The 2020 pandemic changed everyone's life.

Were businesses and schools ready to face the challenge of website accessibility?

Adapting to new ways to work or go to school remotely has not always been effortless, especially for people with disabilities.

Compliance with accessibility guidelines has taken a back seat to almost every other business goal in the past and created a business risk.

Although remote working gave some the opportunity to continue doing business online, consumers and students quickly discovered all the ways they couldn't get their work done – and prevented people from:

  • Do your job.
  • Perform tests.
  • To finish tasks.
  • Hold meetings.
  • Ordering consumables during quarantine.

This caused frustration on top of an already difficult time.

Someone had to be responsible.

For digital marketers, the rumble about website accessibility may be unimportant until a customer receives a letter of request or worse.

Receiving an ADA accessibility lawsuit raises alarms, followed by confusion about what to do next.

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As the customer wrestles with these new issues, they may even ask why they were never made aware that their website or mobile app was inaccessible.

There were also growing concerns such as:

  • Who is responsible for creating websites, software and mobile apps that are not only accessible but also comply with the accessibility laws of the country or state in which they are located?
  • Is It Ethical To Create Search Engine Marketing Strategies For Websites That Have Not Been Screened For Accessibility?
  • Why aren't accessibility tests included in usability tests, user research, software tests, and landing page split tests?
  • Are marketers, web designers, and developers legally liable if a customer's digital property doesn't meet accessibility requirements?

A changing work and private environment

It is estimated that 1.4 billion people worldwide have a disability or impairment.

They are treated differently and even ignored in some countries.

The stigma of imperfection means that many people hide their impairments such as impaired vision, dyslexia, or the inability to remember what they have just read.

When companies sent their employees home to work remotely, many became prepared to share bandwidth and computers with other household members.

Parents became teachers.

The students were bored.

Employees met on Zoom.

The time saved by not having to commute to work allows more time to study, practice skills, and create new projects.

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Clearly, some companies felt it was high time we started beating our heads and making unexpected changes to their existing products.

For example, if you change Google's brand symbols to something that increases the errors because we no longer understand what each symbol refers to.

Or that the new design of Facebook's user interface is more like a corn maze.

Or that the new Google Analytics is no longer recognizable.

It doesn't seem logical to pay so much attention to changing brand icons and user interface layouts when millions of people try to work and study at home and face barriers to accessibility.

Collection of data

Marketers use data to find out how to improve page optimization for search engines and adjust marketing strategies.

In particular, they observe how Google rates websites.

And research on search behavior is extensive.

But even Google's Core Web Vitals doesn't see accessibility as a metric.

Using tools such as screen readers could provide an insight into how many students depend on them to access their teachers' assignments.

  • How's the performance?
  • What computing devices were used?
  • Is speed important to someone who hears a page?
  • How about the student who needs more time to take notes from a text-rich page?

Mobile is Google's favorite, but not for many people with disabilities.

I record web pages for my clients with the combined screen reader MAC VoiceOver and Safari.

By listening to what their web pages sound like, you can understand the user experience for people who are blind, visually impaired, or have reading and cognitive difficulties.

Nothing makes an impression other than hearing what you have designed or built.

Nothing sells better than proof.

The motivation for accessibility on the Internet

There has to be a motivation other than the threat of ADA lawsuits to get companies to care for people with disabilities.

Regular accessibility tests and site compliance audits should be part of all design and development planning and QA processes.

In addition to budget constraints, there aren't enough developers trained in accessibility design for websites, mobile apps, and software.

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For many website owners who are dependent on the WordPress platform, it is common to fail to meet WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines because correcting topics can be difficult.

And for third-party plugins, this is next to impossible.

Welcome to 2021.

The rules have changed.

Accessibility

Imagine you need a wheelchair to get into a store. Before you can enter, however, you must first do the following:

  • Paint the lines for your disabled parking space.
  • Order the disabled parking sign.
  • Build the ramp in the sidewalk.
  • Install the automatic door opener.
  • Redesign the hallways so you have more room to move around.

This is what an accessibility widget does.

Before a person with a disability can enter the website, they must design it to work for them first.

That is discrimination.

There isn't a perfectly accessible website or application that works automatically for all people with disabilities.

The reality is that automatic accessibility overlays that work in the background are a scam based on false promises.

Despite the clever marketing and video of the compelling man who insists your days of worrying about owning an accessible website are miraculously gone.

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Artificial intelligence cannot replace people.

We are all unique. Our brain is different.

We use computers in unique ways and rely on them to work when and how we need them.

Every time we tell ourselves that we know better than anyone how to use a website, we are removing the right to choose what works for people with disabilities or disabilities and their specific needs.

Most users choose their own settings in their computing devices and browsers in order to be able to interact with websites and apps.

Accessibility widgets that override, mimic, or conflict with your settings are not helpful.

The message sent by accessibility overlays and widgets is that your company didn't go out of the way to design and develop an accessible website, and AI delivered the entire experience.

This is a flag for law firms looking for websites to sue them.

The legal landscape of accessibility

US online accessibility litigation for 2020 has increased and shows no signs of slowing down.

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The UK and Ontario have also increased their accessibility requirements.

What you should know:

1. ADA laws in the US regarding websites remain unclear

At this point in time, there are no specific ADA guidelines for websites.

