What is digital accessibility and why is it important?

By: Eve Hill

Digital accessibility allows people with disabilities to access the same information and engage in the same transactions at the same time as others, with equivalent ease of use. This has become more critical as the internet has evolved to play an integral role in most every aspect of life. It’s not just websites, but also mobile applications that need to be accessible for everyone.

The federal government is making clear that the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, doesn’t just focus on physical access accommodations, but also includes digital accessibility. Their most recent rule updated Title II of the ADA requiring state and local government entities to make their websites and mobile applications accessible within two to three years. It is expected that they will likely move to update Title III next. This area of the law applies to 12 categories of private entities: 

  1. Hotels (places of lodging)
  2. Restaurants and bars
  3. Theaters and stadiums
  4. Auditoriums, convention centers, and lecture halls (places of public gathering)
  5. Retail stores (grocery stores, bakeries, clothing stores, malls, etc.) 
  6. Service establishments (bank, laundromat, travel agency, law and doctors’ offices, hospitals, etc.)
  7. Public transportation stations or terminals
  8. Museums, libraries, and galleries
  9. Places of recreation (parks, zoos, amusement parks, etc.)
  10. Private schools
  11. Social service establishments (homeless shelters, day care centers, adoption agencies, etc.)
  12. Exercise and recreation spaces (gyms, spas, bowling alleys, golf courses, etc.)

It is generally accepted that future rules will provide clear guidelines for websites and mobile apps that are associated with places of public accommodation (i.e., Domino’s Pizza website). There is still some disagreement across the country about standalone websites and mobile apps that are not associated with a brick and mortar location. 

There is a growing body of case law that underscores the importance of taking digital accessibility seriously. Here are just a few areas of note:

  • Companies such as CVS, Labcorp, and Quest diagnostics have been ordered to make their check-in kiosks accessible.
  • Colleges and Universities are being challenged to make online content accessible. 
  • Podcast providers such as Sirius XM, Stitcher, Pandora, and others have been sued for failure to provide transcripts or captions for their content. 
  • Many companies use widely available online services to add “overlay” applications to their websites. These services add controls that purport to make sites more accessible. However, several lawsuits have deemed these “quick fix” solutions inadequate. 
  • A court has extended accessibility requirements to virtual reality programs.

To appreciate the scale of the challenge, consider there are 200 million active websites in the world (over 1 billion total) with more added every minute. Of the top one million homepages, 95.9% have accessibility barriers, with an average of 56.8 errors per page!

This discussion highlights the need for a sea change in the fields of web and online application design, development and maintenance. It’s not just the web designers and developers, but every aspect of an organization – from operations to customer service – that needs to learn how to carefully consider and ensure digital accessibility for their audiences. 

Inclusivity Strategic Consulting works to help government and private entities navigate a clear path to web accessibility to best serve all of their audiences and minimize potential liability. Inclusivity can help organizations adopt policies and procedures, priorities, and contractual requirements to make their websites and mobile apps accessible and keep them accessible into the future. Inclusivity is part of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, a leading civil rights law firm with offices in Baltimore, MD and Washington, D.C.