If you’ve ever undergone a major website project, you know all the strategic thought that goes into every step - the layout, the sitemap, the functionality - but have you ever thought about how accessible your website is to all users?
Recently, Beyonce’s official website was hit with a lawsuit for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying visually impaired users equal access to on-site features.
The lawsuit got many digital marketers evaluating their own websites to ensure that the on-site experience is compliant with ADA accessibility standards, but it also raised a bigger question: are we doing enough to not only reach compliance but really taking steps to make sure our website is providing a truly great experience to all users?
What Does The Lawsuit Entail?
The class-action lawsuit was filed by Mary Connor, a New York woman who is visually impaired.
The lawsuit states that Connor was looking to buy Beyonce concert tickets, but discovered that the “exclusively visual interface” of beyonce.com presented “numerous barriers which limited her accessibility to the goods and services offered on the website.”
However, the lawsuit is not due only to the heavy use of visuals throughout the website alone. The website is in violation of the ADA because it lacks functionality to allow visually impaired users to browse the website.
No Alt-Text Coded Into Images - Visually impaired individuals need alt-text in place to determine what the image is depicting, which is then read to them aloud via a screen reader. Without this in place, there is no way to determine what is on the website or make purchases.
Lack of Prompting Information on Forms - Similar to the point above, the forms on the website lack proper prompting text (ex. "click here to purchase"). Currently, the website’s store just uses help text which screen readers will not pick up. This makes it impossible or visually impaired individuals to complete a purchase without the help of a sighted companion.
Denial of Keyboard Access - Screen reading software relies on keyboard movement in place of mouse movement to help visually impaired users navigate webpages. The absence of this on beyonce.com makes it impossible for them to access the website in a way that’s equal to the experience of a sighted individual.
Lack of Accessible Drop-Down Menus - Without accessible drop-down menus, visually impaired individuals are unable to select the size or quantity of products they’re looking to buy. Additionally, without alt-text in place on these menus, they are unable to properly navigate from page to page.
Due to these infractions, Connor is seeking changes to the website to allow visually impaired individuals to fully access its features, as well as compensation for damages for the current website’s discrimination towards the blind.
Why Accessibility is Important (& How to Make Sure Your Site Is Compliant)
This lawsuit holds some important lessons on inclusivity and accessibility when it comes to a website build.
The internet is such a huge part of our daily life - we use it for virtually every step of the purchasing process from product research to online ordering.
At the same time, we live in a highly visual world in which many consumers respond more positively to images and video than they do to text.
Impaired individuals are just as reliant as the rest of us on the internet for purchasing and research, but how they interact with the information they find often differs.
Marketers need to be mindful of how those with disabilities will be able to use the websites for which they are responsible.
Things like having alt-text in place (for more than just SEO reasons!), enabling keyboard controls over mouse, and having accessible drop-down menus in place may seem like small details, but they make a world of a difference to those using screen readers as a means of interacting with your website.
If you’re wondering if your own website is compliant with screen readers, there are many tools online you can check out to test compliance, including several listed here.
So, if you’re embarking on a website redesign or just want to tune up your existing site’s functionality - make sure you’re keeping these things in mind. Not only will you avoid legal action, but you’ll also create a better on-site experience for everyone who visits.
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