compliant and who will be excluded. Just as your personal home doesn’t have to comply with ADA regulations, neither will your personal website. But, if your brick-and-mortar establishment does, you’re probably going to have to comply on the web too. 

What Kind of Compliance Will Be Mandated?

The DOJ made this pretty clear in the case they settled with Peapod. They want WCAG Level AA compliance. What’s even more interesting about this case is the DOJ’s demand for third party verification, a requirement for an official employee dedicated to website accessibility, an annual reevaluation process a rigorous manual and automated testing procedures. Just take a gander at this bulleted list from the DOJ’s own press release:

  • ensure that www.peapod.com and its mobile applications conform to, at minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA Success Criteria (WCAG 2.0 AA), except for certain third party content;
  • designate an employee as web accessibility coordinator for www.peapod.com, who will report directly to a Peapod, LLC executive;
  • retain an independent website accessibility consultant, who will annually evaluate the accessibility of the website and  its mobile applications;
  • adopt a formal web accessibility policy;
  • provide a notice on www.peapod.com soliciting feedback from visitors on how website accessibility can be improved;
  • provide automated accessibility testing and accessibility testing by individuals with a variety of disabilities of www.peapod.com and its mobile applications;
  • provide mandatory annual training on website accessibility for Peapod’s website content personnel.

One look at that and it’s clear that companies shouldn’t wait until they are sued to adhere to web accessibility standards.

The Burden and Benefits of Web Accessibility

Making compliance changes to your site may seem like a burden, and that’s okay to feel that way because it is a burden. After all, there are unplanned cost increases, it can tweak your layout and design, and depending on how you implement, you may have to hire and train folks within and outside your organization.

But there is good news: conforming to website accessibility guidelines will show your company’s commitment to all kinds of website visitors. It’s helpful to remember that the goal of accessibility standards is not to make it easy for persons with disabilities to use your website, but to make it even possible at all. Imagine knowing that there is online banking on your bank’s website, but always having to ask a friend to log in to your account or drive you to the bank. Imagine having to pay all of your bills via mail, and relying on someone else to write a check. Imagine knowing your bus routes but not being able to find the location of the store you want to go to. Doing these things doesn’t have to be easy, but just making them possible is a huge step forward, and one that is greatly overdue. The fact that we have been able to order pizza online for 21 years now is a great fact, but only if you aren’t a person with disabilities. Then it’s an embarrassing fact. The DOJ is doing their part to finally open the doors of the web to all, and you can beat them to the punch.

When guided by a company that understands all the dimensions of website accessibility standards, conforming to website accessibility standards isn’t as painful as you may think.

Important Note

ZAG Interactive will be unveiling a new website in 2017 which will have a fresh, new, responsive design and be conformant with ADA guidelines. 

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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.