Noel has three kids in Seattle Public Schools. She wants to take part in her kids’ education like any parent would.
But she’s blind.
As it turns out, the school district’s website is incompatible with JAWS, one of the most popular screen readers. Ironically, the site worked fine with JAWS up until 2012 when “enhancements” were made to the site that tanked compatibility.
Noel’s not looking for special treatment – she just wants to help her kids submit a math assignment through the district website the same as another (sighted) parent could.
So here’s where an interesting question comes to light: Does the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act extend to the internet? Is this the digital version of wheelchair access to a building?
Well, Noel and the National Federation of the Blind thought so, and brought a lawsuit against the Seattle Public School District (after repeated out of court requests for compliance).
What Does This Mean for You and Me?
Today we’re crossing the bridge from where accessible websites are nice to have to the land where accessible websites are a legal requirement.
This isn’t about fear.
I think we live in a ridiculously litigious society. There’s an ad for a law firm I hear often on my local public radio station – the tagline is:
For when the results truly matter…
Every time I hear that I think why on earth would I engage in a lawsuit unless the results truly mattered?!
My rant is a bit of a digression, but it’s important for me to say that writing this article is not about bringing fear of a lawsuit to every website owner out there.
This is about education.
That said, web accessibility isn’t something we can shove under the rug. There’s a point coming in the not-too-distant future where law will dictate better compliance.Web accessibility isn't something we can shove under the rug. Click To Tweet
In some cases, the law already does. Here’s a few American* examples:
- Academic Institutions – Youngstown State Univ. Sued Over Website Accessibility (law suit brought by US Department of Education)
- Online Retailers – A Cautionary Tale of Inaccessibility: Target Corporation (this case set precedent saying that retailers must make their sites accessible to the blind under the ADA)
- Government – Department of Homeland Security Sued for Section 508 Violations**
* Some countries already have strict accessibility requirements in place. If you’re hired to make a website for someone in another country or you’re making a website for yourself, educate yourself on the laws of the country.
** Section 508 is not part of the ADA and applies to US Federal agencies.
Getting Back to WordPress
Most of the folks who read this blog are either creating and maintaining their own websites or work professionally creating sites for others.
I want to put web accessibility on your radar so that you are aware of it and can begin the process of shifting your web design and development habits.
If you already have a site built, check out these things you can do to make your website more accessible.
Of course, it’s easier to start with an “accessibility mindset” at the start of a web project versus retrofitting an existing site. If you’re starting from scratch, make your life easier and start the project with an accessible theme. Here’s a great free accessible WordPress theme, or if you’re working with the Genesis Framework, here’s an accessible Genesis theme.