Meeting Your Customers Where They Live

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  • 2/5/2018

    In June 2017, in what is believed to be the first lawsuit of its kind to go to trial, a Florida federal judge ruled in favor of a visually impaired man who filed nearly 70 lawsuits alleging that various companies’ websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    In one case, Judge Robert Scola, of the Southern District of Florida, decided that due to the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie’s website being so heavily integrated with its physical stores and operations that it was subject to the ADA.

    “The factual findings demonstrate that Winn-Dixie’s website is inaccessible to visually impaired individuals who must use screen reader software,” Scola wrote.

    The court decision required Winn-Dixie to invest $250,000 to update its website to make it compliant, not including court or attorney fees.

    This court case and others like it guarantee this trend is not going away. While it may seem unrelated to marketing at first, taking a step back and tallying all the digital touch points customers have with brands daily can put in perspective the gravity of this issue. Just last year the goal for many marketers was to create mobile-first digital content, now the challenge will be to create accessible websites, and quickly.

    Where to Start?

    To have this issue qualify as a trend, let’s think about how wide these challenges spread. The visually impaired are not the only segment of the population who have accessibility needs. There are various other disabilities that require accessibility as well. It was once easy to think that this was solely government agency focused, but as the Winn-Dixie case illustrates, the private sector and its customers rely upon business applications and SaaS solutions in their daily lives to use these digital tools. 

    So, as an organization, what should be provided in terms of digital accessibility features versus what must be provided? Typically, for the U.S., laws are often times influenced by the United States Access Board.

    In the coming year, compliance with the section 508-based standards will be required by federal agencies. The new Section 508 rule is a response to market trends and innovations, such as the convergence of technologies and harmonizes with worldwide standards such as the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

    Who Else can you Look to for Guidance and Direction on Accessibility Efforts?

    Google has been known to spearhead worldwide initiatives related to the web, and accessibility is one such effort. You can find a plethora of information from guidelines, product details and best practices to how they are funding disability research and programs to help shape your own.

    In terms of owning or leading the charge towards accessibility within your own organization, we have put together three steps to assist in the process.

    Audit Your Digital Touch Points

    There are a lot of accessibility scanning services where you supply a URL and a computer generates a detailed report of gaps. While these reports are great starting points, they miss out on the human navigation element of a user trying to navigate a website with an assistive technology like a screen reader or magnifier.

    Take Action and Remediate Issues

    Once a to-do list of compliance issues is established, it may require more than simple edits to image tags or hyperlinks via a content management system (CMS). It may require navigation recalibrations, adjustments of creative elements like graphics, text and backgrounds along with semantic changes to templates and pages.

    Creative, user experience (UX), front-end development and application development teams are often times required to address issues in 508, ADA and WCAG deficiencies. These teams ultimately provide that single source for remediation that leads to less confusion, faster turnaround, effectiveness and cost control. But before you do anything, get your leaders together to understand the scenarios going forward related to accessibility and how to mitigate issues.

    Integrate into the Culture

    Online experiences rarely sit still. Organizations are constantly editing, publishing, iterating designs, and giving a lot of control to marketing, sales and customer service teams to deliver content and information digitally. With all of that in mind, companies need to routinely audit the state of their accessibility. Working from the proactive position instead of a reactive one will always produce better outcomes.

    These audits can be done at a cadence that is decided upon by your leadership and/or general counsel. It can be done monthly, quarterly or biannually and it doesn’t need to be costly. The more teams work at this, the more the muscle memory develops and the more accessibility becomes a cultural element of your organization that takes care of itself over time. For example, content publishers will understand how to modify not just images and tags, but also how to generate PDF documents to be read by assistive technology and even how to caption videos accurately.

    Not Just Websites

    Websites are typically top of mind when discussing accessibility and that is certainly a high priority, but if you look at the state of the consumer recently, you will understand that websites are only an element of the successful digital business today. 

    While accessibility seems like a chore instead of a trend, it can be a marketing strength, cultural value and commercial advantage for your organization. Or it can be a missed opportunity, a potential risk and ultimately a major detour off your desired course.

    With education, awareness and planned effort to address it in 2018, organizations can take the opportunity to meet all users online, provide a better brand experience for everyone and mitigate any reasons to call your attorneys.

    Meeting Your Customers Where They Live is an article featured in our 2018 Trends publication. Download your free copy here

    Additionally, if you are interested in learning more, listen to our corresponding thunder::cast episode.

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