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Website Accessibility Lawsuit May Reach Supreme Court

Website Accessibility Lawsuit May Reach Supreme Court Blog Feature

Jolie Higazi

Content Marketing Consultant, 5+ Years of Project Management and Digital Marketing Experience

August 28th, 2019 min read

These days, updating your website and making it optimized is one thing that all brands need to do to be competitive online: We all know we must make sure our sites are mobile-friendly, have a great user experience and interface, show acceptable loading site speed, contain no duplicate H1 tags — the list goes on and on.

However, how much thought have you given to making sure your website is equally accessible to all visitors, regardless of physical disability?

While an accessible website may be an afterthought for many of us, it can easily be a deal-breaker for about 61 million Americans living with disabilities who are searching the web on any given day. Without proper accommodations, the internet world, just like in the physical world, can be inaccessible. As a result, you risk alienating a large set of potential site visitors, leads, and customers.

What brings accessibility to center stage?

The topic of internet accessibility is being brought in the limelight most recently as a result of a 2016 lawsuit from Guillermo Robles against Domino’s for not having an accessible website for blind or visually impaired visitors. 

Typically, people living with visual impairments rely on screen-readers to navigate through a webpage, but that requires special coding to be implemented on a company website. When Robles, a blind man, was unable to place an order from the Domino’s site, he filed a lawsuit, stating that the business should make its products accessible to all, regardless of physical disability. When the Federal Court sided with Robles on the case, Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court and is currently waiting to see if it will hear the appeal. [Update: Supreme Court rejects the Domino's appeal.]

Domino’s is likely caught in a lose-lose situation: even if the Supreme Court rules in its favor, the lengths at which it went in order to not make updates on its site can leave a bad dent on their reputation. Even if Domino’s is ordered to make the site accessible, it may seem like the company only did it because it was forced to, not because accessibility was at the heart of its business in the first place.

“Accessibility and inclusivity go hand-in-hand,” said Morgan VanDerLeest, a front end developer at IMPACT. “If you're not considering how everyone could have access to [any one] thing, then you're basically discriminating against that group (intentionally or not). I think it's a lot harder for small (or medium) companies that really may not have the bandwidth. But there's really no excuse for big companies like Domino’s.”

This isn’t the first case to make news headlines on this topic. Earlier this year, Beyonce’s website was at the center of a similar class-action lawsuit for lack of accessibility accommodations. 

What accessible websites mean for marketers and business owners

Think of your current customers or target personas. Imagine them with all the research and demographic information you have, and then imagine they’re blind or deaf. How are you making sure they are a part of your inbound strategy?

It all begins with the right mindset.

“Everything should be accessible; it really is the right thing to do. And don't get me wrong, we aren't doing it perfectly, yet. Most people and companies aren't. But it's more of a mindset first, then implementation,” VanDerLeest explains. 

“As marketers, we're always focused on reaching our ‘subset’ of people that may potentially buy our product/service, but anyone in that subset could have a disability that prevents them from getting access to what we offer.”

What accessibility really looks like

Making your site accessible requires alt-text for each image so screen-readers can read what is being displayed on the page, accessible drop-down menus and navigation, and the ability to use a keyboard instead of a mouse to navigate around the site. 

Of course, this can all be easier said than done.

“Depending on how a site is built, it could potentially be hard to revise for accessibility. It could require a lot of reworking. ” said VanDerLeest.

There are companies and organizations like Accessible360 specifically aimed at helping make sites as accessible as possible.

You can also consider grading your site based on a web accessibility checklist.

Successful marketing means that you’re getting the right information to the right people about your product or service. As marketers, we need to consider all those who may benefit from our services or products — and find a way to communicate that value in a way they’ll understand.

Thinking with an accessibility-focused mindset is one way to make sure you’re also including people living with disabilities who could benefit from your services.

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