7 Legal Essentials for Business Online: Part 7 – Discrimination & Accessibility Online

An accessible website should operate the same way for all its users, regardless of their physical ability. In other words, web accessibility is all about inclusiveness; it is about making sure no one is left out because they cannot see, hear, or use a mouse or keyboard like any able-bodied person. With Google’s algorithm change in April 2015, this also means your website has to be mobile friendly.

Advocacy groups argue that having an inaccessible website is discrimination and violation of human rights. Some have even gone on to file high-profile lawsuits against multinational companies like Target, Sydney Olympic Committee, AOL and others receiving favorable decisions in court. These cases were able to set some important precedents so that if your site is not yet optimized for disabled users, your company may be at risk of civil litigation.

Besides the potential legal repercussions, there is also your bottom line to consider. Millions of disabled users access the internet for the same reasons you do: they write email, visit social networking sites, pay their bills and check the weather. Most importantly, they also shop online. For example, in the UK alone about one in seven Britons suffer from some form of visual, auditory or motor impairment.  So making your site accessible would not only earn a great deal of goodwill, it could increase your audience instantly by around 15% percent in that region.

Take note that disability need not even be permanent or debilitating. Some people may be temporarily house-bound, perhaps due to an accident or surgery. If you can serve their shopping needs during this short-term hiatus chances are you will earn their loyalty as customers, long after the cast and bandages come off.

And then there is the senior population – a growing community in most developed countries.  It is not unexpected for people over the age of 65 to start to suffer from poor eyesight or hearing and increased difficulty in the use of their hands. Therefore, making your site more accessible will benefit that market, whether their symptoms arise from old age or some kind of degenerative condition. It would be a big mistake to ignore this market.  According to a study by Yahoo, in the United States alone the aging baby boomer generation is said to control US$220 billion in discretionary spending.

It has been estimated that building a disabled-friendly site should add only one or two percent to a web development budget and consequently expand your market by around 15% percent. It would seem that designing for accessibility might actually pay for itself.

Today there are various standards, technologies and devices available to open the internet to disabled users. These solutions should make it easier and simpler for you to implement the accessibility guidelines and reap the proven benefits: reduced risk of litigation, a wider market, enhanced competitiveness and increased sales.

If you need to respond to an accusation of discrimination, or are concerned about that possibility, contact the author.


About the author

Jeanette Jifkins is the founder and Principal of Onyx Online Law, an Australian based law firm with the focus of supporting businesses with an online presence.