The Web is (Still) Almost Entirely Inaccessible to People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face limitations and obstacles online that mirror those in the “real” world prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since 1990 the ADA has guaranteed – among many things – that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, facilities and transit vehicles, reasonable workplace accommodations, and access to sign language interpreters and “other auxiliary aids” in hospitals and clinical settings. 

Today, online experiences for users with certain visual or physical impairments range from infuriating and disorganized to entirely off limits and exclusionary. Most websites, for example, aren’t built or organized to interface well with screen readers, magnification devices, and other tools that assist readers with visual impairments.

In a step forward, more than 170 disability organizations called for the Department of Justice to finalize rules for online accessibility, a process that started in 2012 before being withdrawn in 2012: 

In today’s letter, addressed to assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke, the signees urged “the Department of Justice to maintain this rulemaking process as a priority and finalize a rule by the end of the current administration.” It states that while the DoJ has held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes websites and other technologies critical to accessing a business’ services, it has “failed to define when and how they should be accessible.”

Efforts to come up with these rules have ebbed and flowed. The letter noted that “In 2018, the Department reconfirmed its position that the ADA applies to the internet but never completed rulemakings that were begun in 2010 under Titles II and III of the ADA and withdrawn in 2017.”

The result is an online world where people with disabilities struggle to get their needs met. According to WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)about 97 percent of the 1 million pages evaluated had WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failures. These issues ranged from using low contrast text and missing form input labels to empty buttons and missing alt text for images.

Compliance with Section 508 is already a very, very big deal to developers and content strategists in the public sector. I’d like to see the same rules apply much, much more widely.

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