The exception is Section 508 for government and GSA contract websites.

2. Serial plaintiffs are looking for websites to be sued

Decisions vary by state and plaintiffs can sue outside of their own state.

Serial filers are sometimes referred to as "compliance testers," and plaintiffs do not need to use your website to file a complaint.

There is also no limit to cases.

A well-known serial plaintiff with a physical disability has filed approximately 500 cases since October 2019.

3. What should I do after receiving a letter of request?

When you receive a letter of requirement, immediately contact an attorney who specializes in ADA and accessibility.

4. The US has no ADA law enforcing the WCAG standard for public websites

However, related laws and various court judgments override decisions based on ethics and non-discrimination.

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5. The Disabled People Act (AODA) comes into force on January 1, 2021

AODA requires all digital content to comply with WCAG2.0 AA standards by January 1, 2021.

There are fines for violations.

They provide online guides, on-site testing, training, and compliance reporting guidelines.

6. WCAG 2.1 Adoption in Europe

The UK has updated EN 301 549, which sets out the accessibility requirements for ICT products and services.

The standard to be met is WCAG2.1 AA.

Websites and mobile apps must include an accessibility statement.

The deadline for compliance with the digital accessibility regulations was September 23, 2020

In the United States, on October 2, 2020, a bill called the "Online Accessibility Act" (H.R. 8478 – "OAA") was introduced.

It would amend the present ADA to add a new Title VI which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by "any private owner or operator of a consumer-oriented website or mobile application".

This latest attempt, which is already bumping into negative reception by advocates of disability rights, bears a resemblance to H. R. 620, who in the current administration has never got past the house.

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This is because it puts a burden on the person with disabilities to pursue them and then wait for a rehabilitation.

The OAA allows 90 days to resolve a complaint.

If you are not satisfied, it goes to the Justice Department, which has 180 days to “investigate”.

Steps you must take now to protect your business

There are free, automated tools that you can use to quickly assess the most common website accessibility issues.

It is important to note that they detect around 25% of problems and are not a substitute for manual testing.

WCAG 2.2 is now in draft format and is expected to be released next summer.

One of the additions is a change to the focus status guidelines we see when we navigate without a mouse.

Example of a focus status extended with CSS.Use CSS to improve focus status.

Web Developer Tools have a built-in accessibility section that can be added.

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Developers also have their own preferences.

Web developer tools with accessibility in the Chrome browser.Web developer tools can be expanded to include additional test tools for accessibility.Web developer sample with Firefox Accessibility section.Another example of web developer tools in Firefox.

At the top of the list for manual tests is the structure of the headings.

Heading tags are not only important for search engine optimization, but also of particular interest to screen reader users who sort content by them.

WCAG2.1 provides guidelines for headings to ensure that there is only H1 on a page.

If you look carefully you will see a duplicate heading below which is technically a mistake. Worse still, if both were linked to the same landing page.

Example of semantic markup with headings.Even if the page makes visual sense, the experience with a screen reader is very different.

If you listen to this page with a screen reader you may wonder what is behind "All you need to find".

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For accessibility, it makes even more sense to understand content in context when listening to your content.

Descriptive headings and text requirements for link anchors become more apparent as you listen and hear what is missing from your presentation.

Web developer tools drop down menu with options.The ability to manually search for areas to improve accessibility is easier with the right tools.

No accessibility tests are completed without manual testing.

Various tools are available for web developers to use to identify problems.

Moving around a web page without a mouse is a manual test performed by pressing the TAB key on your keyboard.

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The reading order should start with a link to jump to the content, which should be there (and if not, it should be).

Each TAB key click should lead to the next link in the DOM and is visually highlighted with a focus status.

Common mistakes when testing the keyboard manually are:

  • The focus status disappears as it goes through the navigation and sub-levels.
  • Site search.
  • The sudden appearance of ads and popups.

Sometimes it is difficult to maintain accessibility

For those with a serious interest in building inclusive websites or mobile apps, there is a large community of accessibility advocates, educators, and certified accessibility specialists who make themselves available.

There are free podcasts and videos with instructions on how to access documents and use screen readers.

Look for webinars. Many are free.

There are guidelines for colors, images, layout, clarity, and compatibility with a wide variety of user agents.

The hardest part is learning accessible rich Internet applications, or ARIA, which can conflict with HTML5. However, screen readers need to figure out what is happening on each page.

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Who is responsible for maintaining accessibility?

We are responsible for the content of our website.

This includes our videos, podcasts, forms, topics and interactive elements.

Beginners have to ask a lot.

And for those who choose to go with pre-built websites, this is a risk they may not be aware of.

Do yourself a favor and get an accessibility check done.

Hire a consultant or find an agency that offers accessibility testing as a service in addition to designing or marketing websites.

Add accessibility tests to your internal projects.

It wouldn't make sense to make products that aren't ready for everyone.

Hire agencies that test with people with disabilities.

You are your best investment.

In 2021, you may need to have an accessible website, mobile app, or online software application.

The best offense is knowing what you need to know.

Visit me on January 12th at SEJ eSummit, where I will give a talk on "The Emergency Guide to Compliance with Website Accessibility".

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More resources:

Photo credit

All screenshots by the author, November 2020

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