ADA website compliance and digital accessibility: the argument for inclusion

Stacey Turmel, managing director, the internet is for everyone

I’m a lawyer. I get paid for arguing. I get hired to persuade – to demonstrate why my client’s version of their case is more accurate and believable to be worthy of a favourable judgment. In order to do my job well, it is important for me to be able to anticipate how the other side perceives their case – what arguments do they think they can use to win their case.

How does this relate to Inclusion? Let me explain. I am also a lawyer that consults in the area of ADA Website Compliance and Digital Accessibility. I own a company where I work with a team of blind women who review and test websites for businesses to evaluate their digital accessibility and compliance under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Our goal is to help businesses grow and become accessible to people with disabilities while minimizing their risk of being sued. To that end, we leverage the abilities of our blind team to show businesses what a potential plaintiff could use against them in an ADA website compliance lawsuit and why making their website accessible to everyone is a good business decision.

Although I see my team’s ability to give businesses the inside track to accessibility as a HUGE strategic asset, most businesses are not jumping in line to ensure their websites are accessible. Instead, some businesses don’t want to pay for remediation, some businesses deny that website compliance applies to them and some businesses simply do not see accessibility as an important focus of their marketing strategy. That usually changes once they get sued, but I digress.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am focusing on the importance of inclusion through accessibility for business growth and risk management.

According to a 2016 Nielsen survey, at least one-third of US households have a member with a disability. The Nielsen report characterized this population as “one of the most present and perhaps most overlooked segments of the U.S. consumer.” The report further described this population of consumers as “prevalent, diverse, and loyal” delivering “a considerable annual spend.”

What does “considerable annual spend” mean in terms of potential market revenue for businesses and why should they care?

Well for starters, in this publication from the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Organization on Disability estimates that Americans with disabilities represent more than $200 Billion in discretionary spending. The article goes on to state that “when deciding how to spend this money, individuals with disabilities have the same standards as all customers – they want quality products at competitive prices.”  Sound familiar? People with disabilities shop and spend their money like every other consumer, but only at websites that are accessible.

In other words, there is a massive untapped market of loyal consumers out there who want to buy your products and services, have the money to spend BUT can’t give you their business because your website is not accessible to them. These consumers are literally knocking on your door with money in their hands and you won’t let them in. This Forbes article called missing out on such a large segment of the population due to poor website accessibility “simply foolish.”

From a marketing and business growth standpoint, the answer seems obvious, so why are so many businesses still resistant to making their websites accessible?

As I mentioned above, some businesses don’t believe the ADA applies to them and/or they believe the cost to make their website accessible is too expensive. From a legal risk management standpoint, these arguments fail for the following reasons.

First, whether or not you believe the ADA applies to your business does not stop someone from suing you for an inaccessible website. Plaintiffs are still filing ADA website compliance lawsuits at the rate of more than one per hour. Second, while remediation costs can be expensive depending on the amount of remediation a website needs, those costs will pale in comparison to the cost of an accessibility lawsuit.

When a business is sued under the ADA, the Plaintiff (the person suing the business) cannot recover a money settlement. The Plaintiff is only entitled to recover their attorney’s fees along with injunctive relief, which usually comes in the form of the court requiring a business to make its website accessible. Simply put, the business not only has to pay the costs to remediate their website, but they also have to pay their own attorney’s fees PLUS the attorney’s fees of the person suing them.

At the end of the day, the lesson is simple:  Do your business and pocketbook a favour – Be inclusive. Be accessible. Be open to more business instead of lawsuits.

You can hear more from Stacey at the Women in IT Virtual Summit New York on October 28 2020. You can view the agenda and register your free place here. 

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