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No Consumer Left Behind: Is Your Website “Done” If It’s Not Accessible?

Did you know there are 61 million people with a disability in the US? Those consumers control an estimated $200 billion in discretionary spending. Additionally, there are 71 million Baby Boomers who control another $548 billion in discretionary spending who share similar challenges with vision, hearing, cognition and fine motor skills. Yet the internet is largely not being built with those challenges in mind with an alarming 96% of homepages presenting barriers to accessibility with an average of 50 barriers per homepage.

What are some of the challenges users with disabilities face while navigating the web?

1. Visual Impairments: Individuals with visual impairments may use screen readers to navigate the web. Websites that are not properly coded can result in screen readers misinterpreting or skipping important information. Additionally, websites with low contrast, small fonts, or poor color choices can be challenging for those with low vision.

2. Motor Disabilities: People with motor disabilities may struggle with using a traditional mouse and keyboard. Websites that rely heavily on mouse-based interactions or have small interactive elements can be frustrating for individuals who use alternative input methods like voice commands or specialized devices.

3. Captioning and Transcripts: Videos without proper captions or transcripts are inaccessible to people with hearing impairments. Lack of these features can prevent individuals from understanding the content of videos, tutorials, or podcasts.

4. Keyboard Navigation: Some users rely solely on keyboard navigation due to motor disabilities. Websites that are not designed to be navigable using keyboard commands can exclude these individuals from accessing and interacting with the content.

5. Lack of Alternative Text for Images: Images that do not have descriptive alternative text can leave users with visual impairments without context or important information. This makes it difficult for them to understand the full content of the web page.

How can I address these challenges?

Fortunately, there is a framework to address these challenges. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Can you walk me through WCAG Compliance?

Creating a WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant website involves designing and developing your website in a way that ensures it is accessible to a wide range of users, including those with disabilities. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Understand WCAG Guidelines: Familiarize yourself with the WCAG guidelines, which are organized into four key principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR). Each principle is associated with specific guidelines and success criteria that provide detailed requirements for accessibility. You can find the full WCAG documentation on the W3C website.

2. Plan for Accessibility: In the planning phase, consider accessibility as an integral part of your website design and development process. Define your target audience, including people with disabilities, and identify potential accessibility barriers that need to be addressed.

3. Choose an Accessible Design: When designing your website, prioritize simplicity, clear layout, and consistent navigation. Use sufficient contrast between text and background colors, and choose fonts that are easy to read. Ensure that your design remains user-friendly when users increase text size or adjust other display settings.

4. Provide Alternative Text for Images: Include descriptive alternative text for all images on your website. Alternative text (alt text) helps users with visual impairments understand the content and purpose of images. Keep the alt text concise and informative.

5. Use Semantic HTML: Use proper HTML markup to structure your content. Use headings (h1, h2, h3, etc.) to create a clear hierarchy of information. Semantic HTML helps screen readers and other assistive technologies understand the content and context of your website.

6. Provide Keyboard Navigation: Ensure that all interactive elements, including links, buttons, and form fields, can be easily navigated and operated using a keyboard alone. Avoid relying on mouse-based interactions for critical functions.

7. Implement Captions and Transcripts: For multimedia content like videos and audio, provide captions, subtitles, and transcripts. This ensures that users with hearing impairments can access the content.

8. Test with Assistive Technologies: Use screen readers, keyboard navigation, and other assistive technologies to test your website's accessibility. This will help you identify and address issues that users with disabilities might encounter.

9. Test for Color Contrast: Check the color contrast of your website's text and background elements to ensure they meet WCAG's contrast requirements. There are online tools available that can help you determine if your color combinations are accessible.

10. Provide Clear Instructions: Make sure that your forms, error messages, and other user interface elements provide clear instructions. Ensure that users can understand the purpose of each form field and know how to correct any errors.

11. Ensure Responsive Design: Design your website to be responsive, meaning it adapts and functions well on various screen sizes and devices. This is essential for users with disabilities who might use different devices to access your content.

12. Regularly Update and Maintain: Accessibility is an ongoing effort. Regularly review and update your website's content to ensure it remains accessible as your site evolves over time.

13. Display an Accessibility Statement: Include an accessibility statement on your website that outlines your commitment to accessibility and provides contact information for users who encounter accessibility issues.

Are there other reasons to become WCAG compliant?

There is some legal risk to not becoming WCAG compliant. U.S. circuit courts have interpreted the ADA differently resulting in conflicting precedents. Some courts maintain that an inaccessible website only violates the ADA if it has a “physical nexus”—meaning it’s tied to a physical location, like a brick-and-mortar office or store—others hold that the ADA applies to “internet-only” websites, like online-only retailers. The confusion has lead to a marked increase in web accessibility lawsuits. The number of web accessibility lawsuits that were brought to federal court citing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reached a new record in 2022, with plaintiffs filing 3,255 lawsuits—a 12 percent increase from 2021.

There is also some evidence that a cottage industry springing up with attorneys using compliance checkers to identify easy targets. In fact, one New Jersey law firm brought more than 50 lawsuits against Denver business owners. ““Plaintiff is not a bona fide patron, but a serial plaintiff who filed this lawsuit to try and extort a monetary settlement,” attorney Alice Conway Powers wrote in response to one of Katt’s lawsuits, in defense of an eyeglass shop. In fact, one of the defendants noted “To the best of their knowledge, the person suing them had never been to their restaurant or contacted them to make a purchase or visit”.

We already checked our site for WCAG compliance using an automated compliance checker, am I safe?

There is some evidence that automated checkers can only detect between 25-30% of accessibility issues. For example, online checkers can only tell you if alt-text exists for an imaged but can’t identify if your alt-text says “man answering phone” when the picture is a woman using a computer. While online checkers are a good place to start “passing” one doesn’t ensure you are truly compliant.

As consumer demographics shift the accessibility of your site to those with impairments could be a key differentiator that sets you apart from your competitors.


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