ADA-Compliant Websites: Good for Humanity, for Business, and Legally Required

Inclusion has always mattered to me. I believe that making more space for more people leads to deeper, richer lives and experiences, whether that’s at home, at school, at work, wherever. For me, it started out as something quite personal: a baby brother with Down’s syndrome. I had a front-row seat to every obstacle and challenge that was invisible to most of the world around us. But I also got to see how every opportunity to include him didn’t only benefit him, but everyone else as well. I saw the impact of this kind of thinking at a global scale in Shanghai in 2007, when that same baby brother took home four medals in the World Special Olympics. Inclusion on a massive scale across cultures and customs was epic and hopeful and diverse.
That last point is key. Diverse. “Disabilities,” or different abilities, come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors.  As a designer, I know how impossibly hard it is to create things that are truly inclusive. It’s more like you’re doing the best you can for as any different variables as you can, but you’ll probably fall short in one way or another. So universal is not usually universal because the diversity of needs makes it really hard.

But here’s the deal: it’s now a critical business issue to make your website more inclusive, at least as the Americans with Disabilities Act defines it, as soon as you possibly can. (Spoiler: I reveal a cost-effective, universal solution a little later. Keep reading).

Why? Because the U.S. Department of Justice has ruled that websites are a part of your business and must be ADA compliant. Or else….. I first started hearing about this ruling when colleagues started receiving letters from attorneys claiming their websites were not ADA compliant. It was pretty clear that they weren’t interested in making websites more inclusive — they were interested in targeting companies that were more likely to settle for $15-, $20-, or $25,000 than go to court. That meant small- and mid-sized businesses who really couldn’t afford this expenditure were having to dip into other budgets (or savings) to pay these fees. And in their defense, they thought they had good design practices on their sites. They were built on reputable third-party platforms like Shopify and Squarespace and WordPress — but since you can control the experience on those platforms, accessibility is your responsibility. You may be panicking now — wondering if you’re site is compliant, w.t.h. the standards are anyway, how much it will cost to become compliant — don’t. I’m getting to it. There ARE standards about accessibility for websites (they’re the guidelines for the WCAG 2.1), but many argue that they’re not definitive and leave room for interpretation — that the DOJ has declined to further define (and some companies, like Domino’s Pizza, are battling out in court at the time of this post). But even then, we run into the limits of universal design problem I mentioned before. PLUS as business owners, we want to protect our brand even as we make things more inclusive. We want people to understand our story, our values, our products and services — in the way we want to share and tell those stories.

In the past, this ruling would lead us all down a path of expensive, imperfect solutions to include people with different abilities into all that web and mobile experiences have to offer.  That is why I was so excited when I discovered Accessibe, and why we’re now partnering with them. Accessibe is an automatic, AI- powered (machine learning) web accessibility solution that complies with worldwide legislation and keep websites compliant 24/7.

You can read more about Accessibe here or on their site, but I want to share what I — designer, business owner, protective older sister of a man with Down’s syndrome — love about them:
  1. Their solution is as close to universal as I’ve seen because it lets individual users define their experience on your site. The control panel lets them do things like turn off animations, change the site colors, enlarge fonts, get a bigger pointer, and more. They determine what affordances they need for their ability, rather than trying to cobble together a site that will somehow meet every person’s different needs. Brilliant.
  2. You get to retain all the things you love about your brand and your website. We literally do not have to change the design on your website. The Accessibe widget sits as a standalone control panel that allows users to manipulate how they view your site on their screen — the original experience remains the same for all other users.
  3. It’s fast, and it’s cost effective. Within 48 hours, we can have your site ADA compliant.
  4. Last, it’s smart. In the old days, you would have to manually review and update your site to make sure it stayed compliant. Not so with this smart little helper. This AI wonder will keep scanning your site as you add content, make sure that it’s up-to-date.
  5. It’s legitimately trying to be inclusive. I don’t want to just beat up on lawyers, but I DO want to call out the lawyers who are taking advantage of this ruling to make a buck, rather than to make the web more inclusive. The folks at Accessibe understand that by making the web more inclusive for all, we’re making it even better for businesses. That’s why Accessibe also includes things like a feedback form so users can get assistance or report issues, and an accessibility statement to show your intent to meet ADA standards.
I realize I’m gushing here, but honestly, I grew up watching my parents fight so hard to make sure that playing fields were level, or at least open, for my brother. To now find a solution in my line of business that works for me as a designer, for my clients as business and brand owners, and for my brother as a human in this world, yeah, you could say I’m a little excited. Learn more about Accessibe or contact me to chat.