The DOJ Website Accessibility Guidelines: What Marketing Agencies Need to Know

By on Apr 8, 2022

A few weeks ago, on March 18, 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) finally published guidelines that outline how state and local governments – and also businesses open to the public — can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was enacted in 1990, and it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas. The DOJ website accessibility guidelines underline the DOJ’s commitment to making the websites of publicly accessible companies available to everyone.

Why Should Marketers Care?

In a world where information has increasingly moved online, a website inaccessible to the disabled bars them as much as steep steps to the door of a brick and mortar store. 61 million adults in the US have disabilities. Many of them, such as those with disabilities affecting motor skill, hearing and vision, find it difficult if not impossible to use websites that have not that have not been made accessible for them.

Marketers should care if millions of people cannot access their clients’ websites because

  1. Those are people who will never be informed by that website or buy from it
  2. Businesses should make an effort to be inclusive so all people have access to information, products and services
  3. Businesses that do not make their website accessible may face expensive litigation. The DOJ

What Do the New DOJ Website Accessibility Guidelines Tell Us?

We need to be clear that the DOJ has published guidelines, not regulations. They do not have the force of law, but certainly would hold weight if your client followed them and was still sued for violating the ADA by not making their public business website accessible.

Here are some of the examples the guidelines the DOJ provides for what would determine an inaccessible website:

Color Contrast

Good color contrast makes text much easier to read for people with color blindness or limited vision. For example, black text on a white background is good. Light grey text on a light background is hard to read even for people who are not disabled.

Text Cues When Conveying Information by Color

Everyone cannot distinguish all colors clearly. If you are using color blocks on a chart without labeling the blocks, some people will not know what the blocks mean even if you provide a color legend.

If you use red lettering to indicate what information is required (rather than optional) on a form, many color-blind people will not be able to see the difference.

Alt Text for Images

People who are blind and using voice readers, will not be able to see images on your client’s site. Unless you provide alt text that describes the images, they are for all intents and purposes not there for the visually impaired.

Video Captions

Let’s not forget the hearing impaired. If you do not provide captions on your client’s videos, many hearing-impaired people will not be able to understand the information.

Accessible Online Forms

Online forms can be impossible to navigate for many if they are constructed without thought for the disabled. When creating forms, make sure to include

  • Labels that make information accessible through screen readers (where to enter name, email address, etc.)
  • Alerts when the user makes a mistake on the form

Keyboard Navigation

Many people cannot use a mouse or track pad. Accessible websites enable the user to also navigate with a keyboard.

Does My Markting Agency Really Need to Worry About Website Accessibility?

Title III of the ADA prohibits businesses that are open to the public from discriminating against those with disabilities. They must take measures to ensure the disabled can enjoy their goods, services and facilities.

The legal question is whether or not websites are places of public accommodation under the ADA.

The Courts

Courts across the country are not in agreement with each other. The 11th Circuit has held that websites are not places of public accommodation. But the First and Seventh Circuits have held that “public accommodation” is not limited to physical locations. In other words, websites count. Now that the DOJ has published guidelines, we might expect circuit court rulings to heat up in favor of holding website owners accountable for accessibility.

The DOJ

The DOJ website accessibility guidelines say “the Department has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.”

If you think that automated accessibility checkers will save your client should they be dragged into court over website accessibility, they won’t. The DOJ has specifically said such checkers do not guarantee accessibility.

Here are a couple examples where the DOJ has brought its weight to bear on companies with inaccessible websites:

  • the DOJ reached an agreement with H&R Block due to inaccessibility of its website. It did not provide help for the disabled such as screen readers, Braille displays, keyboard navigation and video captions.
  • The DOJ also reached an agreement with Peapod on the grounds it’s grocery delivery website was not accessible to the disabled.

How Can I Get My Clients in Compliance – Fast?

Even though there may still be some grey areas, if your clients have a business open to the public, this is the year to help them make their websites accessible. It’s not worth the risk of huge damages and penalties should a business lose a website accessibility lawsuit. Not to mention, it can be a PR nightmare. The new DOJ website accessibility guidelines should not be ignored.

There are many moving parts to making a website accessible.  If you resell Umbrella’s white label website accessibility services to your clients, they can take advantage of a wealth of technology including text reader features, keyboard navigation, blink’s blocking (for those disabled users who have a susceptibility to seizures resulting from flashing effects), contrast display choices, image descriptions, a toolbar so the user can easily control font size and more.

Not only that, but Umbrella provides a $1 million warranty should your client be sued due to website inaccessibility.

You don’t need to be an expert in website accessibility, but the people who provide your marketing agency with white label accessibility services should be. Contact Umbrella for a free consultation.

 

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