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Web accessibility for individuals with disabilities is now one of the top areas of ADA litigation.  Some question whether websites should have to be accessible to everyone in the first place.  Furthermore, if the web must be accessible to all parties, there is a question as to what the legal standards should be.  While there are certain practices that should be abided by in the context of websites, there are not any established legal parameters to adhere to as of the time of this writing.

What Constitutes “Meaningfully Accessible”?

According to preventive law, the notion of the web being a place of public accommodation that should prove accessible to all parties hinges on the type of content to be put on the website.  If the content on the site in question is of a certain type, the website must be meaningfully accessible in order to be in full compliance with the law.  Part of the challenge lies in determining what meaningfully accessible actually means.  Unfortunately, no one is quite sure what this term truly means.

The Department of Justice used to settle such cases, arguing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 were the standard for the term meaningfully accessible.  Unfortunately, the rules set forth by President Obama were not finalized prior to Donald Trump’s election.  Trump withdrew the rules, put them on inactive status and resisted all pressure to alter its stance.  This action presents quite the problem as the rules set forth by the Obama administration stated Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 would be the standard.  However, the level a business or other organization had to meet would hinge on the entity’s size.  Aside from this confusion, a number of settlements have resulted in which both parties involved confirm Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 is the standard for determining if a particular website is meaningfully accessible to those with disabilities.  However, these guidelines do not ultimately override meaningful accessibility.

As an example, such guidelines often lack language in regard to voice dictation technology.  At the core of each of these legal conflicts is whether a person with a disability is provided with meaningful access to the website in question assuming that site must be in compliance with the rules of the ADA.  Let’s take a closer look at the forementioned guidelines to get a better understanding of the legal standard for web accessibility cases.

WCAG 2.0 Principles

In order to understand the forementioned WCAG 2.0, it will help to understand its underlying principles.  These guidelines are broken down into the following principles: robust, operable, understandable and perceivable.  Robust means the website must be accessible on all devices and browsers.  Understandable means the site has to be clearly understood by all.  Operable means the site and interface do not restrict the disabled individual’s use.  Perceivable means the content on the site must be available to all who view the site.

The forementioned guidelines become a bit more complicated when you consider the fact that there are some people who do not use a mouse or keyboard.  Certain disabled individuals rely on voice dictation software and require captioning.  There are countless websites in which such voice dictation technology does not function for those looking to use captionoinig.  Such a situation would not prove meaningfully accessible for an individual who is hard of hearing or deaf and relies upon voice dictation technology.

What can be Done?

If you are wondering how to minimize the chances of a lawsuit stemming from supposed website inaccessibility for those with disabilities, you are not alone.  However, there are some concrete steps you can take to dodge such a lawsuit.  As an example, it will certainly help to design the website from the start to prove meaningfully accessible to those plagued by disabilities.  Some businesses will benefit from going as far as hiring a consultant to perfect the website’s user experience design for all users, not just those saddled by a disability.  Avoid drop-down boxes as they pose a number of accessibility issues.  If you use any type of video content, be sure to caption it so those with hearing challenges and the deaf can understand what, exactly, is being communicated.  Finally, do not hesitate to have your website beta tested by individuals with disabilities including those who use voice dictation technology and screen readers.

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