August 29, 2019
Do you truly understand your organizations responsibility to provide accessible digital content for your users with disabilities? Digital accessibility is something many businesses are aware of, but most haven’t addressed. As digital accessibility experts, we know that the initial actions that businesses take, although unselfish in nature, often end up undermining their overall accessibility goals due to misinformation surrounding what requirements exist and how to address them properly. In turn, companies end up spending money and time on their efforts without the results to show for it and remain vulnerable to costly litigation.Here are the 7 most common accessibility myths that we see and hear:
- Most of Our Customers Don’t Need Accessibility Anyway!
No matter what kind of organization you come from, it is likely that a decent chunk of your customers and users DO want or need accessibility. Current estimates from the US Census Bureau show that almost 60 million Americans (or 1 in 5) have a declared disability. People with disabilities shop, read, engage, and work just like everyone else, so why wouldn’t they need access to your digital environments?
- Only Government Agencies and Federal Contractors Need to Make Content Accessible.
Although true that federal government agencies and contractors must adhere to a stricter, more defined set of accessibility regulations, the US government has repeatedly contended that all organizations operating a website or app have a responsibility to make them accessible for users with disabilities. In 2018, the Department of Justice even issued a memo explicitly stating that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers all “public accommodations” covered websites and web applications.
- There Are No Specific Accessibility Standards Prescribed to Our Organization.
While many public accommodations and businesses covered under the ADA are not mandated to follow a “discrete” standard or guideline, your organization might still need to, and you may not be aware. For example, airlines have to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) due to a separate law passed by the Department of Transportation in 2015.
- Becoming Accessible is Going to Cost Us Too Much Time and Effort.
Many lawsuit defenses for ADA web accessibility charges have argued that making their large, complex websites and apps accessible constitutes an undue burden. Luckily, the courts have provided guidance on that defense in the past year, and most recently, a Federal judge threw out the “undue burden” argument in a victory for accessibility advocates.
- We Utilize an Automated Testing Tool and/or Got an Accessibility Audit, Plus We Have an Accessibility Statement, So We Are Safe!
Sadly, this is one of the most common misunderstandings. Granted doing these things displays commitment to your users with disabilities and may mitigate potential legal fallout, but it will not defend you if you still fail to fix the issues you find. In addition, automated testing, while an important part of the process, is imperfect, and often fails to address the more complex user accessibility barriers that real people face.
- We Made Remediations and Passed an Audit, We Did It!
You’re never quite done with accessibility, even if you have 100% accessible websites, apps, videos and documents. One new document, or one structural change may put you in noncompliance and at risk of legal action. Becoming fully accessible won’t defend you from a lawsuit if your digital environments aren’t maintained properly after remediation.
- Making Our Website, Apps, Videos and Documents Accessible Will Make Them Slow, Less Functional, or Unattractive.
Accessible design is good design, and good design is accessible. When you make your products with the intention of including as many users as possible, you get the best possible results. We like to share the historical evidence of curbcuts on sidewalks, which are most commonly associated with strollers. What many people don’t know is that these simple engineering marvels which made life easier for all were implemented largely due to people with disabilities.
Even with these answers and an ever-increasing understanding of digital accessibility, there is uncertainty surrounding the issue. Organizations simply don’t know exactly what their responsibility is and how they can effectively accomplish their accessibility goals.
If you are trying to understand accessibility further, we recommend you review resources from W3C, the primary non-partisan international standards organization for the World Wide Web.
Chief Information Officer, The Viscardi Center
Michael oversees all aspects of technology at The Viscardi Center, where he implements and innovates accessibility for students, staff, and faculty.