Two developers building an accessible website
Reshape Digital #19: Web Accessibility and Pizza
This week, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold a prior verdict against Domino's Pizza, where a man with visual impairment was unable to order a pizza using their website and mobile app. The outcome is a victory for web accessibility advocates. But why deny the people pizza in the first place? Accessible web experiences are a multi-billion dollar business opportunity. In today's episode, we unpack why organizations fight web accessibility regulations and what it means for their brands.

Believe it or not, there are people out there who believe that web accessibility has no tangible impact on brand.

Listen now on your favourite platform or read the highlights below.

Per CNBC’s Tucker Higgins: “Attorneys for Domino’s, backed by a range of business groups, had argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to online platforms that were not envisioned when the law was passed in 1990. And, they said, no clear rules exist for how to make their platforms properly accessible.”

While it reflects poorly on the Domino’s brand to fight an accessibility lawsuit, their attorneys make a valid point here. There are no concrete web accessibility guidelines associated with the ADA. A comparable piece of legislation in Ontario, Canada is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or AODA. The difference is that AODA applies the WCAG 2.0 standards, compelling businesses to comply with level AA by January 1, 2021. 

The AODA’s level of concrete specifications assists businesses in complying with regulations. A lack of specific parameters around web accessibility is certainly a hindrance to compliance, but Domino’s is missing the point here. Nearly 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability, meaning that the pizza chain loses the opportunity to sell pizza to nearly 70 million people in the United States alone.

Preparing for Ontario's Upcoming Web Accessibility Requirements (AODA Webinar)
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The fact that Domino’s is fighting the lawsuit begs an important question: is it cheaper to fight the lawsuit than it is to build accessible digital platforms? There are many aspects of accessibility that are overlooked, which can increase the scope and cost of accessible web projects. For example, many people believe that screen readers don’t use JavaScript, meaning that you don’t need accessible JavaScript for users with visual impairments. The reality, per the A11Y Project, is that 97.6% of screen readers use the framework.

The truth is that as online platforms become more complex, it becomes increasingly challenging to be accessible. These challenges are significant for both large and small businesses. Not only is it intimidating to tackle accessibility projects, but it can also feel as though the goalpost is moving. Currently, in Ontario, organizations only need A level compliance per WCAG 2.0 Many businesses are not ready for the 2021 update that will receive AA compliance.

A UsableNet report revealed that over 2200 ADA-related web accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2018. Industries with the most frequent reports included retail, food service, travel/hospitality, and banking. The reason for this is obvious: these services are borderline, or completely essential. When a person with hearing impairment visits a website and the video does not have a transcript or closed captioning, they will likely click away from the site as it is non-essential. However, if a user with visual impairment can’t pay a bill online, they are more likely to pursue legal action.

Legislation like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will enforce stricter regulations that come with the risk of litigation. Many organizations, large and small will find themselves facing that risk in 2021 because of their choice of technology. Out-of-the-box website builders like Squarespace have made it clear that their platform is not WCAG 2.0 AA-compliant by default. Not only is Squarespace going to lose many customers, but businesses of all sizes will have to invest in new, compliant solutions.

The A11Y Project makes it clear that web accessibility extends beyond users with visual impairment. Other types of web accessibility challenges include motor, hearing and cognitive impairments. We suggest you try going to your favourite website and attempt to navigate using only the tab and arrow keys. This will put into perspective the challenges faced by millions of people daily as they navigate the world wide web. Importantly, accessible design also makes digital properties easier to use for everybody. For example, some people prefer reading transcripts instead of watching videos.

At its core, web accessibility presents more than just a business risk as it pertains to brand perception and litigation. It represents a massive opportunity for capturing an underserved market and improving user experience for everyone. Applying universally accessible design concepts across digital properties ensures that everyone who interacts with your brand has a positive experience. Domino’s made the mistake of preventing an individual from getting a pizza. As a pizza company, why would they want to make it so hard for people to get pizza?

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Chris is OPIN's resident marketing scientist. Obsessed with testing and tweaking, he is constantly uncovering new patterns. His obsession with testing helps the agency gain insights for internal marketing campaigns and client projects. His unconventional methods help our readers look at business and marketing concepts in new ways.