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Impact of Embracing Web Accessibility

Over the past three years, web accessibility has become one of the fastest-growing issues in the legal and technological fields. Within time, web accessibility brought with it a whole host of benefits and motivations which go beyond just avoiding being sued, digital accessibility has become from a moral duty and a transparency commitment. What is the impact of embracing web accessibility? What’s in jeopardy when your web site is not accessible? How can your website benefit from digital accessibility? In this article, you’ll find the 5 reasons why web accessibility is a risk too big to take and an opportunity far too big to miss for any civic government today.

1. Compliance with current regulations Let’s kickoff with one of the main reasons why web accessibility is important to any government today-the legal risks of not being accessible. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been on the books for nearly thirty years. Even though it doesn’t mention websites anywhere, Title III of the ADA has been interpreted by U.S. courts and affirmed by the Department of Justice in late 2018 to apply to websites.  Almost one year before that, in January 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule updating the standards covered by Section 508 of the federal law known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It incorporated and selected international standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) to be applied to websites, electronic documents, and software.  Lawsuits with claims on web accessibility began to spike in 2015, a trend that hasn’t subsided. According to the best available data, over 260 suits were filed by the end of 2016. In 2017, 430 lawsuits were filed in the first half of the year, and the number unexpectedly doubled to 814 by the end of Q3. During 2018, thousands of cases were filed all across the United States, with New York and Florida topping the list. We saw a rise of 177% in 2017 with 2258 lawsuits, both individual and class action, filed by blind or visually impaired plaintiffs. 

2. Avoid the cost of getting sued Even though it would be unfair to describe most ADA lawsuits this way, some experts call it the wave of “corporate extortion”. Businesses and governments are being urged to take a serious look at their websites and ensure that their digital presence is accessible to all users. Against these kinds of lawsuits, businesses face financial penalties of not being compliant.  In cases where both parties agree to settle, currently, the average is set at a minimum of $20,000. If the company loses the case in court, the fine can be up to $55,000. This excludes the cost of attorney fees, paying the plaintiff a huge compensation for damages and redesigning the websites to become compliant within a matter of days. Given these numbers, it is clear that the cost of not being compliant can be crushing.

3. Expand your audience When it comes to prioritizing web accessibility, the benefits are far greater than you think. In a world where 1 out of 4 people encounter accessibility issues while using the web, incorporating accessibility features can actually help business growth by making the site friendly to all users, thus expanding your site’s audience. An accessible site allows the content, product, and service to be available to a wider range of people besides users with disabilities, including elderly people with age-related disabilities and users with circumstantial needs. Conversely, by ignoring the issue, accessibility can cut off constituent access. This means that you’d be turning your back on 20% of the world’s population-or 1.3 billion people-who experience any type of disability. To illustrate this point, take the average visually impaired user. He or she probably uses screen reader software to navigate through websites. These assertive devices rely on different code structures and standards of the site’s code to determine the context and structure of the web page. A site must be programmed in order to be compatible with this software. A website that isn’t suitable for a screen reader is essentially closed off to a large segment of visually impaired customers, as 71% of disabled users will click away from a website that they find difficult to use. 

4. Boost your SEO efforts Another point to consider is how accessibility affects website visibility on search engine results and a site’s overall SEO rating.  One of the most important factors for a website’s SEO status is providing a good user experience as it affects the amount of time users spend on your website interacting with your content. An accessible site is, by its nature, easier to navigate, no matter the user’s disabilities, and goes hand-in-hand with enhancing the user experience and site usability. It enables users to experience more extensive, comfortable and practical navigation, ultimately making the bounce rate lower. In this way, you also ensure that customers and constituents keep coming back. In addition, many SEO requirements overlap with accessibility best practices, such as providing quality and accessible content and implementing an intuitive design universal to all users. Most of the technical practices such as the use of the right semantics, descriptive alternative text in all visuals, an organized header structure, title tags and more, relate to the site’s compatibility. It makes your site accessible to different types of navigation’s such as keyboard navigation or visually-impaired using screen readers.

