Most American businesses take their websites for granted. They design them to promote their products and services while expecting an increase in revenues. But it is disheartening to learn that only a few American businesses think about inclusiveness while designing a website, especially for those who face challenges using the Internet.
Many of them do not realize that some people might be facing difficulties paying their bills or booking their flights online. And that is a failure for the entire American society.
It might be shocking news for a lot of people to know that almost 61 million adults in America live with some form of disability. That is almost one-fourth of the entire American population.
These people face several challenges in their everyday lives, including accessing websites on the Internet. That’s why integrating accessibility in the website design process and workplace culture is an essential step to solve this problem of human inequality.
Even though a sense of justice should have been enough for American companies to act on the problem, there are a couple of strong business cases as well. Firstly, making a website accessible to people with disabilities is a matter of legal compliance.
Secondly, an accessible website can help a business attract customers with disabilities, which is a huge market segment. As a bonus incentive, a lot of American consumers prefer to associate with brands that display an inclusive social stance.
Despite these business cases, the landscape of web accessibility was not very promising in 2020. These are some of the predicted trends that could impact American businesses in 2021.
Increase in ADA Lawsuits and Demand Letters
When the number of lawsuits diminished in April 2020, we felt hopeful about the future of web accessibility in the country. However, it seems that the dip was solely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The graph quickly rose again in December to the highest number of accessibility lawsuits in the entire year.
The year finished with a score of 3550 cases with a 23% increase over the numbers from 2019. These cases include the federal lawsuits as well as those filed under the Unruh Act in California state court. Other than these lawsuits, thousands of American businesses also received an ADA demand letter as legal action.
These figures offer evidence that the numbers of ADA lawsuits and demand letters are bound to increase in 2021. A lot of these lawsuits have been filed by testers and advocates of the disabled communities. Testers are people with disabilities who visit various business websites to check whether they are ADA compliant or not.
A lot of American companies have received ADA lawsuits from testers from outer states. Surveys and audits have also found that millions of companies in America have not completed their due diligence towards website accessibility and could be subject to legal actions this year.
Their hope to hide behind the proposed Online Accessibility Act Bill has also failed in January this year. These factors are indicative that we can expect a larger number of ADA lawsuits in 2021.
Pressure on Agencies and Start-UPS to Develop Web Accessibility Solutions
Most businesses outsource the creation and maintenance of their websites to external agencies. Companies that either receive a lawsuit or become aware of the requirement will turn to these agencies to ensure accessibility for their website. The enterprises can also be expected to add accessibility clauses to their existing contracts with designers and vendors.
However, it is also necessary for businesses to check the work done by these agencies and monitor accessibility on a regular basis. Web designing agencies would probably charge more to add these services to a new or existing contract.
They are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning to run continuously in the background and make these changes automatically. However, companies should also focus on auditing their website to identify the problems before they try to rectify them. That is why some of the leading web accessibility start-ups like accessiBe can audit any website and adjust the inaccessible elements automatically.
The software uses AI to audit and solve any new content and optimizes them to make sure that they are compliant with the current WCAG 2.1 regulations. That means business owners do not have to monitor the website continuously for accessibility issues as software scans the website every 24 hours to ensure compliance.
New Efforts for Web Accessibility Guidance
Even though ignorance of the law is not an excuse, many businesses that face lawsuits are victims of the ambiguity of the ADA. They are unaware that the American judicial system applies Title III of the ADA for business websites.
The half-hearted proposal for the Online Accessibility Act Bill has also failed to pass. Disability advocates pointed out that the bill will do nothing more than provide a safe harbor to non-compliant businesses. It proposed WCAG 2.0 as a standard, whereas we are already at WCAG 2.1.
WCAG 2.2 has almost been finalized, and we can expect it to become applicable in 2021. The World Wide Web Consortium has even drafted plans for a WCAG 3.0, which would be applicable not just for web content but for broader digital accessibility.
The 2020 lockdown may have given us false promises of an improving web accessibility landscape. But the end numbers of ADA lawsuits confirm that the battle to achieve digital accessibility is still ongoing for American businesses.
With the advancement of actionable solutions, business owners should be running out of excuses to become more digitally inclusive. We predict that the number of ADA lawsuits and demand letters will keep increasing in 2021, but we will be happy if we stand corrected in the end.