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4 steps to fixing a business website after an accessibility lawsuit

So you’ve been sued for having a website that is not fully accessible under the Americans With Disabilities Act. What are the best options to audit and fix the website?

California has become a hotbed for lawsuits alleging that company websites are not accessible by visually impaired individuals. Companies that have been sued know that any settlement must include a representation that the website has been audited and that any violations have been remedied.

Companies that have not been sued are well advised to proactively audit and remedy their websites before they are sued. This article sets forth a step-by-step analysis of the issues involved and the options available to companies as they seek to address website accessibility issues.

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

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

1. Remediate or rebuild?

Determine whether to audit and remediate the existing site or rebuild a fresh accessible site. Before investing considerable time and money into an existing website, you may want to consider where you are in the lifecycle of your current website. After four-plus years, a website tends to fall behind in design and performance.

If the site is also not fully ADA compliant, it may make sense to consider a rebuild. Of course, the cost of a rebuild versus an audit and remediation of 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 stay with your current site, the audit and remediation process is as follows

2. Audit

Simply put, an audit is needed to determine what needs to be fixed. An audit is going to produce a report with an inventory of accessibility issues to address. There is no legal prescription for ADA compliance. As such, there are several choices available to you in performing the audit. The quickest and cheapest way is to use an automated scan.

Such an audit scans the entire site for WCAG violations and identifies issues for remediation. You can get several automated scans online for free or a small one-time fee. Unfortunately, these automatized checkers often only catch a limited number of accessibility issues (as little as 30%), and it is therefore important to not rely on automated testing alone.

A step above these free scans are companies that similarly use a web-based system that audits the website but also automatically remediates some problem areas. They also provide an accessibility statement and certification of performance, 24-hour automatic maintenance scans of new and updated content, and monthly compliance auditing, typically for a flat yearly fee.

Unfortunately, although these companies provide some level of protection from future lawsuits, they still only resolve a small portion of website accessibility issues.

Finally, at the top end are full-service firms that will do a thorough job and be able to work with the company’s website developer. The nature and extent of the project can be determined based on your needs.

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

  • Automated website audits
  • Manual testing of templates and unique pages
  • Use of screen readers to uncover any problems a blind person using a screen reader may encounter
  • Check on robustness (including color contrasts)
  • Checking for navigability of the website without a mouse, using only a keyboard.

The cost of such an audit can vary widely. Generally, the cost goes up the more interaction the site requires and the more media rich the website is (images, video, audio).

3. Remediation

Remediating, although not technically difficult, can be labor intensive and therefore very expensive. The work typically includes writing descriptive headings and anchor text links and breaking down images of texts into actual text. Alt tags, closed captioning, and text transcripts can be time consuming if there are many images and multimedia. Design adjustments will be needed to color, font sizes, and contrasts.

Because these tasks are time consuming, most companies handle the remediation work in house to the extent possible.

4. Certification and accessibility policy page

Finally, once the audit and remediation has been completed, consider creating an accessibility policy page that (a) states your commitment to accessibility, and (b) lists all the remedial efforts already expended and ongoing; and (c) provides a certification of compliance from the company that does the audit and remediation.

The goal here is to fend off similar future claims. An ongoing audit process should also be put into place to make sure future revisions to the website 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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