Many businesses are already acknowledging how crucial web accessibility is given the recent developments in web accessibility lawsuits, particularly in the United States. One study noted a noticeable increase in these lawsuits with retailers becoming the main targets. In 2020, 3,550 digital accessibility lawsuits were recorded, a 23 percent increase from the previous year’s number of cases.
When even prestigious institutions like Harvard University and MIT become targets of web accessibility lawsuits, doubts regarding the seriousness of web accessibility requirements are already out of the question. These institutions decided to settle their cases out of court with millions of dollars involved.
Of the total number of accessibility lawsuits recorded in 2020, 77.6 percent were against retail businesses. The majority of the businesses online are in the retail industry, which partly explains why there is growing awareness about web accessibility among businesses.
While web accessibility campaigns can be credited for this rise in accessibility awareness, it can be argued that the threat of lawsuits is driving web accessibility mindfulness with a greater sense of compulsion. As web accessibility specialist Kris Rivenburgh projected, a typical web accessibility lawsuit costs around $25,000. This figure increases when dealing with more complaints and several websites.
It is reasonable to have the perception that most businesses are already aware of the need for web accessibility. However, there are still those who continue to be unbothered by the threats that come with it.
Quantifying the perception
To what extent are businesses familiar with web accessibility? What are they doing to ensure compliance?
To answer these questions, we conducted a survey among 400 business executives and owners in the United States. The respondents represent businesses of various sizes with 46 percent having 501 to 1,000 employees, 20.25 percent having 251 to 500 employees, 10.5 percent employing less than 250 workers, and 10.75 percent operating with 51 to 100 workers.
Around a quarter of the respondents (25.5 percent) are middle management officers, 22.25 percent are senior managers, 18.75 percent are business owners or partners, 14 percent are C-level executives, and 8.5 percent are directors. The rest are presidents/CEOs, chief technical officers (CTOs), and chief financial officers (CFO).
All of the respondents said that they operate websites for their respective businesses. Also, all of them said that they had their business websites created, maintained, or promoted by a web agency.
When asked if they expect their web agencies to bring up the web accessibility requirement, the overwhelming majority of the respondents (88 percent) said yes. A similar number of respondents (87.25 percent) said that they also expect their web agencies to make them aware of the legal compulsoriness of web accessibility as well as the consequences of not having a web-accessible website.
Most of the respondents (84.75 percent) share the opinion that web agencies should inform their clients if their websites are inaccessible and incompatible with the requirements laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some 15.25 percent do not consider it necessary for web agencies to have the initiative to keep their clients abreast with the subject of web accessibility.
Finally, an even higher number of respondents (92.25 percent), said they believe that web agencies should make sure that the websites they are building for their clients are accessible.
Interpreting the data
What do these numbers infer? For one, most businesses are already acquainted with the issue of web accessibility, and they expect their web agencies to take charge of addressing the requirements. The details above are like an advisory to web agencies to make themselves more attractive to potential clients by being knowledgeable and competent in the area of web accessibility.
This does not necessarily mean that businesses are being too reliant on web agencies. They just know that their web agencies are in the best position to implement web accessibility requirements since they are the ones directly working on the websites of their clients.
However, it is not a good sign that 12 percent of the respondents do not seem to mind if their web developer or administrator is not that concerned about web accessibility even with a very leading question. Here’s the actual question asked in the survey: “Given that making your website accessible to people with disabilities is mandatory, do you expect your web agency to bring it to your knowledge?”
As mentioned, all of the respondents said that their websites were developed, maintained, or promoted by web agencies. This means all of the respondents rely on third parties for their business sites, but they do not seem to expect enough from their agencies.
Twelve percent is a significant number. With 12 to 24 million online shops operating at present, this percentage translates to 1.44 to 2.88 million stores that may not be paying enough attention to web accessibility requirements. These are businesses that can easily become targets of lawsuits, which can be easily avoided by implementing web accessibility principles on the get-go.
What do businesses do with their websites after realizing that they are not web accessible? Most likely, they will have to hire someone to fix their website. It is not going to be a quick and easy fix. Depending on the kind of websites and the number of web pages they have, the fix can take months to complete.
Marketing strategist and digital development specialist Jennifer Bailey estimates that the cost of enabling web accessibility ranges from $3,000 to $50,0000. It is definitely not cheap, especially when dealing with multiple websites and innumerable web pages.
Moreover, the 15.25 percent who said “no” when asked if they expect their web agencies to bring to their knowledge if their sites are inaccessible and not ADA-compliant also represent a significant number of businesses that will most likely have a hard time dealing with the consequences of a lawsuit.
Awareness and action
Being aware of the seriousness of the legal web accessibility requirement is a good start, but it would be preferable if this awareness is coupled with action. There is nothing wrong with expecting web agencies to be knowledgeable, up-to-date, and competent in the subject of web accessibility. However, being too dependent on them can also be problematic.
Business owners and executives should have their own efforts in ensuring that they don’t end up with legal entanglements because of the lack of web accessibility. There are free tools such as accessiBe’s aCe, Lighthouse, and others that can be readily used to check if a site is accessible or not. Companies can refer to the suggestions provided by these tools to start the changes or additions necessary to make sites web-accessible.