Earlier this year, the meal-kit delivery service HelloFresh was sued for failing to design its website so that it would be fully accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals. While the case is still pending, it provides a valuable opportunity to learn about what web accessibility is and why it matters.
HelloFresh allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not making adequate enough provisions for users with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments.
The defendant, Lamar Brown, launched a claim stating that he was denied equal access to the goods and services that the website provides since the content was not compatible with screen reading software (the assistive technology that blind and visually impaired users generally rely on to navigate the web).
Brown claimed that HelloFresh created an “exclusively visual interface,” which disregarded the needs of users with visual disabilities, and as a result, they were unable to fully use or navigate the website.
“The access barriers make it impossible for blind and visually impaired users to even complete a transaction on the website,” stated the documentation in the HelloFresh class action lawsuit.
Currently, Brown is demanding a jury trial and is requesting compensation for damages, attorneys’ fees, and declaratory relief that would require HelloFresh to take the necessary steps to make their website more accessible.
The HelloFresh case serves as a reminder that all businesses need to take web accessibility seriously. But what exactly is web accessibility?
Web accessibility refers to the process of making websites usable for all users, regardless of disabilities. This includes people who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, have motor impairments, cognitive impairments, or other conditions that affect their ability to use a computer or browse the internet.
There are a variety of ways to make a website accessible, but some common features include alt text (which describes images for people who can’t see them), closed captioning (for videos), and keyboard navigation (so that users can navigate the site without a mouse).
Websites must also ensure that their content can be accessed and understood by assistive technologies, such as screen readers, which is where HelloFresh fell short.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which provides a set of international standards for web accessibility. These guidelines are used by organizations around the world to assess the accessibility of their websites.
There are three levels of conformance with the WCAG guidelines: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the most basic level of conformance, while AAA is the most stringent.
While there is no legal requirement to conform to the WCAG guidelines, they are generally accepted as the best practice for web accessibility, and many lawsuits (including the HelloFresh case) have used them to assess whether a website is accessible or not.
In most cases, plaintiff law firms cite the WCAG to demonstrate how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been violated. Title III of the ADA states that businesses must provide “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations” to people with disabilities, and precedent supports the notion that websites are covered under this law.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some quick tips you can follow to help mitigate the chances of an ADA lawsuit being filed against your business.
If you’re not regularly conducting accessibility checks on your website, you’re putting yourself at risk. After all, it’s hard to fix what you don’t know is broken.
Fortunately, there are a number of free tools that can be used to check the accessibility of your website, such as accessScan, which runs an instant site-wide audit of your site, scanning it for errors.
Upon completion of the scan, you will be provided with a full report outlining how your website stood up against the requirements outlined in the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. From there, you can start to put measures in place to fix any accessibility issues that were found.
If you’re not familiar with the term, alt text is the written description of an image that is used by screen readers to describe the image to someone who is blind or visually impaired.
Alt text is an important part of web accessibility, yet it is often overlooked. This is likely because it can be time-consuming to write thoughtful and descriptive alt text for every image on a website.
However, there are some quick tips you can follow to make the process a little easier. First, try to keep your alt text short and to the point. Second, be sure to describe the image in its entirety, including any important details that may not be immediately obvious. Finally, avoid using generic terms such as “image” or “photo.”
As made evident by the HelloFresh lawsuit, one of the key components of web accessibility is ensuring that your site is compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, keyboard navigation, and voice recognition software.
There are a number of ways you can test the compatibility of your site with these technologies. First of all, web accessibility checkers do a great job at simulating how assistive tech would interact with your site. As we mentioned before, accessScan provides a full report on this after completing its scan of your site.
In addition, you can also install a screen reader on your personal computer and navigate through your website with it to get a sense of how someone who is blind or visually impaired would experience your site.
It’s estimated that there are over 6.5 billion smartphone subscriptions in the world today. With such a large percentage of people using mobile devices to access the internet, it’s important to ensure that your site is accessible via these devices.
The good news is that most modern website builders, such as WordPress and Squarespace, offer responsive templates that automatically adjust to different screen sizes. However, it’s always a good idea to double-check that your site looks and functions as it should on mobile devices.
One quick way to do this is to use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Simply enter your website’s URL into the tool, and Google will provide you with a report on how well your site fares in terms of mobile accessibility.
There’s no surefire way to prevent an ADA lawsuit from being filed against your business. However, by following the tips outlined in this article, you can help to mitigate the chances of such a lawsuit being successful.
On top of this, it’s important to remember that web accessibility is important not just from a legal standpoint but from a moral one as well. By making your site accessible to everyone, you can help to create an inclusive online environment for all.