There’s probably a real good chance you’ve never heard of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). But if you have any responsibility associated with your business’s’ website, there are some real good reasons why you should not only know it, but make certain that your website complies with the guidelines.
The first reason is that it should expand your marketing base to a more inclusive audience. The second reason is that it could help you avoid a lawsuit.
The WCAG are a set of guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), essentially the W3C sets the international standards for the Internet. These guidelines specify the standards that govern how to make content accessible on a website, primarily for people with disabilities.
By adhering to the WCAG, a compliant site not only becomes more accessible to a wider audience, it also becomes more effective. The guidelines force the website to become easier to search for and easier to navigate — thus naturally improving the marketability of your site.
The other reason to be in compliance is that, because of recent legislation, you could face a lawsuit if you aren’t.
In January of 2017, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were adopted under Section 508 (an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act that mandates electronic and information technology used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities). A deadline of January 2018 was given for websites to become compliant. So the clock is ticking.
So what types of businesses are affected by this? The answer is somewhat gray. While this law is a requirement for federal and government programs, it doesn’t mean that it’s specific to those groups or businesses who work with them. Recently, there have been numerous civil rights complaints against businesses for inaccessible websites.
Fortunately, fixing these issues is often not complicated. However, the work can be time consuming and tedious. The process to fix a site is simple; software scans your site and finds offending pages (these can amount to broken links, unidentified pictures or buttons without descriptive tags — things that would make it difficult for someone with a disability to navigate).
Once the issues are identified, a website programmer corrects each problem. When completed, the software scan is done again and if everything was caught — a “clean bill of health” for the site is given.
It should also be noted that a site will usually need to be periodically checked to make sure the guidelines are still being followed — particularly for websites that are frequently updated.
Right now, for many businesses and organizations, it is unlikely the current or upcoming web accessibility laws will immediately affect them. However, it would be wise to be proactive before having to deal with the legal ramifications. It is clear the United States is moving toward requiring all websites be compliant.