As inclusivity becomes a more important topic in the public eye, web accessibility has become a serious issue for small and medium businesses. Successive court rulings have underlined that web accessibility is no longer optional for businesses of every size.
Problems with Free Accessibility Plugins
A 2018 statement by the Department of Justice confirmed that ADA requirements to make your business accessible to customers with disabilities applies to your internet presence as well as your physical stores. Recent headlines about the Supreme Court ruling against Domino’s Pizza for running an app that can’t be used by blind pizza-lovers only underlined the importance of this issue.
Web accessibility should concern every small business owner
Web accessibility isn’t just for the big fish to worry about. Disability activists, tired of waiting for companies to comply with web accessibility guidelines like WCAG 2.0, are increasingly sending lawyer demand letters and initiating lawsuits against small businesses that have an online store or simple web presence that doesn’t comply with ADA title III requirements for web accessibility.
ADA title III accessibility lawsuits against small businesses rose 181% in 2018, costing an average of $20,000 to settle out of court, and a great deal more to complete court proceedings. It can begin with a frustrated blind shopper who can’t buy a pair of shoes because the shoe store site doesn’t support their screen reader, or an elderly customer trying to order groceries online who can’t understand how to complete their purchase because of the confusing layout of the site. Difficulties like these leave SMB websites open to lawsuits.
On top of that, SMB sites that aren’t accessible hemorrhage customers who are eager to hand over their money. 61 million Americans live with a disability of some sort, but they still want to shop online, just like everyone else. It’s estimated that working-age people with disabilities have a discretionary income of $21 billion, which is more than the Hispanic and African-American markets put together.
A recent study of accessibility websites discovered that a massive 98% of them fail to meet WCAG 2.0 requirements. It might give the impression that SMB owners don’t care, but that’s rarely the case. Small businesses want to provide services for their customers and abide by the law, but web accessibility requirements are murky and confusing.
What is web accessibility?
There is no legal definition of an accessible website, although most lawsuits use the WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines to measure compliance. Accessibility issues can include:
- Supporting assistive technology, like screen readers used by blind internet users
- Texts that are clear and easy to read for consumers with low vision or color blindness
- Language that is straightforward and simple
- A logical and intuitive website hierarchy that enables visitors with cognitive impairments to find their way around the site
- Buttons and clickable text that are large and easy to click
- Keyboard navigability, for the many people who cannot use a mouse
If a consumer with disabilities can’t complete a purchase on your website because of their disabilities, it won’t help to claim that your website technically meets WCAG 2.0 guidelines. The formulation of the law indicates that you could still be liable to pay damages.
Unfortunately, small businesses face a further obstacle in the form of free accessibility plugins, which claim to solve accessibility problems but end up making them worse.
The failings of free accessibility plugins
Most DIY website builder platforms offer free accessibility plugins and add-ons, such as UserWay, WP Accessibility for WordPress. Small businesses can’t be blamed for thinking that once they add one of these plugins, use an accessible website theme, or both, they’ve fixed the issue. In reality, these plugins fall far short of true accessibility.
Most plugins successfully correct basic usability issues, such as:
- Adjusting the size, spacing, and alignment of texts
- Improving contrast ratio, fonts, text color so that texts are easier to read
- Magnifying the cursor and highlighting links to make them more clickable
While important, free plugins consistently fail to address serious and difficult accessibility requirements like supporting screen readers or enabling true keyboard navigability around the entire site. UserWay, for example, offers its own screen reader but doesn’t support the most popular ones. It takes steps that help achieve keyboard navigability, but it won’t make your site keyboard fully navigable.
Common plugin issues include:
- Shifting the focus correctly in popups and web forms
- Supporting navigation through dropdown menus
- Moving logically and clearly through website content
They also don’t correct important ARIA attributes for screen readers; ALT image texts; form labels; clickable icons; and more. It’s rare to find a plugin that can halt dangerous animations and flashing GIFs that can trigger a seizure in people with some kinds of epilepsy. And there is no solution for users with cognitive impairments who are struggling to understand online instructions.
As a result, small businesses are lulled into a false sense of security. They download a free plugin or app, connect it to their website, and think — with good reason — that they have resolved their accessibility issues, when really their website is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Free Accessibility Plugins are a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen
Accessibility issues run deeper than the average small business owner may realize. With accessibility lawsuits on the rise, and motivated by a desire to serve their customers, SMB owners add free accessibility plugins to welcome everyone onto their site. But riddled with failings, these free plugins only make things worse by claiming to address accessibility issues while leaving website owners wide open to costly lawsuits.
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