Accessibility isn’t optional

Posted on 26 February, 2019

Falling under the “its 2019 and I can’t believe we’re still having to say this” category, I really can’t believe we’re still having to say this but…

Accessibility isn’t optional

Me – all the time.

The legislation

In the UK, accessibility of a website is kinda required by law. The Equality Act (2010) makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. This applies to everyone who provides a service (public or private) and includes voluntary services. Part of its accompanying documentation actually does state that websites count as “services to the public”.

In the USA – its the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which rules the roost.

If your service (website or app) can’t be used by a person with disabilities, you can be prosecuted or sued. But that won’t happen… right?

Lovely shiny gavel just waiting to be slammed down against people who don't make accessible services.
Legal action won’t happen… right?

Enter Dominos and Beyonce

Funnily enough, both Dominos and Beyonce are getting sued for breaking the ADA.

Both have been taken to court in the USA because they don’t comply with WCAG 2.0 and its being argued that this breaks the ADA as their visitors with disabilities are unable to use services provided by the websites.

Dominos

Dominos have been through the wringer with this already in the courts and managed to escape Round 1 by having the case dismissed in 2017 but the man who started the legal action (Mr Robels) appealed. He argues that because Dominos don’t use proper alt tags on their website, it is practically unusable by a person using a screen reader (specifically the one built into iPhones). Domino’s design relied on an awful lot of images of text which obviously, the screen reader can’t read. Because of this, Mr Robles was unable to use discount codes or use Dominos pizza builder to complete his order.

They didn’t use alt tags. One of the simplest, easiest, and quick elements a developer can add to a website to help make it accessible. And these weren’t images that only served to make the site look pretty, they were instructional.

Dominos are arguing that the ADA doesn’t explicitly state that it applies to websites but I can’t help but think they’re going to struggle to convince a jury that they aren’t discriminating against people with disabilities.

Queen B

Beyonce’s website has also fallen foul of the ADA. Its currently part of a class action lawsuit because dun dun duuuun… it doesn’t use alt tags.

Actually, it’s much worse than just not having alt tags. You can’t navigate the site using a keyboard and the dropdown menus used aren’t accessible. The class action suit argues that because of this, people with visual impairments can’t use the site to buy tickets, access the official store and just generally use the site.

Not gonna lie, I found Beyonce’s website one of the hardest sites to navigate I’ve seen in a LONG time. There’s scroll hijacking, posts open in new tabs with no indication that’s going to happen, its basically all just pictures of Beyonce which you can click on and sometimes more content appears, sometimes it takes you to a new tab, and sometimes it does nothing. Elements don’t even have focus states.

I ran a quick test with some people in work to see just how bad it was. Now, we all work in tech and could be considered expert users so this won’t be a true test of usability but it’ll be enough to give an idea of how bad it is. I asked people to try and complete three tasks.

  • Use the sites search function
  • View a product in the shop
  • Watch the trailer for Lemonade

I had four people try this and only one of them was able to complete one of the tasks. So out of a possible 12 completed tasks, we only had one. 1/12 isn’t a great success rate.

So what does it mean?

These cases could be pretty significant in terms of forcing websites to become more accessible. If the ADA is proved in court to apply to websites, it opens the door for more lawsuits and prosecutions.

I’ve heard it said before that the reason that accessibility isn’t considered as default is that its too hard to implement. It isn’t.

It might get complicated, and it might take a bit of time to get your head around the more complex features but neither Dominos or Beyonce are being brought up because they have got a more complicated bit of accessibility wrong. They haven’t even included the basics!

At the end of the day, accessible digital services are for everyone. Not just a small percentage of the population that you don’t think will even ever use your site, but every single person who visits.

Its 2019, accessibility isn’t an option.