5. Improve your brand reputation Accessible organizations are perceived more positively in today’s world, social and corporate responsibility are concepts which people value. As shown in Forbes’s cited study published last November, corporate social responsibility is a key strategy for providing increased transparency.  A website that boasts an accessibility interface possesses a “quality label” of sorts, a clear indication that the site’s operator is a community who cares about providing for their users’ equal access and adapts to their needs.

About Datanet For the past twelve years, DATANET has sold competitive Agenda Management products and installed many large and complex solutions. During this period, customers related that, while they needed some of the functionality of these more complex solutions and have many of the same reporting challenges of larger communities, but did not have the budget to implement large enterprise solutions nor did they have internal IT resources to manage these larger products As you probably already know, the settlement fees for an ADA lawsuit are very costly and manual accessibility services are equally expensive. In order to solve this challenge and continue providing you with the best services we can, we’ve recently partnered with a company called accessiBe

accessiBe offers the best solution we’ve found to get you protected and at a very reasonable price. The service costs $490 per year, per website under 1000 pages We highly recommend this as a precaution to be safe from lawsuits and avoid any unnecessary exposures.

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ADA COMPLIANCE IN CITY GOVERNMENT WEBSITES

Cities in Florida need to make sure their websites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a Daytona Beach man filed an accessibility lawsuit against Flagler County and won, all counties in Florida need to take action to make sure that not only their government buildings are accessible but also their websites according to Government Technology.
30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed, lawsuits are on the rise and government websites need to ensure that their websites are just as accessible as other services. People with visual or hearing impairments are also filing lawsuits claiming that their government websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because they cannot use these websites.
One visually impaired person in Daytona Beach filed a suit because the screen reader software wasn’t compatible with a portable document format, or PDF and much of the website’s content was in PDF format. These lawsuits are becoming more frequent and city governments are paying out large settlement amounts.
There is much that can be done to make it easier for people with disabilities to access these websites.
Katherine Kyp, Planning coordinator of the Deltona City Commission meeting said, “These new added features enhance the experience and increase compliance with ADA and Section 508 requirements: https://www.access-board.gov/the-board/laws/rehabilitation-act-of-1973#508.
Deltona has formed an ADA Committee and is looking for ways to make all of the city’s documents and media accessible by all people including offering closed captioning services.
Many cities in Florida are taking documents and streaming services down until they are able to come into compliance to avoid potential lawsuits.
The Center for the Visually Impaired recommends that website development follow the guidelines by the World Wide Web Consortium: .https://www.w3.org/

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OPEN GOVERNMENT MAKES FOR A TRUSTING COMMUNITY

The days of stacks of papers accumulating from meetings and keeping files upon files in drawers are behind us. The man power alone just to maintain all the paperwork involved can be very costly. Automated government organizations need accessible records in an easily searchable format to help board members and citizens find exactly what they’re looking for, while reducing the number of public record requests the clerks get each day. When new content is made available, board members need to be able to receive notifications and they also need to be able to easily review updates online or offline either before or after meetings.
The public also needs to be able to access public documents, agendas, and minutes of meetings. This makes for an open government and a trusting community.
Citizens need the opportunity to engage and participate in live video feeds of meetings. Board members who miss a meeting should be able to quickly search the meeting archive and watch past recordings. The days of searching through paper files are obsolete, in this day and age you should be able to download only those agendas, minutes and documents you want from your search results.
Citizens and board members should be able to access meeting content and documents from any desktop or mobile device. This would be a major advantage for staff members when they are out of the office.
The following is a list of decision-making information that should be available by local governing bodies, boards and commissions:
  • Information on agency decision making and advisory bodies
  • Explanation of the local agency’s decision-making process and how to participate in it
  • Brief explanation of how each body fits into the decision-making process
  • Performance measures
  • Regular meeting schedule for each body
  • Agendas and supporting materials for upcoming meetings
  • Minutes and agendas for past meetings
  • Archive of video and/or audio recordings of meetings, when available
  • Explanation of how an interested member of the public can participate in meetings
  • How to apply to be on a board, commission or committee
  • Contact information for staff who can answer questions about any of the above information
  • Meeting notices, agendas, documents and minutes for all upcoming and ongoing agency public engagement activities