Studies show every business needs a website. However, these days, it’s not enough to have just any website. Your site also needs to be accessible to those with disabilities. Here’s what you need to know about the laws that govern website accessibility, and how they will affect your business.
Ever since the US Supreme Court handed down a ruling in October 2019 clearing the way for blind people to sue companies if their websites are not accessible as outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the rules for what is acceptable for a company’s digital communications have changed.
Simply put, website accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the internet equally. Whether it’s a person with limited mobility uses a mouth stick to type; a person hard of hearing uses captions to watch videos; or someone who is visual impaired uses a screen reader to read aloud what is on the screen. Everyone.
While there are many headlines about website accessibility following the Supreme Court decision, it can sometimes be hard to separate what is opinion and what is fact when it comes to the regulations to make the internet accessible to those with disabilities. Also, while website accessibility is a global movement, the laws regulating vary in different parts of the world.
No matter what country of the world you are located, here is what you need to know about the laws that govern website accessibility.
- World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
- United States – The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Canada – The Accessible Canada Act
- Europe – EN 301 549
- Australia – WCAG 2.0
- The Peoples Court
- Test if Your Website is Accessible and Compliant For Free Here
What are the laws that govern website accessibility?
Any discussion about the laws that govern web accessibility must start with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. W3C provides standards defining what it means for a website to be considered accessible. These standards, currently WCAG2.1, are internationally recognized by government and businesses for website accessibility.
It is important to note though, W3C is not a legally binding entity. From their point of view, adhering to the WCAG2.1 standards is completely voluntary. In other words, while W3C cannot levy any fines or penalties for non-compliance to their standards for website accessibility, governments certainly can.
Below is a summary of the laws that govern website accessibility around the world:
United States – The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The headline on the enforcement page of the American with Disabilities Act Accessible Technology website states, “The Department’s ADA enforcement efforts have helped to ensure that people with disabilities can access Web sites, electronic book readers, online courses, and point-of-sale devices.”
Where ADA protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities, Section 508 is a set of regulations related to accessibility compliance for digitally published material within government agencies and entities.
Generally speaking, the Act states web content should be accessible to the blind and the deaf, as well as those who must navigate by voice, screen readers, or other assistive technologies. Businesses that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full time employees, as well as business who are considered in the category of “public accommodation” are covered by the Act.
While there are no clear regulations defining website accessibility in the ADA, it is generally accepted compliance itself is defined by adhering to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG2.1.
Since the US Supreme Court ruling mentioned earlier, lawsuits related to web accessibility have skyrocketed, increasing by 183% in just one year. They have affected virtually every industry with an online presence, including household names like Beyoncé and Dominoes, and this trend is expected to continue.
Canada – The Accessible Canada Act
In June 2019, the Accessible Canada Act became law after receiving Royal Assent. The purpose of the Act is to ensure greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities and prevent accessibility barriers in information and communication technologies, including digital content and the technologies used to access it.
The Act applies to the federally regulated private sector. This includes the banking, transportation and telecommunications sectors, as well as the Government of Canada, Crown corporations and Parliament.
Like the ADA in the US, it is generally accepted that the Accessible Canada Act follows the WCAG2.1 Guidelines as it pertains to compliance standards.
In addition to federal legislation, provincial governments also have website accessibility laws.
For example, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005, with the “goal for the province is to be fully accessible by 2025.” Under this legislation, private and non-profit organizations of more than 50 employees, as well as all public sector organizations, must comply with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines by January 2021. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to $100,000 for each day of non-compliance.
Although Ontario was the first to pass such legislation, other provinces have made similar moves, including the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA), Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, and the British Columbia Accessibility Act (Bill M 219).
Clearly, the country is moving in the direction of being more accessible to the 6.2 million Canadians, or 22% of the population over the age of 15, who live with at least one disability that limits their everyday activities, whether that be from limitations in their physical environment to inaccessible websites.
Europe – EN 301 549
The European Union passed its Web Accessibility Directive in 2016, mandating that all public sector websites and applications in EU member States to implement a uniform set of accessibility standards, or face possible fines and legal penalties.
The actual regulations are referred to Standard EN 301 549 of the Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit, and specifically mentions the WCAG 2.1 standards for further clarification on accessibility.
Although the Directive only refers to public sector websites and apps, private sector organizations who regularly do business with, or provide services like software to government sites will also need to adhere to these accessibility standards.
Websites published after September 23, 2018 must adhere to the standards now, however websites published before that date have a grace period until September 23, 2020 to comply, and mobile apps until June 23, 2021.
Australia – WCAG 2.0
Accessibility for Australian Government agencies is governed by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. On the Australian government accessibility website it states, “Australia.gov.au is currently compliant to Level A of the Web content accessibility guidelines version 2.0 – external site (WCAG 2.0) standard. It is being upgraded to Double A compliance over time. In some cases, content will be accessible to Level Triple A.”
It is also quite likely, similar to the EU, private organizations who do business with government sites, or provide products or services to them, would also need to comply to the same standards.
The True Laws that Govern Website Accessibility are in The Peoples Court
Just like wheelchair ramps and handicap parking are mandated for bricks and mortar businesses, in one way or another, so will website accessibility be mandated for businesses who operate online. If not today, then certainly sometime in the future, and if not in a court of law, then certainly in the court of public opinion.
Our daily lives revolve around the internet; we shop, we learn, we order food, we book vacations, we look for jobs, we entertain ourselves. Everything we do these days is online.
So, is it really that hard to believe that those who ultimately judge our businesses, our customers, wouldn’t demand that our online and digital communications are accessible to everyone as a matter of corporate responsibility? It’s just a matter of time.
It would also be safe to assume that adherence to the most up to date W3C guidelines, currently WCAG2.1, would make a website compliant by any country’s, province’s, or disabled person’s standards.
How to Know If Your Website is Accessible and Compliant
The best way to check if your website is accessible and compliant or whether you need an upgrade is to use a free online website assessment site like this WCAG free website accessibility checking tool. It works for any country worldwide, validates your website, and gives you a detailed report afterwards.
The Laws That Govern Website Accessibility – The Bottom Line
Firstly, you will enhance your digital reputation in the community. Secondly, you will also be opening new opportunities to sell to potentially 20% more people who previously found your website inaccessible. You could even increase your Google and search engine rankings.
And yes, depending on your location, you could be avoiding potentially devastating lawsuits.
But when it comes right down to it, when you can make your website accessible to everyone with an automated AI web accessibility solution that uses the highest WCAG2.1 standards for less than $500 per year, why wouldn’t you?
Remember, as Peter Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”