Hey Doctor Digital, is it true I can be sued if my website doesn’t meet accessibility standards?

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Doctor Digital

Doctor Digital Says:

If you communicate with people, you need to know about web accessibility. It’ll help you write more compelling emails, create easier-to-read documents and improve your search rankings online. Accessibility is for everyone, and when your business is focussed on making communication and transaction with a customer easy, you’re in a good position to grow and be sustainable. With one in five Australians living with a disability, your business can’t afford to not ensure that your website is inclusive and easy to use.

The global guideline for accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG, an international protocol on making web content accessible to a wide range of users. They help web designers and developers make web content more accessible to everyone, in particular, older people and people with disability, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and learning disabilities and cognitive limitations.

The WCAG was developed in 2008, and if you’ve been online since then, you’ll know that change has happened at pace, meaning that accessibility is significantly different since then. The current and complete global standard for web content accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.1, commonly referred to as WCAG 2.1.

This technical standard is complex and most useful to web developers and those involved in the maintenance of online content. The Australian Human Rights Commission endorses the application of WCAG in an Australian context in its World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes.

Recent court cases in the US against companies like Netflix, GrubHub and Walmart by consumers with disabilities over access to online shopping have created a precedent and awareness of the need for access for all. While this is an extreme outcome, it underscores the importance of making content accessible. Web teams, and anyone with permission to upload content to your organisation's website need to be familiar with, and responsible for applying the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Accessibility techniques are designed specifically to improve access for people with disability. However, they have far greater benefits related to general readability, comprehension and findability for all skill and literacy levels.

Here are some quick action tips to make it as easy as possible for every reader to enjoy your communications.

  • Use clear, simple, inclusive language that is appropriate for your intended audience
  • Left-align text to avoid uneven spacing between letters and words
  • Use sans serif fonts designed for screens such as Arial or Verdana
  • Use clear heading descriptions and real text, not images of text for screen readers to pick up on
  • Expand acronyms on first use and wherever else is reasonable, and avoid industry jargon
  • Use captions and audio on video
  • Avoid excessive use of bold, capitals, italics and underlines, plan your visual design for flow
  • Avoid very small font sizes
  • Links should be underlined and in a colour that stands out
  • Ensure good colour contrast between text and its background (if you want to test this, try a free tool, like Vision Australia’s Colour Contrast Analyser)
  • Avoid using colour alone to convey information.

Web usability has gone from a nice to have, to, in some cases, a mandatory part of your digital offering with penalties for non-compliance. So technically yes, you could be sued. But you should sue yourself for customer neglect if you aren’t totally on the front foot of giving ALL your customers the absolute best experience they can have on your website. For a more comprehensive discussion of web accessibility, check out the Digital Ready Web Accessibility Factsheet here