Why Your Legal Department Should Care about Digital Accessibility

Care about Digital Accessibility

For decades, civil rights laws have required public places to accommodate people with disabilities through building design modifications (e.g., ramps, maximum counter heights). These laws originated so that the disabled population could have equal access in public places.

Now, with so many everyday activities of business and personal life taking place online, digital accessibility has entered the legal landscape. Nearly one in five U.S. adults has some type of disability, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If these web users encounter barriers preventing full access to your digital content, they have the legal grounds to file a lawsuit.

Digital Accessibility: Applicable Statutes and Case Law

Section 508 of the Rehabilitative Act of 1973 requires all U.S. Federal agencies to make their electronic information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals in any places open to the public, including jobs, schools, transportation and buildings. The ADA may not clearly define digital accessibility compliance, but case law has borne out that “public accommodation” extends to websites that facilitate the use of goods, services or advantages of a public place (e.g., a retail store, hotel, restaurant, theater).

Also, in 2018, the Department of Justice stated in a letter to Congress that “the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements.”

Recent years have seen an uptick in accessibility lawsuits. And courts are siding with plaintiffs, often ordering defendants to pay legal fees and to revise their digital content to meet digital accessibility guidelines.

The takeaway? Organizations that do not proactively address digital accessibility expose themselves to legal repercussions. Aiming for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a sound strategy for ensuring digital accessibility and avoiding liability. WCAG guidelines are a set of international standards for digital accessibility.

The New Way to Achieve Digital Accessibility Compliance

TraditionA11y, two schools of thought have governed the approach to digital accessibility: 1) Make all changes in the source code, or 2) Fix everything as quickly as possible. The first approach results in a clean, permanent fix – but is time-consuming and not immediate – while the second approach provides a “quick fix” but does not address ongoing compliance issues.

Allyable, a digital accessibility firm committed to reducing the cost and complexity of ensuring equal web access for all, provides a hybrid option. The platform performs automatic fixes on a virtual layer, ensuring immediate compliance. But it also recommends steps and even automaticA11y opens task requirements in the development cycle so developers can correct violations permanently, in the source code.

Website Modifications That Immediately Enhance Accessibility

The WCAG guidelines are comprehensive and can be a bit intimidating to tackle when relying on in-house support alone. In the meantime, there are important modifications you can make right away to prevent some of the most common digital accessibility barriers.