The urgency of online accessibility

Q&A with Bill Oates: Why non-accessible websites are no longer good enough for governments and businesses

A young woman using an iPad sits next to her guide dog

Forthcoming federal rules will mandate that all business and government websites be accessible to all users – including people who are blind or otherwise disabled.

August 18, 2016

With new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and a refresh of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) looming, it’s critical that government organizations – and businesses in every industry – ensure their websites are accessible to all users.

Perkins Solutions, the assistive technology division of Perkins School for the Blind, recently conducted a digital accessibility review of large government websites across 25 states and discovered that more than 90 percent of those sites contain pages that are inaccessible to people with a range of disabilities.

In this Q&A, Perkins Solutions Vice President Bill Oates explains how updated federal regulations on web accessibility will open doors for new users, and outlines steps organizations should take to become compliant.

Why is accessibility top-of-mind for executives?

It should be top-of-mind for all organizations. Across government and all industries, the move to digital services and information continues to accelerate. We have to consider access to digital assets in the same way we have traditionally looked at physical locations. Forthcoming federal rules will mandate that organizations’ websites be accessible to all users. That’s a good thing. New WCAG 2.0 and ADA updates aim to ensure that this growing digital world is available to Americans with disabilities. That’s one in five Americans, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Why is accessibility for all important?

The bottom line is that no one can avoid the issue of accessibility. An estimated 285 million people worldwide have problems seeing and 46 million of those individuals are blind (per the World Health Organization). From a business perspective, think about the impact this could have on your organization. Could you benefit from millions of potential new customers having access to your website?

What is the penalty for websites that aren’t compliant?

Even before the new regulations are in place, companies that neglect web accessibility fixes pay a high price. The National Law Review reports that Target, H&R Block, Peapod, eBay and even the state of Ohio have been sued over this issue. What CIOs and business and government leaders must recognize is that accessibility is a prerequisite for anything that they do. It can’t be pushed down the road; it needs to be dealt with now.

So how can organizations ensure they’re compliant?

It may seem like a tall order, but there are three easy steps to ensure your organization gets accessibility right.

  1. Bring in someone who really understands the space. If you have that kind of expertise in-house, empower them to educate you, identify the resources you need and help you staff up. If not, enlist the skills of a recognized expert to consult, guide and bring you into compliance. Once you’re on the right road, maintain follow-up consults to ensure new digital products or assets are accessible from the start.
  2. Identify the most efficient resources to tackle accessibility and develop a comprehensive road map toward compliance with the ADA and WCAG updates. It won’t happen overnight, but with the right resources in place, you can be sure that important details don’t slip through the cracks. And keep in mind, if it doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t work.
  3. Establish a maintenance plan to ensure that future updates or changes to your website are made to be accessible. Think about website maintenance the way you do with your car: would you go 50,000 miles without an oil change? Then why add new web pages without building in accessibility? It’s not only easier, it’s also more cost effective long-term.

Any final thoughts?

To make your digital assets accessible, you need to build a part of your organization that understands the landscape and is willing to embrace accessibility policies. Business leaders have a lot of responsibilities, and that’s why it’s important for you to have a plan to manage accessibility before it’s too late. If you tackle it early and do it right, you will always have your finger on the pulse of how your organization is dealing with accessibility.

Read the press release about Perkins Solutions’ review of government websites for digital accessibility »