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4 Steps to Fix a Business Website After an Accessibility Lawsuit

So you have been sued for having a website that is not fully accessible under the Americans With Disabilities Act. What are the best options for auditing and fixing the website?

California has become a hotbed of lawsuits alleging company websites are not accessible to visually impaired people. Companies that have been sued know that any settlement must include a statement that the website has been audited and any violations have been corrected.

Companies that have not been sued are well advised to proactively audit and remediate their websites before they are sued. This article provides a step-by-step analysis of the issues at play and the options available to businesses looking to resolve website accessibility issues.

Businesses should determine the level of compliance of the website with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and then implement the necessary corrective measures.

There are many companies that provide this service, although sometimes this task can be done in-house or with the help of the website developer. The choices and costs involved in this unregulated process can vary greatly depending on the thoroughness you want to achieve and the complexity of your website. Generally, most companies follow the following four-step process.

1. Repair or rebuild?

Determine whether to audit and fix the existing site or rebuild a new accessible site. Before you invest a lot of time and money into an existing website, you might want to ask yourself where you are in the lifecycle of your current website. After more than four years, a website tends to lag behind in terms of design and performance.

If the site is also not fully ADA compliant, it may be a good idea to consider a rebuild. Of course, the cost of a rebuild versus auditing and restoring the existing site is a key factor. Your website developer should be able to advise you on the cost of a rebuild. Assuming you want to keep your current site, the audit and remediation process is as follows

2. Verification

Simply put, an audit is needed to determine what needs to be fixed. An audit will produce a report with an inventory of accessibility issues to be resolved. There is no legal requirement for ADA compliance. As such, you have several choices for performing the audit. The fastest and cheapest way is to use an automated scan.

Such an audit scans the entire site for WCAG violations and identifies issues that need to be fixed. You can get several automated scans online for free or for a small one-time fee. Unfortunately, these automated checkers often only catch a limited number of accessibility issues (as few as 30%), so it’s important not to rely solely on automated testing.

A step above these free scans are companies that similarly use a web-based system that audits the website but also fixes certain issues automatically. They also provide accessibility statement and performance certification, 24-hour automatic maintenance scans of new and updated content, and a monthly compliance audit, usually for an annual fee.

Unfortunately, while these companies offer some level of protection against future lawsuits, they still only solve a small portion of website accessibility issues.

Finally, at the top are full-service companies that will do thorough work and can work with the company’s website developer. The nature and scope of the project can be determined according to your needs.

Typically, these high-end companies test WCAGs, using the following procedures:

  • Automated Website Audits
  • Manual testing of templates and single pages
  • Using screen readers to discover problems a blind person using a screen reader may have
  • Check robustness (including color contrasts)
  • Checking website navigability without a mouse, using only a keyboard.

The cost of such an audit can vary considerably. Generally, the cost increases the more the site requires interaction and the more the site is rich in media (images, video, audio).

3. Remediation

Sanitation, although not technically difficult, can be laborious and therefore very expensive. The work typically includes writing descriptive headers and anchor text links and breaking down text images into actual text. Alt tags, closed captions, and text transcriptions can take time if there are a lot of images and multimedia. Design adjustments will be required for color, font size and contrasts.

Since these tasks are time-consuming, most companies handle remediation work in-house whenever possible.

4. Certification Page and Accessibility Policy

Finally, once auditing and remediation is complete, consider creating an accessibility policy page that (a) states your commitment to accessibility and (b) lists all remediation efforts already made and underway; and (c) provides an attestation of compliance from the company performing the audit and remediation.

The purpose here is to ward off similar future claims. An ongoing auditing process should also be in place to ensure that future website revisions are ADA compliant.

Arif Virji, Samantha Pungprakearti and Justin Hein are attorneys at Carle Mackie Power & Ross LLP in Santa Rosa, 707-526-4200.

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