10 Tips to Protect Your Website from an Accessibility Lawsuit

Oct 11, 2018

Web Accessibility

If you’ve been paying attention to web accessibility lawsuits – such as the lawsuit filed against Harvard and MIT, or the one against Amazon, or any of the dozens of other lawsuits – then you may be rightly concerned for your own website.

The truth is that every website is at risk of a web accessibility lawsuit. Yet, this doesn’t mean that website owners and admins should worry.  Instead, they should take action to make their websites accessible.

Despite the misconception that web accessibility is difficult or confusing, getting in compliance can actually be done with a reasonable amount of effort.  Here are 10 tips to make sure your website is accessible to people with disabilities and protect yourself from an ADA Title III web accessibility lawsuit.

 

1. Get Familiar with WCAG 2.0

Although originally announcing that they would make a decision this year, the DOJ has yet to set a clear definition of what an inaccessible website is.  However, they do consider a website accessible if it meets Level AA standards of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Now is the time to start getting familiar with the WCAG 2.0 standards so you can make a plan for getting in compliance.

You can visit the WCAG website to learn all about the standards and get advice on how to meet these guidelines.

 

2. Hold a Meeting

It is important that all stakeholders are made aware of the importance of web accessibility and their role in getting in compliance.

Hold a meeting to talk about the issue.  Remember that web accessibility covers a lot of website factors including design, architecture, styling, captioning, and more.  Not all of these factors are going to be relevant to each employee or department.

Instead of burdening employees with the task of learning about all of the WCAG 2.0 standards, just have them learn about the issues which relate to them.

For example:

  • Designers: Designers need to use color and contrast in a way that takes individuals with low vision into account.
  • Site Architects: Site architects must make sure content is conveyed with text and/or programmatically and not just with styling so individuals using screen readers can access it.
  • Developers: Developers should code consistently and in a manner which makes the website accessible to individuals using assistive devices.
  • Editors and Content Creators: These employees should use titles, headings, Alt text, and link text in a way that makes pages usable by individuals using screen readers.

Note that these are just some examples of what makes a website accessible.  Employees or departments will have to dig further to learn about the specific WCAG 2.0 guidelines which apply to them.

 

3. Start Documenting the Process

Document all of the steps you have taken to improve website accessibility, including all meetings and website updates.  This documentation can be very useful in fighting any accessibility lawsuit you might face.

 

4. Audit Your Website

Open up the W3C Validator and type in your website URL.  This will give you a basic audit of accessibility issues on your website.  Unfortunately, the results probably won’t make too much sense to non-technical persons and you won’t get any advice on how to fix these problems.

Fix all of the problems that the tool pointed out.  However, without some website policy changes, it is likely that the same type of accessibility errors will reoccur.  You might need to hire expert help (Step 6).

 

5.  Talk to Your Designer and Developer

If you have outsourced your website design and development, talk to them to see whether accessibility has been taken into consideration and what can be done to make the site more accessible.

If you have an in-house design or development team, then start training them on the WCAG 2.0 guidelines so they can get in compliance.

 

6. Hire an Expert

Web accessibility covers a wide range of issues. It would likely take considerable resources to get all stakeholders up to speed on the issues which apply to them.

Instead, hire an expert.  The accessibility expert will be able to create a plan for fixing any issues and ensuring your website stays in compliance.

An “expert” doesn’t necessarily have to mean a fulltime employee or contractor. Our web governance tool Monsido contains an accessibility feature.  The tool will scan your website on a weekly basis to find WCAG 2.0 or Section 508 accessibility issues.  Not only does the tool show you exactly where the issues occur, but it also outlines steps to take to fix the issues.  With Monsido, even non-technical people can fix accessibility issues. You can learn more about the Monsido web accessibility tool here.

 

7. Fix Priority Issues First

Once you know which accessibility issues your website has, you should take steps to fix them.  Issues can be prioritized by how impactful they are.  Alternatively, you may choose to prioritize issues by how easy they are to fix.

At the W3C website, you can find quick tips for making your website more accessible. Some issues you should address first are:

  • Use alt text to describe images.
  • Provide captioning and transcripts of audio and video.
  • Use text that makes sense for links. For example, don't use link text like "Click here" without context.
  • Use headings to organize pages.

 

8. Consider Accessibility During a Redesign

It is usually easier to make an accessible website during the design process rather than trying to fix accessibility issues on an existing site.  If your website has numerous accessibility issues, consider a redesign.  If you already have a redesign scheduled, make sure the designer and developer know that accessibility is a priority.

 

9. Get Contractual Provisions

If you have third-party contractors for your website, consider contractual provisions which state that they are responsible for accessibility.  These provisions can protect you from a lawsuit.

 

10. Take Complaints Seriously

As corporate accessibility expert John Foliot said, accessibility lawsuits don’t come out of nowhere.  Usually, they start with a complaint that has been filed with the company and went unresolved:

“Lawsuits happen because somebody with a disability reached out to an organization to say that they were having problems, and the organization actually created or accelerated their frustration.”

If your company receives a complaint about the accessibility of the website, take it seriously! Make sure customer care staff are aware of how important an issue this is so they can help the individual instead of fueling a lawsuit.  It is better to take steps to resolve the accessibility issue than face a lawsuit.

Are you worried about a web accessibility lawsuit? Monsido helps make sure your website is in compliance with Section 508 or WCAG 2.1.

Learn more about the Monsido web accessibility tool here!

Disclaimer: The information in this article is made available by Monsido ApS and/or its subsidiaries and affiliates and is for informational purposes only so as to provide its customers with a general understanding of current legal developments. It should not be construed as providing specific legal advice, and you acknowledge that no attorney/client relationship exists between you or any third party and Monsido ApS and/or its subsidiaries and affiliates. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed lawyer in your jurisdiction.

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