Why fixing online accessibility is not just an IT or web problem

Dec 06 2022

When it comes to making a website accessible to ensure it meets the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or other similar legislation, the immediate assumption is that this is an area purely for IT, the web or digital team, or a digital agency partner. Most business stakeholders will assume it’s “just one for the techies” to sort out, and a technical problem that can be fixed.

While this is assumption has some truth in, that the IT or web team will be integrally involved in making your website accessible and compliant with the law, it is complacent to think there is a simple, one-off technical fix for digital accessibility. Actually, you need a more comprehensive and ongoing approach, rooted in risk management, to ensure your website remains compliant with the law.

In this piece we’re going to explore in more detail why keeping on top of online accessibility requires a more holistic approach than it being treated a simple IT or web issue.

Approaches to accessibility are built on assumptions

The proportion of website that are not compliant with the law is staggering; 96.8% of website homepages (opens in a new window) fail basic accessibility tests!

One of the main reasons for this is a lack of knowledge about online and web accessibility, how it relates to the law and the relative requirements to stay compliant. This usually manifests itself in two different ways:

  1. A basic lack of knowledge about online accessibility and what it entails.
  2. Erroneous assumptions about what is required to make sure a website is compliant relating to online accessibility.

The lack of knowledge relating to this second point are rooted in believing that accessibility is solely an IT or web problem that can be solved, like any other “technical” issue. This leads to common assumptions such as:

  1. We’ve got a new website or content management system (CMS) that my agency or vendor has told me is accessible, therefore I don’t need to do anything.
  2. My web or IT team or agency have fixed this and no more action is required.
  3. If there’s another problem, my web or IT team or agency will be onto it and fix any future issues as they come up.

There are even some automated solutions on the market that are specifically marketed as guaranteeing that your site can remain compliant on an ongoing basis, often referred to as overlays, but this is also a false assumption.

And there’s even another damaging assumption waiting in the background: that because this is a common IT problem that nearly everyone has, it means I don’t really need to take action as nobody is going take me to court about this.

Unfortunately, all these assumptions do not fix the real problem at hand and leads to a false sense of security.

Online accessibility is an ongoing problem

One of the main issues is that organizations do not realize, is that online accessibility is an ongoing problem that requires constant attention and management. It is not a “one-time fix” solution that is repaired and then everything is fine because, as many people may not realise, websites, apps etc. are subject to constant change, and this can have a huge impact upon their accessibility. Such changes can include:

  1. Changes and updates to your CMS solution and related products such as a digital asset management solution that can impact your content and the way it is displayed.
  2. Content that is added and updated on your site by your content team which may not be accessible or fully compliant.
  3. Content that is displayed from other sites that may impact the experience.
  4. Regulatory changes that can impact whether your website is compliant with the law relating to digital accessibility.

The combination of all these factors means it is highly likely that levels of compliance on your site will change. For example, it only takes somebody to add an image that doesn’t have the right color contrasts on it with your background, or forgets to add alternative text (also known as alt text), and you have an issue which needs fixing. Leaving a website for several months and these issues will proliferate, meaning your website is not compliant and increasing the risk of receiving an ADA demand letter.

More than just a problem for the IT or web team

Online accessibility is much more than just an IT or web issue. Yes, an individual issue might require a developer or a member of the website team to address it, but this does not fix ongoing issues. There are no quick wins. It is actually a wider business, risk and finance issue.

It’s a business issue because it requires an ongoing and consistent management approach that priorities accessibility and has a team equipped with the right training, digital solutions for monitoring, and resourcing to keep on top of web accessibility. Just relying on the IT team to patch up a fix each time is simply not sustainable.

Online accessibility is a risk issue because the threat of legal action due to non-compliance is very real. We estimate nearly 500,000 ADA demand letters will have been sent out in the US through 2022, with roughly 5,000 claims filed. And these numbers are growing exponentially year on year.

And it’s a finance issue because the costs of non-compliance are considerable. Responding to an ADA demand letter will need to involve an attorney and can cost as much as $27,500 while a filed claim can cost between $50,000 and $110,000 and in some cases even more.

Taking a holistic approach

When an organization accepts that accessibility is much more than a technical issue but a wider business, risk and finance issue, they can then start to take a more proactive and holistic approach, ensuring the IT or web team have what they need to keep on top of accessibility, taking out insurance cover to reduce risks, and prioritising this as an ongoing business issue that needs ongoing action.

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