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Is Web Accessibility a Fad?

Jun 19, 2019

With so much recent focus on web accessibility, you might find yourself wondering: is it actually just a fad?

A number of high-profile lawsuits, such as one in January against the website of the singer Beyoncé, have helped bring the question of web accessibility into the mainstream. In 2018, there were at least 2,258 website accessibility lawsuits in U.S. federal court, nearly tripling from just 814 in 2017.

You might also have heard of web accessibility recently if you work at a company that has implemented accessibility standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the most popular and widely-recognized set of web accessibility standards, and a common recommendation for organizations to become compliant in the event of a lawsuit.

Given these tendencies, you might well be wondering “Why is web accessibility becoming so popular?” But is this focus on web accessibility nothing more than a blip on the radar, or does it actually have staying power?

A careful review of the evidence suggests that web accessibility is much more than a passing fad. Here are 4 reasons why web accessibility is here to stay.

1. There are more people with disabilities than ever

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 61 million adults in the United States living with a disability, or roughly 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. A review of the disability statistics reveals that there are millions of people with hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive disabilities of varying types and intensities.

While this number of 61 million people in the U.S. alone is already worthy of attention, the figures are expected to increase even more in the near future.

Several studies have found that members of the “baby boomer” generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) are more likely to have a variety of health problems, including chronic diseases and disabilities. By 2035, the number of people in the U.S. over 65 is expected to outnumber the number of children under 18 for the first time in the country’s history.

This “graying of America” means that the proportion of U.S. adults with a disability will almost certainly be higher in the future than today, which will make web accessibility an even more important concern.

2. Use of the web is growing

The second trend relevant for web accessibility is that use of the internet is still growing among U.S. adults, even in 2019. Only 10 percent of Americans now say that they don’t use the Internet, down from 17 percent in 2015.

Although people over 65 remain the biggest holdouts for internet adoption, the numbers are rising among this demographic as well, with just 27 percent reporting that they’re not online.

Use of the internet has also grown rapidly among people with disabilities in recent years. In 2012, 52 percent of U.S. adults with a disability used the Internet; in 2016, this figure had grown to 77 percent.

People with disabilities can face barriers — such as challenging physical environments and the lack of assistive technologies — that make the internet an preferable option for some daily activities. However, such a solution is only feasible if the websites they use are accessible to all users.

3. Web accessibility lawsuits are on the rise

Thus far, we’ve discussed two trends: a greater number of people with disabilities, and a greater number of people using the internet. It’s no surprise, then, that we're also seeing more web accessibility lawsuits.

As mentioned above, the number of web accessibility lawsuits has risen precipitously in just the past few years alone. In addition to the Beyoncé lawsuit, legal cases have recently cropped up against prominent organizations such as the Domino’s pizza chain, Winn-Dixie grocery stores, and major research universities such as Cornell and NYU.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that people with disabilities must be able to access “places of public accommodation,” i.e., facilities that are open to the public such as restaurants, museums, retail stores, and educational institutions. (Title II of the ADA makes the same requirement for state and local governments.)

While the text of the ADA does not explicitly cover websites, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly upheld the interpretation that the ADA applies to websites as an extension of the physical business. In light of these findings, many businesses are implementing accessibility standards such as WCAG in order to avoid the risk of expensive and time-consuming legislation.

4. Web accessibility isn't just for people with disabilities

The final indication that web accessibility has staying power is that it has many advantages beyond the immediate effects for people with disabilities.

For example, web accessibility can help your brand by expanding your audience, inspiring greater brand loyalty, and emphasizing your commitment to social responsibility.

Web accessibility also has benefits for SEO (search engine optimization). Including transcripts and alternative text for your multimedia files like video and audio will help search engines find this content more easily. Concerns such as mobile-friendliness, and a simple website layout and navigation, are also places where SEO and web accessibility overlap.

To learn more about why more and more organizations are finding huge value in accessibility, check out Digital Accessibility is an Investment, Not a Cost.

Here to help

Taken in combination, the four points above are all clear indications that web accessibility will be a greater, not a lesser, consideration in the years to come.

Fortunately, no matter where you are in your web accessibility journey, you can take proactive steps to make your site more accessible by complying with recommendations such as WCAG. To learn more, schedule a free consultation with our team of accessibility experts, or check out the Bureau of Internet Accessibility blog for the latest news and updates.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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