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Often when people talk about online traffic, they don’t consider those who have disabilities such as people who are blind or deaf, or those who can’t physically use their hands to navigate a website. Much of statistical analyses that website owners perform are more focused on consumer behavior (how often they buy or what products they are interested in). Very few companies take the time to understand who among their customers are having difficulties accessing the web due to disabilities.

According to research, 54 million people (or 18 percent of the population) in the U.S. have some form of disability. Over 20 million have visual disabilities. These are significant figures which a lot of businesses today tend to overlook.

Accessibility is Important for Individuals, Businesses, and Society

Web accessibility plays an important role in our society. The internet was fundamentally created to be used by virtually anyone, regardless of their physical or cognitive limitations. For businesses, accessibility is important because it helps them tap into a larger audience and enhance their reputation, which all correspond to higher revenues.

For people with disabilities the World Wide Web is a platform that makes them feel empowered.

What is Web Accessibility?

Web accessibility is making online content (from websites to applications and other technologies) within reach by people with disabilities.

While the most commonly discussed disabilities concerning websites are sight and hearing impairments, web accessibility should benefit people with many other conditions or limitations.

Simply put, It’s all about enabling people with disabilities to access the web the same way someone would who is not disabled or visually impaired.. This includes the ability to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the UI of any given website or mobile app.

What is ADA compliance?

Huge strides have been made to make the web more accessible for people with disabilities. The most important are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Not complying with the ADA requirements could mean your business could be liable to lawsuits. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of website accessibility lawsuits nearly tripled.

The ADA requires that businesses make their “place of public accommodation” accessible to people with disabilities.

Web Accessibility Standards that Every Business Should be Aware of

Americans with Disabilities Act

Because the ADA rules and regulations do not explicitly talk about  web accessibility is , it’s usually up to the courts to decide how the ADA standards apply to websites. Many states have also adopted their own web accessibility laws.

WCAG 2.1 and WCAG 2.0

While the ADA provides the foundation of web accessibility, it doesn’t define what an accessible website is. That is why most agencies and institutions in the U.S. follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) – an international set of standards on web accessibility. WCAG 2.1 was designed to meet the web accessibility needs of individuals, organizations, and governments around the world. The WCAG 2.1, which builds on WCAG 2.0, is meant to apply to different web technologies now and in the future.

Section 508

This section in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 indicates that all federal agencies have to make their electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities.

VPAT

A crucial part of measuring web accessibility is testing it. The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) is a document that evaluates how a particular product or website conforms to the accessibility requirements under Section 508.

Accessibility Guide and Statement

Businesses working hard to make their website accessible by adhering to the accessibility standards mentioned above should not forget to include an accessibility guide and statement on their websites. This describes their web accessibility policies, goals, and accomplishments. Additionally, it shows their commitment to making their site available to everyone.

Usability & Accessibility Testing

There are many tools used to evaluate the accessibility and usability of websites. Some are designed to measure against specific standards (Section 508 or WCAG 2.1), while others incorporate all industry standards.

Conclusion

Website accessibility is certainly a key factor in achieving your business goals. It does not only protect your business from potential lawsuits, but it also enhances your online reputation and gives you access to a wider audience. With an accessible website, you can reach  increase brand awareness, server a larger audience and save yourself from expensive lawsuits.

David Gevorkian is the CEO/Founder of Be Accessible because of his passion for website accessibility and ADA compliance. He spent much of his career working for financial institutions creating websites and mobile applications. He earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. David is an advocate for creating web interfaces usable by all people. He enjoys recording music and playing soccer with friends.

Website stock photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock