in Misc

Web Design: Did You Forget This Important Step?

Nike, one of the world’s leading fashion and athletic wear brands, has an arguably appealing and modern-looking website. Virtually nobody would expect to find issues with it. It is designed to make browsing and shopping fast and easy. It looks minimalistic and neat, yet highly functional.

However, the company, famous for its slogan “Just Do It”, apparently failed to do something critically important. It failed to make its website web-accessible or compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and other related legal requirements for accessibility. Because of this, the company became the defendant in a class-action lawsuit by blind and visually impaired consumers, who said they were unable to use the company’s website, or its sister brand Converse’s site.

The class action alleged that Nike was violating Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes standards for accessible design. It also asserts that Nike had been disregarding various state laws related to web accessibility.

The dangers of lacking web accessibility

Web accessibility laws are not new. They have been in effect for many years now. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, was passed in 1990 and had its standards and guidelines updated over time. However, it was only in recent years when surges in web accessibility lawsuits emerged.

A couple of years back, federal lawsuits invoking web accessibility laws almost tripled, from 817 in 2017 to 2,258 in 2018. The increases tempered in 2019 and 2020, but the numbers are still above the 2018 level.

For this reason, many companies have sought solutions to avoid the hassles of responding to accessibility lawsuits. Many will likely notice the appearance of an accessibility button on numerous websites, such as the one from leading accessibility solution accessiBe.

This solution ensures that websites are compatible with accessibility tools and makes it possible for users to modify the content on sites to suit the needs of people with various disabilities. More than a hundred thousand websites already have this accessibility button, including Energizer, Benadryl, Oreo, Tupperware, Knoll, Energizer, Billabong, and various government sites.

Businesses from various industries, government offices, organizations, institutions, and even individuals appear to realize how important it is to embrace web accessibility. After all, even academic institutions have not been spared from web accessibility lawsuits. Harvard University, for example, had to settle an accessibility class-action lawsuit out of court and promise to implement accessibility measures for all of its sites.

Accessibility lawsuits can be quite an encumbrance for large multinational companies operating worldwide. They may have to pay millions of dollars for an out-of-court settlement or face the penalties that will be imposed in courts. For small local businesses, the cost to face an accessibility case is around $25,000, according to Kris Rivenburgh, web accessibility consultant and the author of The ADA Book.

Additional costs of having an inaccessible website

While the costs of web accessibility lawsuits are indeed worrying, there are other accessibility-related costs businesses face. And these can be greater than what it would cost to go to court. According to a post on Corporate Compliance Insights (CCI), the true cost of website inaccessibility lies in the lost opportunities to earn more by being more inclusive.

“But for a moment, let’s put ethics aside and consider the pure business cost. According to recent CDC statistics, approximately 61 million, or one in four people in the U.S., are currently living with a disability. This is a significant untapped market if your digital properties aren’t accessible,” the CCI blog writes.

Worldwide, there are around 1 billion people with disabilities, according to the World Bank. A study published in the Journal of Business Research presents a highly compelling finding: people with disabilities will buy online if they are able to. “As might be expected, respondents indicate that convenience is the primary motive for online shopping by disabled consumers,” the study writes.

Simply put, refusing to embrace web accessibility does not only put a business at risk of getting sued. Businesses also forego significant potential revenues that can be generated from customers who have disabilities. People with handicaps are happy to use online services if they are able to do so.

Tips for ensuring accessibility in web design

It is not easy to meticulously adhere to all accessibility standards, especially for huge websites that have already been on the internet for a long time, and for sites that are consistently updating content. Adjusting everything or replacing certain elements to comply with accessibility standards can be tedious and very costly. Digital development specialist Jennifer Bailey says the costs of making a site web accessible start at around $3,500 The number goes up depending on the size of a website.

Fortunately, there is an affordable alternative to doing this manually. Thanks to artificial intelligence and advancements in internet technology, web accessibility can be achieved without having to undergo meticulous page-by-page audits, adjustments, and replacements. This is possible through automated solutions such as accessiBe, which was mentioned earlier.

accessiBe can turn any non-accessible website into an accessible one by simply inserting one line of script into a website’s code. Once the script is integrated into a site, all pages are accessible. All site users then gain access to the accessibility button, which provides them with the ability to modify the appearance and behavior of pages according to their needs. They can adjust font sizes, reconfigure color and contrast schemes, bring out assistive tools like rulers and focusing filters, as well as pause all animations on a page. Some people suffer from conditions in which seizures may be triggered by flashing animations or adverse effects from seeing certain color combinations and patterns on a display. Moreover, this on-the-fly accessibility solution is capable of making websites compatible with different web assistive technologies, particularly screen readers such as VoiceOver, NVDA, JAWS, ChromeVox, and Talkback.

In conclusion

Website design, for most people, means the creation of a website—the planning and implementation of the layout, content, page elements, sitemap, and the various software and resources needed in the site. In other words, it is about how the site looks and works.

Not many are aware, though, that web design nowadays is unlike how it was some years ago. With accessibility guidelines and laws in place, business owners and organizations also need to be mindful of the possibility of getting involved in legal entanglements because of the lack of web accessibility. The significant number of persons with disabilities is also a big market to consider.

Many of them are already using the internet with the help of assistive tools, but more are willing to be part of the online community and economy if they are given the opportunity. Websites can serve more and even generate more revenues in the process if they are more inclusive as they assist the visually impaired, deaf, hard-of-hearing, and others who have handicaps or conditions that prevent them from accessing the internet in the same way most other people do.


Image: Pixabay


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.