Why You Need an Accessible Business Website
An accessible business website can help people with certain disabilities access your products and services. It can also keep your company out of very real legal trouble. Here's our guide to making your website accessible for impaired visitors.
Assessing the Legal Ramifications
An accessible website allows businesses to connect with customers that might typically be out of reach. In some cases, however, website accessibility is more than just a business strategy; it's a legal responsibility. Under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of ADA, businesses must provide equal access to services if they could be considered a "place of public accommodation." This includes hotels, retails stores, entertainment venues, accounting and legal firms, and any other business that isn't a private club.
The Department of Justice specifically states that websites should include accessible features for people with hearing, vision and physical disabilities. In fact, the DOJ has levied hefty penalties against certain companies for not living up to these standards.
Recognizing the Benefits
While there are very real legal concerns to making your company's website ADA compliant, there are also practical business angles. Having an accessible website is simply a matter of good customer relations. It's also a good way to widen your pool of potential customers.
Millions of Americans can be considered legally deaf or blind, while countless others suffer from disabilities that make accessibility aids necessary. These people have many of the same needs and desires as able-bodied consumers, and their money is most likely to go to companies that make concerted efforts to ease their online transactions.
How to Make Your Website Accessible
While it might sound like a huge undertaking, it's actually not that hard to create an accessible website. There are a few basic things that make a website navigable to impaired visitors, including:
Add text to your images. If there is no text to help identify pictures on your website, a blind visitor's screen reader won't be able to identify the image. In turn, the visitor will have no way of knowing if the picture is a stock photo, logo or link to an interior page. For instance, if a Chamber of Commerce website publishes a picture of the mayor, a blind visitor should be able to use his or her screen reader to hover over the image and hear, "image of mayor so-and-so."
Avoid pdf files. These formats are especially challenging for the visually impaired, because they do not respond to text enlargement programs or screen readers.
Allow for resizable text. Designers typically create websites with an eye toward aesthetics and flow, without much regard for how they might be inhibiting some users. Your website should have resizable text with a high contrast mode option. It's also a good idea to allow users to adjust fonts and colors.
Adjust your multimedia. Make your multimedia files more accessible by adding descriptions to videos and images. This should include narration of changes in gesturing, settings and any other key details. You should also include text captioning for the hearing impaired.
While an accessible website is really just good customer service, there are legal considerations that tend to drive action on the part of business owners. In 2008, Target found itself in court for not making its website accessible to the blind. Ultimately, the company agreed to settle the case, paying $6 million to the plaintiffs, along with an additional $3.7 million in court fees.
To make sure your site is compliant, consider asking a qualified web design agency to perform an audit on your online properties. At bare minimum, you should take steps to show that you have made every attempt to make your website as accessible as possible.
Intelligent Office offers innovative solutions that help small businesses perform like large enterprises. Contact our office to learn about our virtual assistants, executive office suites and virtual office space.