The new year could bring more lawsuits, but also more clarity
by Christina Throndson

It’s a new year, and with it comes a whole new set of challenges for marketing your business online. One of the largest and most unclear challenges is that of web accessibility. Around this time in 2016, many of you were hearing about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for the first time, sparked by an announcement made by the Department of Justice that they were planning to adopt WCAG 2.0 AA standards as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, this means web accessibility will be a requirement for all business websites.

Here are my predictions for website accessibility in 2017.

1. There will be many more lawsuits. Even though the government has stated that they will not enforce web accessibility until 2018, this does not protect your business from litigation. In fact, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, over 240 businesses have been sued by visually impaired users in federal court over website accessibility since 2015.

2. You will see adjustments to what will be required. While the Department of Justice has stated that it will likely adopt the WCAG 2.0 AA standards as its requirements, we know that isn’t always how things end up. Expect more debate this year on which standards the DOJ will be lenient on and which will be clearly defined.

3. We’ll see recognition for accessible websites skyrocket. In the past few months, Penn State, Cornell University and the state of Georgia have been recognized for their efforts to provide accessible websites. This trend will spread through every industry as the latest award category.

4. Just as we now easily notice when a brick and mortar business is not wheelchair accessible, it will be clear which websites are accessible and which are not. You may start to see this in the form of an identifier similar to the padlock for secure websites.

5. Since many of the recommended accessibility changes for a website are also considered best practice for search engine optimization, we will see accessible websites take over top search listings. The same thing happened to websites that were made more mobile-friendly, slowly pushing websites that are not mobile-friendly to poor rankings.

6. The priority of accessibility will spread through all digital media, driven by recent graduates. In a recent article from the University of Iowa where their university was ranked number one in the nation for its accessible websites, administrators ascribed the culture change to that of a proactive approach to accessibility and an eagerness seen in students wanting to learn about making digital tools more accessible. Our next generation of bright minds is learning how to plan for accessibility in innovation.

7. Advocacy groups will join the fight against websites that are not accessible. Advocacy groups making the most movement include the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of the Deaf. We will continue to see these groups fight against inaccessibility and partner with universities as the driving force to educate the public on the importance of accessibility in a digital world.

8. The illusion of quick fixes will start popping up. You will see businesses pop up overnight that can help make your website compliant in a matter of days. Typically, these solutions are too good to be true. For most websites, completing a full WCAG audit will take a few days by itself. If you are just hearing about WCAG for the first time or you have just realized that this is an issue to take seriously, it’s not too late. Your next steps are to create a plan for your business that will reduce your risk of a potential web accessibility lawsuit and embrace this amazing initiative to accommodate web users of all abilities.

Next Steps

Find out where your website stands. Have an audit done that provides all areas of accessibility opportunities on your website.

Educate your management team on web accessibility.

Prioritize the changes that need to happen on your site. Making your site compliant will probably be a large project, but it doesn’t have to be done in a month. Just start chipping away at the changes, but do not let others add content to your website without first becoming educated on adding compliant content.

Document all efforts.

Finally, reach out for a partner in your efforts. If your web provider does not know much about web accessibility, find one that does. The Forbin Report is a great place to start for accessibility resources.