In January, we took a look at where digital accessibility was headed in 2021. Now that we’re halfway through the year, we’re back to examine what has happened so far and how things might change moving forward.
The Increasing Importance of Digital Accessibility
Earlier this year, we predicted that digital accessibility would only continue to be more vital. Digital accessibility was extremely important in 2019 and prior years, but the pandemic has inarguably increased the need for it. With even more people transferring more parts of their lives online, the need for websites to be accessible to all has only increased. During the pandemic, people have transitioned from doing many activities they previously performed in-person to an online space. With groceries, fitness, education, and work all moving online, the need for the web to be accessible is greater than ever before.
While part of this is a temporary spike brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these changes are here to stay, in part or in full. Over 80% of company leaders say they plan to let employees continue working remotely at least part of the time post-pandemic, and long-term, Upwork forecasts that 22% of jobs will be fully remote by 2025, more than doubling pre-pandemic numbers.
Now that more people are working, shopping, and generally living their lives online, the need for accessibility is even more pressing and urgent. Companies must ensure that not only are they making their websites accessible for customers, but they are internally using software and websites that are accessible to their own workers. This is likely to bring about a wave of movement toward accessibility – and if companies don’t get on the ball, they are likely to face legal liabilities and customer complaints.
Digital Accessibility News
Digital accessibility is a rapidly changing, growing, and evolving field. The technology and the legal framework are both making near-constant strides forward. While this is great news for accessibility in general, it can make technology options and legal compliance needs hard to follow for business owners. To help you stay up to date, we’ve put together the following list of events, news, and changes to the accessibility landscape in 2021.
Digital Accessibility News in the Legal Sphere
With the rising need for accessibility, we have seen a corresponding increase in the number of legal cases involving accommodations on the web. The Wall Street Journal explains that digital accessibility lawsuits rose 64% in the first half of 2021 compared to the previous year. Increasingly, such lawsuits are aimed at businesses with revenue of less than $50 million – while this cap is hardly indicative of truly small businesses, it indicates that people are no longer only chasing cash cow megacorporations.
In addition to this increase in lawsuits, we are seeing efforts to solidify standards for accessibility in terms of legislation. Some lawmakers are fighting for more stringent standards, while others would like to see existing regulations relaxed. One legal feature that has faced consideration on the federal stage several times in the past few years is the “notice and cure” practice. While it’s existed in different forms in different pieces of legislation, the general idea is that people with disabilities who are having trouble using a site or app must notify the business owner and give them the opportunity to repair the issue before reporting it to the DOJ. This measure seems popular among legislators, having been introduced twice in the Online Accessibility Act, but it has been defeated both times. It’s widely opposed by disability activists and advocates.
Moving forward, it’s hard to say exactly what legal standards will be enacted to ensure accessibility, but it seems likely that digital accessibility requirements will become more clearly codified. Currently, while the WCAG 2.0 is the standard that the DOJ has mandated for businesses that have lost accessibility suits, these standards haven’t been formalized by legislation. Since new standards are coming out all the time, we might expect to see legislation that ties accessibility requirements to the current version of WCAG.
Digital Accessibility News in the Technology Sphere
Despite the increasing push for accessibility, most websites are still inaccessible – in fact, 98% have detectable WCAG 2 errors. In 2021, many businesses are beginning to realize that automated plugins and overlays just aren’t enough. Even top-of-the-line automated tools can only detect about 25% of accessibility issues. Unfortunately, software alone just isn’t enough to achieve digital inclusion or protect businesses from lawsuits. In 2020 alone, over 100 companies were still served with lawsuits even though they had accessibility widgets or overlays. Hopefully, we will see these tech tools become better in the near future, but for now, much of accessibility must remain a manual process.
Have you been surprised by the changes digital accessibility has undergone so far? We’ll be back with more digital accessibility news at the end of the year!