News | September 25, 2017

Digital Accessibility and the ADA

The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 — long before the Internet became a part of everyday life. Since then, the steady growth of ecommerce has led to a rising number of retailers facing legal action regarding the ADA accessibility of their websites and shopping apps. These cases have largely been settled out of court, but a recent trial verdict may pave the way for an onslaught of plaintiffs winning lawsuits against retail sites that courts decide are non-compliant.

We all know that the pace of ecommerce will not slow down. But ensuring that product content adheres to ADA guidelines can help manufacturers and retailers not only protect against legal action but also expand their markets.

Simply put, opening accessibility to people who otherwise may not be able to engage with you online helps you sell more. Let’s look at the numbers: The 2010 U.S. Census found an estimated 56.7 million people living in America with some disability — roughly 8.7 percent of our country’s total population, representing $200 billion in discretionary spending.

 The scope of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, is now interpreted more broadly, designating ecommerce sites as “places of public accommodation” required to provide full digital accessibility for people with disabilities. And while no clear web accessibility regulations exist, the four principals  outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA are considered an acceptable level of compliance:

Perceivable: Information cannot be invisible to all of the senses of the user.

Operable: The user must be able to interact with the UI and navigation.

Understandable: The user must be able to understand the content.

Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a variety of agents, including assistive technologies.

People who cannot see images or hear audio need some form of a text equivalent to interact with the site on both desktop and mobile. This means that product images must include “alternative text”, an embedded code that allows assistive technologies to explain the content of the image. For videos, text transcripts or captions must be made available. Streaming videos require closed captioning.


Empowering compliance

The goal of accessibility is to remove barriers, whether the user has impairments that require assistive technologies or whether they’re simply using a mobile device. Our technology platform, Content Publisher, provides a high level of guidance and automation to help manufacturers build enhanced content packages that meet current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The platform is engineered to assist our manufacturer clients in syndicating enhanced product content that provides a full experience to consumers with disabilities, which in turn gives ecommerce retailers more rich, actionable, fully accessible content.

For our retailer partners like Target that require full accessibility, the platform automatically filters out content that does not adhere and sends automated reminders to users that clearly state the guidelines: “All images must have captions; if an image contains text, the text must be repeated in the caption and all videos must be closed-captioned.” If the user corrects the issues and uploads content that meets accessibility guidelines, the content is syndicated to the corresponding product detail pages.

While more and more retailers are working towards full accessibility, only about 25% of the videos uploaded to our platform are ADA compliant.  Producing noncompliant multimedia content represents a huge missed opportunity — these rich, engaging images and videos will not display on retailer sites that are fully accessible. While there is much to be done, our platform works to assist and encourage that manufacturer content meets the guidelines.

Given the growing number of retailers requiring product information that adheres to the ADA, and the opportunity that full accessibility brings to expand market share — it makes good business sense to think about ADA compliance when creating new content, and rework existing rich content to meet accessibility guidelines.