Lawsuits are coming for sites and apps that don't follow web standards
Every founder wants an eye-catching website or app, but it’s easy to overlook a basic fact: not all your potential visitors will experience your content with their eyes. If you haven’t considered whether a user with differing visual, motor or hearing abilities can easily navigate your software, it’s time to get serious about digital accessibility.
As tempting as it might be to prioritize a stunning visual and mobile experience over an accessible design, accessibility is a legal requirement—not an option—for many businesses.
Just ask high-profile founder Beyoncé Knowles. In January, Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment was hit with a class-action lawsuit that includes “all legally blind individuals in the United States who have attempted to access Beyonce.com.” The lawsuit claims that the site’s lack of visual alternatives make the site inaccessible to blind users like the plaintiff and therefore illegal.
Failing to accommodate people with disabilities not only limits your market (blind people buy concert tickets and merchandise too), it can also bring legal and reputational consequences.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires US businesses that serve the public to provide equal access and accommodations to everyone, whether through a physical building or a digital experience. Just as stores provide ramps as well as stairs, websites need to accommodate people with varying abilities, from movement disorders to visual and auditory impairments. The number of website accessibility lawsuits raised against private companies more than doubled last year. A single plaintiff won $100K in a similar ADA lawsuit in 2017.
While ADA is the enforcing legislation in the United States for the private sector, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide de facto global standards web designers should follow. The guidelines are based on four principles: content must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
If you’re not sure whether your digital content (websites, apps, e-books, etc) is WCAG-compliant, have a certified accessibility consultant conduct an assessment immediately, and contact your legal team should you identify any risks.
However, simple compliance is only the first step. Understanding how accessibility is defined will broaden your understanding of the overall user experience, so you can create better content for all users.
This article is part of Extra Crunch’s exclusive “Startup Law A to Z” series, following previous articles on employment law, customer contracts, intellectual property (IP) and corporate matters. This series is designed to provide founders the information needed to assess legal risks in the areas common to most startups.
Should you identify legal risks facing your startup after reading this or other articles in the series, Extra Crunch resources can help. You can reach out to the Verified Experts of Extra Crunch, who focus on serving companies at your stage, for further guidance in the particular issues at hand.
The Web Content Accessibility Checklist:
- Time-based media
- Text alternatives
- Distinguishable (Use of color)
- Keyboard accessible
- Input modalities
- Enough time
- Seizures and physical reactions
- Input assistance
- Compatible for various assistive technologies (Links can be programmatically determined)
A website must present content so that users of different abilities can perceive it. That means providing alternatives for any non-text content, like images or music.
For time-based media (audio and video), captions, content descriptions and sign language are acceptable options.
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