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Dan Prince | CEO | Vanessa Tillemans | Client Results Executive | illumisoft

A Lesson in Accessibility: Can Everyone Pay for Your Products and Services?

How does a pizza end up in a five-year lawsuit that ultimately gets rejected by the Supreme Court? One word: accessibility. It was a case that resulted in a huge loss for a business and a large gain for disability advocates. A blind man wanted to order a pizza from Domino’s but was unable to – neither on their website nor on their mobile app – despite using screen reader software. This gentleman then tried to order by phone, only to be placed on hold for 45 minutes.

A basic business principle was clearly missing here. If someone wants to pay for products or services, it is the responsibility of the business to make that possible (and, I will argue, incredibly easy). If they must jump through obstacles to pay you, you’ll either lose a customer or, as in Domino’s case, see your customer in court.

On the surface, it would appear that the problem was not technology. By all accounts, Domino’s website and mobile app are robust, dynamic, and have effectively resulted in significant growth for the company. Domino’s acknowledges that over half of global sales (over $16 billion in 2020) came from digital channels1. Their digital channels, however, failed to account for a prominent segment of the market: the disabled population.

From an economic standpoint, the global disability market boasts a spending power of over $13 trillion in annual disposable income, making their combined market bigger than China2. That hardly sounds like a market to ignore. Yet Domino’s stands accused of having violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. They disagreed and appealed in a litigation saga that lasted for five years. When the Supreme Court refused to hear their case, they appealed to the lower court that ruled against them.

Ultimately, they lost. But they aren’t the only ones. This is an economic crisis that shows no signs of slowing down. Businesses in every industry have faced these lawsuits, with over 22,000 web accessibility lawsuits filed in 2020 and 2019 alone3. When businesses spend thousands (or millions) of dollars on legal fees, only to be handed a judgment against them, it doesn’t just hurt the business. Economies are largely dictated by the success of the businesses that serve them. We count on them to employ us and provide us with goods and services that we need or want. Our livelihood depends on businesses doing well.

As a business owner, consider the following three practical ways to make your website or mobile app accessible:

Don’t assume that the engineers you hire know how to code for accessibility

The opposite is more likely to be true. Because this topic is not yet considered to be a mainstream requirement for front-end engineers, it is not addressed in most schools or programs. Therefore, a developer would have to continue their education on their own accord and pursue accessibility training.

Know the rights of your users

Going into business means having to be compliant with applicable laws. That includes the laws that apply to your disabled users. The Americans with Disabilities Act is only one of them. There are other federal and state laws that may apply, and as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Follow WCAG standards

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are considered an international standard for websites and mobile apps. Lawsuits filed against businesses mention specific violations of WCAG standards, in addition to the laws that are being violated. Since Domino’s was ordered by the court to conform to WCAG 2.0, you’d be safe to assume that also conforming is to your – and your users’ – benefit. Now for the question of the day. Can everyone pay for your products and services? This includes those that cannot see, hear, or move. If you are unsure or fear that the answer may be no, commit to changing that to a yes very soon. For the sake of your users. And your business.

– by Dan Prince, illumisoft CEO, and Vanessa Tillemans, illumisoft Client Results Executive