Companies began to face intense scrutiny over digital accessibility in 2020 as pandemic shutdowns drove customers online. As online interactions increased, so did Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) digital accessibility lawsuits: 2020 saw a 23% year-over-year increase in the number of ADA-related lawsuits, according to a survey by UseableNet. When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office and bring new leadership to the Department of Justice (DOJ), more aggressive enforcement of ADA Title III issues will likely follow.
In “The Biden Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities” the president-elect states that his administration will “aggressively enforce existing civil rights laws for people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The plan adds that the administration will “push for strong ADA compliance” and “continue to advocate for stronger ADA enforcement.”
Organizations should take note of this emphasis on the ADA, which puts digital accessibility in a whole new focus for software development teams.
Impact across different industries
President-elect Biden said he plans to implement and enforce the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which expands accessibility for people with disabilities in telecommunications and video programming, including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video conferencing services. Media and communications companies must prepare to adapt if they’re not already in compliance.
Companies with disabled employees must also ensure they have the appropriate digital accessibility measures in place to protect themselves from discrimination suits. This work not only entails evaluating communications and conferencing tools, but also business software such as file sharing solutions, to ensure they meet workers’ accessibility needs.
Healthcare is a crucial industry and service for people with disabilities. Rapid shifts to telehealth and mHealth in the face of COVID-19 put pressure on the industry to accelerate digital transformation to meet patient needs. Regulated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, noncompliant healthcare organizations are subject to strict penalties from the DOJ.
Schools might also have to adjust to improve accessibility for their remote or hybrid learning models, from the elementary level through higher education. This challenge increases for schools serving students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), as measuring progress is often more difficult in a remote setting. Accessibility can be a competitive differentiator for EdTech firms that can help schools improve compliance and reduce risk.
In addition, the Biden administration specifically called out travel and transportation as industries that need to better serve the country’s 61 million adults with disabilities. Airlines and transit companies must prioritize digital accessibility in their development strategies, rather than as an afterthought before final release.
Accessible design throughout the software development process
Applause CTO Rob Mason encourages companies to practice inclusive design and build accessible experiences from the outset, at a product and design level. “Making accessibility a priority from the start helps ensure digital properties are inclusive of all users and conform to guidelines,” Mason wrote in a recent Forbes article. “To ensure inclusive design, development and design patterns should make digital accessibility a natural — and ongoing — part of the everyday process.”
Implement ongoing software testing to ensure digital experiences meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of industry-accepted best practices around creating accessible digital content. Testing should include real-world usability testing, ideally by testers with disabilities, as well as ongoing accessibility studies and audits. This approach allows organizations to uncover digital accessibility defects that would otherwise go unnoticed. Testing also ensures conformance, which is especially important as pressure to deliver accessible digital experiences intensifies under the new administration.
Read the ebook Answering Your Digital Accessibility FAQs to learn how to ensure your applications conform to accessibility guidelines.