According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12 percent of Americans live with a disability.
If you’re part of the other 88 percent, you may take for granted the ease at which you can search the web for information and navigate through websites.
As a law firm, your website should function as a vehicle to attract new business for your firm. It should tell your firm’s story, highlight your experience and how you can help clients overcome complex legal issues. It should be designed with your target client in mind.
Unfortunately, most are designed without 12 percent of the U.S. population in mind.
Every web design decision you make – from the colors you use, your navigation and how you load and structure your content – may affect the ease at which people using assistive technologies can understand your website.
If web content accessibility isn’t on your list of website projects for 2018, you may want to consider adding it. This blog series will outline what website accessibility is, how to get started with accessibility and tips that Postali’s team of web developers learn as we continue our journey with building accessible law firm websites.
Web content accessibility refers to tactics you can employ in your website design to make it easier for people with a disability to use. In order to provide clear direction for web developers on how to ensure their sites are accessible to those with disabilities, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has set forth a set of standards, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).
There are different levels of compliance for WCAG 2.0, ranging from A (the minimum) to AAA (the maximum.) The guidelines aim to improve a site’s accessibility in the following 4 areas:
It’s difficult to argue against the ethical reasons why you should take the time and effort to ensure your website is accessible to people with a disability.
For law firms, there are also very compelling business reasons. The Internet is a crucial step in our decision process, and the decision to hire an attorney is often prefaced with online research. Your website should be a vital element to your business operations, so why not make sure that everyone can use it to learn about your law practice?
Early adoption of accessibility standards can give law firms a significant advantage over the competition, especially for firms that focus on personal injury or elder law.
Making updates to comply with the accessibility guidelines requires web design expertise, and the process can be very time-consuming. Many law firms outsource their web design efforts but may have very little control over updating it. They may also build their website in-house but lack the time and proficiency required to make the updates.
If you can make your website accessible, you’ll likely be one of the first law firms in your area to do so. Not only does that mean you’re ahead of the curve on one of the most important new web design initiatives, but you’ll be able to expand your reach. If you’re the only accessible website, you will likely win the business of any web user who has a hearing, vision or cognitive disability because of the ease at which they can use your website even if they’re using as assistive technology like a screen reader.
If the ethical reasons alone aren’t convincing enough, it may someday be required to comply with the requirements. Many countries are requiring government websites to comply with WCAG 2.0. With continued support for the initiative, other industries may follow suit.
The Americans with Disability Act has set guidelines for “public accommodations” like hotels and restaurants, outlining the steps they need to take to accommodate those with disabilities. The ADA does not explicitly state that it applies to websites, but courts dealing with these issues have been split in recent cases. Recently, credit unions have been hit with several lawsuits over the accessibility of their websites. This is one of the first industries to face lawsuits over accessibility, but it likely won’t be the last.
In January 2017, the federal government adopted WCAG 2.0 for federal agency sites. With the growing dependence on technology and the increasing number of lawsuits surrounding accessibility, it’s hard to imagine that the ADA will not update their guidelines to address websites.
Even if it’s not required, it will likely be strongly encouraged. Google has invested time and resources into creating robust guidelines and help forums for web developers. When Google gets behind a web design trend that is aimed to make the web more user-friendly, it often leads to the search engine eventually giving a ranking boost to websites that comply.
In order to rank well in Google, you have to create a website that is user-friendly. We think a ranking boost for web content accessibility could likely happen within the next few years.
Another added benefit to accessibility is that it may boost your SEO efforts today, even without an explicit or direct ranking boost. Web content accessibility is all about making your content easy for a screen reader to understand. A search engine crawler functions in a similar fashion – by reading your webpage’s code and using the information to understand its content.
Many site improvements that benefit users with vision and hearing impairments also help search engine crawlers that are accessing your site. For example, website code like video transcription, image captioning and adding alt tags to images are also beneficial for SEO. While this should not be your primary reason for pursuing accessibility efforts, it certainly is a nice added benefit.
At Postali, we knew we needed to address accessibility with our law firm websites. As part of our blog series, we’ll take you through our journey with web content accessibility, share what we learn and offer tips for getting started. Stay tuned for the second post in this series, where we’ll recap a WCAG 2.0 initiative for a personal injury law firm.