Lower Your Legal Risk and Improve the User Experience of Your Site

Posted on Thursday, 16 July 2020 by Marissa Sapega

If you think that your organization is protected from digital accessibility lawsuits because it’s “too small” or “people with disabilities don’t use your products,” think again. In 2019, more than 75 New York Art galleries were hit by digital accessibility lawsuits because their websites were not accessible to blind and visually impaired users. While this may seem punitive at first glance, the fact is, people with disabilities enjoy the internet and want to use it as much as anyone else. Not being able to do so is infuriating them to the point of litigation.

graph showing total number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed each year starting from 2013-2019. in 2013 - 2722 lawsuits; 2014 - 4436 lawsuits; 2015 - 4789 lawsuits; 2016 -6601 lawsuits; 2017- 7663 lawsuits ; 2018- 10163 lawsuits; 2019 - 11053 lawsuits
Total Number of ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed Each Year 2013-2019, courtesy of Seyfarth Shaw LLP

The most common digital accessibility lawsuit is usually related to a website’s compatibility with a screen reader. A screen reader is assistive technology that will turn all the words on a webpage into audio output. For a user to be able to easily navigate a website using a screen reader, the site needs to be coded correctly; if it is not formatted well, the screen reader user will have a frustrating and often futile experience trying to engage with the site. And once they experience that a few hundred times over and over, it begins to wear on them. It’s no wonder that digital accessibility lawsuits have skyrocketed over the past several years, soaring from around 2,700 in 2013 to an eye-watering 11,000 in 2019.

How to lower your organization’s risk for a digital accessibility lawsuit

While there is no way to indemnify an organization against any type of legal action, there are some steps a firm can take to reduce its exposure. For most of the recommendations that follow, prioritizing public-facing pages is the best way to start. Plaintiff lawyers are less likely to access secure content when hunting for targets.

Test your site for screen reader compatibility

Screen reader-related lawsuits are the most prevalent digital accessibility lawsuit, so it makes sense to see how well your website and digital content fare when put to the test. The most comprehensive way to test for compatibility is by using an actual screen reader and navigating through your site. JAWS screen reader (made by TPG’s parent company, Vispero) is the most popular screen reader and you can use JAWS to test your site, but to start, you could try TPG’s JAWS Inspect, our JAWS testing tool. It’s easy to pick up without prior experience and is a great way to supplement your JAWS testing operations.

Run an automated scan

In the U.S., many plaintiff lawyers are using automated scans to determine who to target and to identify accessibility issues. Take the bull by the horns and conduct a scan on your site to expose accessibility errors so you’ll be able to remediate them before you become the target of a lawsuit. Note that an accessibility scan will not catch all accessibility failures, but will give you an idea of the errors that are likely to catch a plaintiff lawyer’s attention. If you’re interested to see how your site would look to a plaintiff lawyer, sign up for your free accessibility scan today.

Consistent automated scans are helpful for long-term monitoring as well, as they do not require the resources or effort of sustained manual evaluation. They can alert you to trends and help you document progress, but due to their limitations on error identification, they should never be used as an alternative to accessibility reviews.

Get a high-level risk accessibility review

A comprehensive accessibility review is not always an option for firms with limited budgets to spend on accessibility. TPG’s High-Level Risk Review zeroes in on the issues that will cause serious accessibility problems across a representative sample of your site and is more affordable for many organizations. Though it will not surface as many errors as a comprehensive review would, it still provides great value and can lower your legal risk if you prioritize remediating the errors it unearths.

Prioritize your critical paths

If a site has accessibility errors that compromise the experience for users with disabilities but does not prevent them from performing a critical task (like depositing a check, ordering takeout, purchasing an item, etc.), they are far less likely to become frustrated enough to file a lawsuit. Prioritizing the accessibility of these key user journeys will pay off in the end, so make sure you focus on them first. Note that many of these paths will occur in a secure environment, behind a log-in, so don’t limit your remediation to public-facing pages only.

Add an accessibility page

Showing your commitment to accessibility by sharing the actions your organization has taken sends a positive message. Caveat: you must be transparent about your product’s accessibility or else your company will lose credibility. This page can also serve as a way for users to communicate and submit feedback.

Improving the accessibility of your digital content has myriad benefits that go beyond lowering your legal risk. Sites designed with accessibility in mind increase the size of your target market and improve the experience for all users.

A user-first mentality is at the core of digital accessibility, and this will have a tremendous positive impact on everyone who comes to your site. For help with reducing your legal risk and improving your website experience, contact The Paciello Group today.

For more information, read all our ADA30 posts.


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