In 2016, a man who is blind could not use his screen reading software to place an order on the Domino’s Pizza website and mobile app. He later sued the company, arguing that its digital properties were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Domino’s tried to take the lawsuit to the highest levels of our judicial system. But the Supreme Court declined the case and maintained a previous ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the argument made by Domino’s: that the ADA does not apply to websites and mobile apps because it predates the Internet.
The case has put a renewed focus on what it means to be accessible in the digital era. While it’s unequivocal that digital properties need to be accessible, businesses like Domino’s and other retailers are looking for clarity about how exactly to do this.
The truth is, accessibility standards already exist—and they’ve been accepted by the federal government, recommended in Department of Justice settlements, and recognized internationally as the benchmark for making digital properties more accessible to people with disabilities. They’re called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and for close to 20 years companies have used them to comply with the ADA.
At Perkins Access, the digital accessibility consulting arm of Perkins School for the Blind, we’ve worked for years with governments, institutions of higher education, and companies across sectors to improve their digital accessibility in a way that is efficient and cost-effective. For organizations that followed the Domino’s case and are wondering where they can go from here, we recommend that you jump on board with the rest of the business community and use WCAG as a guiding star toward web accessibility.
It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s also good for your business. It has been estimated that people with disabilities control over $8 trillion in annual disposable income globally, giving companies a huge opportunity to expand their customer base. In addition, approximately 70% of millennials and 52% of all U.S. adults actively consider company values when making a purchase online.
As outlined by WCAG, there are a number of basic best practices that organizations can follow to ensure that all people will have equal access to online goods and services. For example, all images should have “alternative text,” a machine-readable description of the image so that people who are blind can still benefit from the information it provides. For low-vision users, good contrast between text and its background is critical for readability, and WCAG outlines a very specific contrast ratio that is measurable using a contrast checker tool. And for individuals who may be unable to use a mouse due to limited fine motor skills, the ability to navigate a website via the keyboard is critical. This can be accomplished simply by using standard buttons, links, and form fields when designing web pages in HTML.
It’s also important to prevent usability barriers for as many people as possible from the start of a new project. Businesses should proactively follow accessibility best practices when designing an experience for a website, web application, or mobile app, rather than fixing everything after code is written and the product is launched. It’s also crucial to seek input from the disability community by conducting usability tests before a product goes to market, to ensure that it’s as user-friendly as possible.
The Domino’s case has generated awareness and discussion within organizations that are concerned about their risk of violating the ADA. But executives and business group leaders around the U.S. should think about accessibility as an opportunity to invest in the future of their organizations, and they should use WCAG to do so.
Yes, it’s true that this will help businesses avoid future litigation: the rate of web and app accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court has now hit one per hour. But the time and resources to improve accessibility will also pay off in the form of more customers, a more diverse and talented hiring pool, and a better brand reputation in leading the shift toward an inclusive economy. Compared to the lawsuit Domino’s has been fighting for three years, digital accessibility sounds like a much better deal for everyone.
Luiza Aguiar leads Perkins Access, the digital accessibility consulting group at Perkins School for the Blind.