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Earlier this month it was reported that a number of action sports brands, notably Outerknown (owned by Kelly Slater) and Catch Surf, were being sued in federal court over alleged civil rights violations. 

Accusations of sweatshops and poor worker conditions? Nope. Instead, the brands found themselves in hot water over their websites’ poor performance. More specifically, the sites reportedly did not abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The claim stated the following:

“(Defendant) denies approximately 8.1 million Americans who have difficulty seeing access to its online store because the Website is largely incompatible with the screen reader programs.” (BeachGrit, September 10, 2020)

Can a website be in violation of accessibility mandates in the same manner as a brick and mortar without a wheelchair ramp? Does a case like this even have a shot in court? The answer is YES. The claim was successful, with defendants and plaintiffs settling for undisclosed amounts.

Before you chalk it up to the “sue for everything” mentality so prevalent in the U.S.A. please note that this is absolutely a global concern for online businesses thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C created Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in cooperation with developers and companies around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals and organizations alike. Web Accessibility is analogous to providing wheelchair access to a building and as such the onus falls on businesses to improve accessibility to all consumers. Even Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal has reinforced that some inaccessible websites may violate the Constitutional Rights of visually impaired Canadians.

Many businesses will assume that they can delay website updates to meet WCAG, but please note that the case addressed above is by no means an isolated incident. Last year, a blind man successfully sued Domino’s Pizza because the chain failed to provide a website that was as accessible to him as its brick-and-mortar locations. This case regarding website and mobile app compliance was just one of approximately 2,200 ADA lawsuits filed in 2019. So far in 2020, UsableNet reports an additional 972 cases and counting. With COVID-19 forcing commercial digital transformation at a record pace that number is expected to grow exponentially as consumers spend even more time making purchases online.

You may think that your website is perfectly accessible, and the surface we’re sure it seems so, but have a look at a few WCAG requirements:

  • The visual presentation of all text and images of text must have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1
  • An alternative for audio track is provided that presents equivalent information for prerecorded video-only content, and captions are provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media, except when the media is a media alternative for text and is clearly labeled as such. In addition, sign language interpretation is provided for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media.
  • For the visual presentation of blocks of text, a mechanism is available which allows a user to change foreground and background colors.

Do you know if your website abides by the above? What’s more concerning, is that these are just three among hundreds (yes, hundreds) of WCAG requirements.

As more cases come to light in public forums, the number of lawsuits regarding commercial website and mobile app compliance will grow. Some will be legitimate grievances. Others will come from those who seek nothing more than financial gain. Whichever the case your business faces an unprecedented risk.

What can you do today?

At the very least you need to ensure that your website meets Google’s Mobile-First-Indexing requirements which takes care of a significant chunk of WCAG mandates. It’s also time to provide users with an option to adjust contrast display, which is why you’re seeing the proliferation of Dark Mode on social networks and content publisher sites. You should also consider providing voice search / speech recognition to your website before the year has concluded. Ultimately, your company must update its website to meet at all WCAG requirements, which can be found here.

Need help? Quite likely as it’s a VERY big task. Contact Strategis Consulting right away to get started on a comprehensive audit of your website. We will usher your brand and business into 2021 and beyond, not only to avoid legal fallout but to do right by ALL of your current and prospective customers.