Crownpeak (Retired)

Understanding Web Accessibility: Its Opportunities and The Cost of Non Compliance

Recently, Google Doodle recognized Seiichi Miyake, a Japanese inventor.  When Seiichi Miyake found out a close friend was losing the ability to see clearly, he wanted to help. That desire led to an entirely new way for the visually impaired to navigate big cities, railways and parks.  In 1965, Miyake invented the tactile paving slab (or "Tenji block" in Japan) with his own money.

The Tenji blocks were first installed in the Japanese city of Okayama on March 18, 1967, next to a school for the blind, and they would go on to revolutionize the way the visually impaired interact with the world, making it safer and easier to get around public spaces independently.  If you have ever been on a New York subway, you undoubtably walked over the Tenji block tiles on the edge of the platform.  I even have them at the intersection/crosswalks in my town.  What amazes me most in the research I read is that this inventor was thinking about how to make the world more Accessible in 1967.  Flash forward to 2019,  and there are still plenty of organizations who don’t have a plan for Accessibility.

1.3 billion people – nearly 18% of the world’s population – have a disability of one kind or another.

(Source: Global Economics of Disability Annual Report 2014)

If you have a strong Accessibility policy, I commend you.  If not, there’s no time like the present to start.  As an altruistic effort, consider that you will be opening up fyour website, commerce platform, etc. to a whole new user base, not to mention the families of those with disabilities.  And try to think broadly because a disability could include:

  • Mobility Impairments - Some wheelchairs may not fit under standard height computer tables and some computer users do not have enough use of their hands and arms to operate a standard keyboard or mouse.
  • Sight Impairments – Blindness, Low Vision, Color Blind
  • Hearing Impairments – less of a concern with digital experiences, with the exception of Video

I believe that most businesses know why it should be done, but what are you really risking if you don’t?

By not complying with web accessibility regulations, businesses open themselves up to a daunting range of costs and consequences:

  • Fines from governments and enforcement agencies, both for corporations and for operating officers and directors
  • Lost business if an injunction against a website means it must suspend operation
  • Legal costs of defending (or even quickly settling) a plaintiff or government lawsuit
  • Monetary settlements with plaintiffs, if imposed
  • Costs of remediation as a business revamps its website to come into compliance with regulations or court settlements
  • Lost goodwill and damage to reputation as lawsuits or regulatory prosecutions become public news or fodder for social media

Here are only a few of the hundreds or thousands, of court cases over the last decade involving allegations against businesses accused of website accessibility failures. The very lack of ADA definitions about accessibility has encouraged plaintiffs and lawyers to launch lawsuits:

  • Target famously settled a web accessibility lawsuit in 2008 by paying out $6 million; the suit had been brought by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which claimed Target’s site was not accessible to blind and visually impaired users. Target also agreed to compensate the NFB for its attorney's fees and costs, which exceeded $3.5 million.
  • Amazon settled with the NFB in 2007 in what was termed a “groundbreaking achievement for the disabled community,” in the first instance of a major online retailer being compelled to address accessibility barriers through technical and design improvements and an ongoing series of compliance reviews.
  • Netflix settled a lawsuit brought by the National Association of the Deaf for $795,000; the NAD claimed that the Internet was a place of public accommodation and closed captioning was necessary to insure deaf individuals had equal access to Netflix’s services.
  • The NBA was sued by a plaintiff claiming its website didn’t accommodate users who were blind or had vision impairment, illustrating another cost of such lawsuits: bad buzz and damage to the league’s brand, as social media users piled on with comments like “NBA has major accessibility issues with both website and app, surprising no one!”
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, its sub-agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and CMS sub-contractors were sued by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and individual plaintiffs for communicating with blind persons using print and electronic formats they couldn’t read.

Call to Action

Web accessibility challenges will only increase for digital marketers and enterprise companies, driven in some places by a lack of clear legal definitions that give consumers and lawyers a window to launch litigation, in others by the official arrival of that very regulation, which may vary considerably in details, stringency and penalties between markets.

The bottom line is that companies need to acknowledge and accept that web accessibility is being increasingly viewed as a universal right in many countries. By ignoring that fact, companies are not only opening themselves up to costly consequences, but may be shortsightedly losing out on audiences that would gratefully embrace corporate efforts to deliver that accessibility.

If you would like to learn more about how you can use Crownpeak to drive your Accessibility initiatives, please set up time to discuss this with your Customer Success Manager. 

Remember:  We can help and any solution you use/buy will be far less costly than litigation.

Beverly Dunn
Sr. Director - Customer Success

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