Part 1: What is accessibility, and why should you care?
Don’t risk alienating billions of users.
Accessibility means providing access for all. Borrowing from my colleague Jurij Nesvat’s article, “With over 4 billion people using the internet and 1 billion people in the world living with disabilities, accessibility is a big deal.” Apps lacking accessible components to account for these factors are excluding a large part of the global population.
What’s more, accessibility is beneficial to those who aren’t disabled. Imagine a parent or caregiver is holding a crying baby and needs to consult their doctor. Having the option to conduct a video (an accessible feature) consultation would be helpful. Or say a person wants to watch a video while commuting to work or in a workspace and doesn't want to bother the people around them, having captioning (another accessible feature) would also be helpful.
It’s critical to build accessible applications to build a more inclusive experience so that everyone has equal access to the Internet.
Accessibility is a global issue.
On June 21, 2019, Bill C-81: The Accessible Canada Act became law. The act aims to create a barrier-free nation by identifying, removing, and preventing accessibility barriers (i.e., physical environments, employment opportunities, IT, etc.)
How does this impact web accessibility? All federally regulated entities and businesses (i.e., transportation, broadcasting/telecom, and banking/financial sectors) across the country are required to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Note: WCAG is developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a team of individuals working around the globe. More on WCAG in Part 2.
In addition to the negative exposure for excluding access to some 6M users, the penalties for violations include fines up to $250,000 per violation.
Individual provinces also have web accessibility laws.
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) aims to create a barrier-free Ontario by 2025. Violations for non-compliance run up to $100k/day/violation.
- The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) 2013 seeks to have an all-inclusive Manitoba by 2023.
- Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act became law in 2017 with non-compliance fines up to $250,000.
In 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requiring federal agencies’ electronic and information tech to be accessible to people with disabilities. The U.S. Access Board updated Section 508 standards, along with Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934 which covers telecommunications equipment (i.e., mobile devices, routers, modems, voice products), to ensure information and communication technologies (ITC) follow WCAG criteria and European Commission ICT Standards.
The penalty for violations falls under federal jurisdiction—ultimately leaving the decision up to the courts. Enterprises lacking including accessible features in the U.S. risk alienating 13%+ or 61M people in the U.S.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities in places of public accommodations, commercial facilities, and private entities that offer certain examinations and courses related to educational and occupational certification.” Individuals or private parties being discriminated against may file lawsuits or file complaints with the Attorney General.
While the act doesn’t include websites or applications directly, in 2017 a precedent-setting case—Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.—ruled in favor of a blind plaintiff alleging that the company’s site was inaccessible to the visually impaired. The court awarded the plaintiff attorney fees and required Winn Dixie and any affiliated third-party vendors to adopt and implement WCAG compliant websites.
Directive (EU) 2016/2012 requires public entities to ensure their websites and apps are accessible for a person with disabilities. Sites created after September 23, 2018, must be accessible by September 23, 2019. Existing sites have until September 23, 2020, to become compliant. All mobile applications must be accessible by June 23, 2021. Additionally, Directive (EU) 2019/882 notes accessibility requirements for products and services must be implemented by June 28, 2022.
Countries in the Union are tasked with determining compliance violation penalties. Regardless of any penalty, it’s a big miss for businesses in the EU to exclude 125MM (1 in 4) people with a disability.
In the UK, the Equality Act of 2010 provides legal protection against discrimination—prohibiting businesses from excluding anyone with a disability from using their services, including web accessibility.
With 14M+ in the UK living with disabilities, it's safe to say that it's risky for businesses to lack accessible tech.
Accessibility is a big deal.
Alienating some 6M+ Canadians, 48.9M+ Americans, and 125M+ Europeans, litigation, or paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines…it’s a big risk for enterprises to exclude accessibility.
To find out what to do next, check out Part 2.