Despite being a crucial issue for website owners, web accessibility is widely overlooked and misunderstood.
Web accessibility does not refer to people having internet access, though that is important in its own right. Rather, web accessibility is the idea of making sure people with disabilities can fully use a website and its features.
Web accessibility stems from the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which specifically prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. These protections apply to everything from schools and jobs to transportation and have improved daily life for millions of people nationwide.
With the internet becoming such an important part of our culture, it is only natural that such protections would be applied to make the digital world more inclusive.
Although the Department of Justice has not released official guidelines, applying the ADA to websites is nothing new. In a 2018 letter, the Department of Justice noted that it “first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago.” In addition, the Web Accessibility Initiative’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide the key standards that all web content developers must follow.
Because of this, companies must ensure their website is accessible. Public relations professionals must make sure their clients are adhering to these guidelines—not just to avoid bad publicity, but also to strengthen their digital reputation.
Equal rights and access are important issues. Though web accessibility historically has not received as much attention as other issues, recent events have helped put it in the spotlight.
Legal hot water and other hazards
As Gal Vizel, CMO at accessiBe, an AI-powered tool that automates website accessibility for brands, wrote in a recent blog post: “Lawsuits are being filed all over the country. The lawsuits related to ADA web accessibility has increased by 183% in just one year, from 814 cases in 2017 to 2,285 in 2018.”
Domino’s is the biggest brand to stumble recently in terms of web accessibility. As reported by CNBC, Guillermo Robles, who is blind, sued the pizza company in 2016 because the brand’s website and mobile app were incompatible with his screen reading software. As a result, he couldn’t order pizza.
This is already bad from a PR standpoint, but Domino’s response has only made matters worse. The company has recently moved to take the case to the Supreme Court, seeking to argue that the ADA does not apply to the digital world. That lack of empathy is hardly helping public perception of the brand.
Though Domino’s stance has received support from others in its industry, the overall public response has been negative. Ordinary posts on Twitter are being flooded with negative comments noting that the $38,000 it would cost to make the Domino’s website accessible would be far less expensive than lobbying the Supreme Court. Notably, Domino’s has not responded to those tweets.
The Domino’s case is just the tip of the iceberg. Many SMBs are feeling the effects of similar litigation because their websites do not meet accessibility standards. Some critics have even called this wave of litigation “legal extortion.” Others view the lawsuits as important activist work to make the web equal for all.
The big-time PR benefits
Although avoiding lawsuits and negative press is certainly a top priority for any PR client, web accessibility isn’t just about avoiding bad outcomes. It can also provide a significant boost for your client’s branding.
For retailers, failing to make a website accessible represents a lost revenue opportunity. The Click Away Pound Survey reported that in 2016 alone, retailers in the United Kingdom lost about $15.5 billion in revenue because of the artificial barriers that kept individuals with special access needs from easily navigating their content.
Many practices that improve accessibility can also lead to a better site experience for everyone. Closed captions on videos or transcripts of audio content provide accessibility for the deaf, but they also make a site more convenient for someone who needs to access the content with the sound muted.
Accentuating the positive
Prioritizing web accessibility also presents a great opportunity for generating positive PR. Today’s consumers are increasingly values-driven, and a company that emphasizes accessibility for all will certainly make a positive impression.
As reported by Forbes, 52% of all “online adults” in the U.S. consider a company’s values when making a purchase. This rate is even higher among millennials, with roughly seven out of every 10 individuals weighing these standards as part of their purchasing decision.
Prioritizing accessibility will certainly help your clients avoid the negative PR attention currently being heaped upon Domino’s, but it can also have a direct impact on their profits.
By ensuring that all web content is truly accessible for those with disabilities and highlighting this commitment through an accessibility statement, organizations can better serve all their potential customers.
Lucas Miller is the CEO of Echelon Copy LLC.