In a case now three years in the making, Domino’s Pizza has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether their (and every) business must make its websites and apps accessible to all users.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accessibility rules for access to public buildings, streets and businesses were established, leading to a host of changes like curb cuts for wheelchairs, ramps to entrances as alternatives to steps, elevators as well as escalators in many buildings, and Braille code on ATM machines (although the ones at drive-up windows are bit confusing…). But no clear rules have been set for how the 1990, pre-internet-as-we-know-it ADA applies to online business websites.
There are already global web accessibility standards courtesy of the Worldwide Web Consortium, and designers are embracing the concept of making more sites accessible as part of a more thoughtful, ethical design approach. Some accessibility issues are being addressed with the spread of voice search and voice-based digital assistants, but while those help the blind, they don’t do much for the deaf, or people coping with severe physical disabilities.
Some examples of web accessibility issues:
- The use of images without alt text descriptions to help the visually impaired “see” those images via screen readers;
- Sites that require mouse or touchpad functionality—many disabled people use assistive technologies that allow speech input to use keyboard functionality, but they cannot use a mouse or touchpad;
- Lack of text transcripts for the deaf, who cannot make use of voice assistants or audio.
In Lieu of Regulations…
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had been working on online accessibility guidelines since 2010, but the effort was abandoned in December 2017, supposedly because the DOJ was debating whether regulation was “necessary or appropriate.” No new advance notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) have been issued.
This makes the Domino’s case extremely important for U.S. businesses, which may need to budget for ADA compliance if the Supreme Court upholds the lower courts’ rulings stating that websites should be accessible for all. In the meantime, lawsuits over lack of accessibility are on the increase, according to UsableNet, a company that designs accessible technology and tracks accessibility cases.
Agencies involved in web development should start thinking about web accessibility standards if they don’t already include accessibility as part of their web design and coding. Many clients may have to make adjustments to ensure their sites and apps are accessible, and will be seeking help from service providers. And we could see changes to how we unroll digital marketing—are you building accessibility into all aspects of digital campaigns?
As with all pending shifts in web regulation and best practices, it is better to anticipate the change than to wait until it is hanging over your and your clients’ heads like the Sword of Damocles. We’ll keep tabs on the case and any new developments, but start thinking about ADA compliance now.