Beyonce's Official Website Got Sued -- and Yours Could Be Next
Five ways to make sure you have built a website that's compliant with ADA standards.
Beyonce is known for many things. She's the former lead singer of Destiny's Child, a multi-platinum recording artist, a music industry powerhouse and one of the most inspiring and successful black businesswomen in history.
But you wouldn't know any of this if you were a disabled person trying to access her website.
So goes the rationale for a recent class-action lawsuit filed against Parkwood Entertainment, the company responsible for Beyonce.com, per a Pitchfork news report. The well-known recording artist is only the latest to come under fire in a string of lawsuits against high-profile websites. These lawsuits are all in regard to one thing: accessibility.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was one of the landmark pieces of legislation for disabled people, guaranteeing them broad rights of access and shaping building codes across the United States. It also applies to the Internet, but few people have paid much attention.
Now that website compliance with ADA standards is becoming a bigger issue, companies are sitting up and taking notice. If you're not sure whether your website is accessible, it probably isn't. Here are a few common areas you can check to confirm.
1. Your tags and alt text for images aren't descriptive.
One of the founders of include.ai, Kevin Yang, has a blind father. Yet his dad can still access most of the Internet because of screen reader technology, which allows him to navigate via audio instead of sight.
But one day, Peichun Yang called his son over for help. He'd navigated to a corner of a website and couldn't find his way out, because the page consisted solely of five images. Each image had only "graphic" as the descriptor text, leaving him nothing he could use for navigation.
"This is an extreme example where missing alt text rendered a website useless for my dad, but in reality, a non-trivial number of websites fail to write effective alt text for images. And, without alt text, the browsing experience of websites is worse if not impossible for the blind and visually impaired community," says Kevin Yang on a company blog post about accessibility.
The younger Yang decided to conduct his own study. Surprisingly there was a great deal of variation on how sites handled their alt text. Ecommerce sites tended to be the best, as those tags have SEO value as well as helping the disabled. But pretty much every website he looked at needed some work.
When you build a website, make sure you have sensible tags for all your essential images and graphical elements, or that they're untagged if they're just decorative elements.
2. You don't have captions or transcripts for your videos.
Video is one of the hardest things to make accessible.
Subtitles seem like they'd be enough for deaf or hearing-impaired users, but they really aren't. They're designed for hearing people who can't understand what's being said, so they don't include important audio clues that might be a part of the story. The tolling of a bell, the ringing of a telephone or the sound of something being dropped won't come across. Video is a problem for the blind as well. They can't watch it, but hearing the dialogue and sounds aren't enough because they miss visual cues. Captions and transcripts are necessary to help your disabled users get the most out of video content.
"ADA compliance is much of our business, but we've found it has a number of benefits for SEO, too," said Glen Ingram, president of Web Search Pros, in a recent email exchange. "When we use good alt tags and descriptions for images on websites, we've actually noticed an uptick in SEO. If a video is topical and well-made, unbeknownst to many, having a quality transcription on the page makes it rank a better. Anytime you can kill two birds with one stone, you go for it."
3. Your forms aren't set up for autocomplete and voice navigation.
People with disabilities involving motor control are the chief beneficiaries of autocomplete. When they're trying to fill out forms, it can be a huge hassle if they have to type every letter themselves. Whether they're dealing with cerebral palsy or just hand tremors from aging, you owe it to them to make sure your site's forms work correctly with autocomplete.
The UK government had an accessibility test on their blog, and they had trouble with voice navigation software. It was supposed to allow autocomplete to work with the form, but instead, it was typing the voice commands out or not recognizing them at all. It's worth testing with some of the main voice control software to see if your site will work correctly.
4. The page structure is disorganized when you build your website.
You'd be surprised how big of an issue website design is for alternate methods of navigation. Whether that be voice control software, a screen reader, or some other way of getting around the page, many websites aren't laid out logically and clearly.
Recently, my business partner and one of my co-founders of Webmetrix Design, Daniel Masters, spoke with me about this widespread issue in an email. According to him, there are a number of simple steps that can be taken while a site is being designed to make navigation easier and more convenient for everyone. Those steps include using headings, creating class tags, hiding content, using native HTML elements, and building with landmarks and fieldsets.
Clear, structured design makes your site a better experience for any visitor, not just people with disabilities. But for the person with a disability, it might make it navigable in the first place.
5. Your GIFs and videos play automatically.
For the average person, auto-play is a nuisance. Most people aren't fans of a video that starts blaring at the top of the page when they just want to read a news article. But for people with epilepsy, it might be a life-and-death problem.
Any moving picture on your page has to be opt-in, not automatic. Many people who deal with epilepsy have all multi-media turned off in their browsing, but occasionally things can get through.
Journalist Kurt Eichenwald made the news himself when someone sent him a GIF that triggered a life-threatening seizure. In the New York Times article on the incident, it said that "Mr. Eichenwald was incapacitated for several days, lost feeling in his left hand and had trouble speaking for several weeks, according to his lawyer."
If your website automatically plays videos or GIFs, you're leaving yourself open to a potentially damaging lawsuit.
No matter what line of business you're in, accessibility matters for your website. Make sure you're in line with the ADA standards. Check your site for these common problem areas and protect yourself from the consequences.
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