True Story – A visually impaired man tried to order pizza at least twice from Domino’s using the company’s website and mobile app but, despite having the help of his screen reader, he couldn’t do it.
What happened next may have set the precedent for how all food & beverage websites and apps need to be designed and built in the modern age.
Domino’s digital properties were not accessible to people with visual impairment. Since 2016, they have been locked in a legal battle over whether their site violated the American Disability Act (ADA), excluding someone with a disability from patronizing their business. Last year, the Supreme Court denied Domino’s appeal to review the case, handing the visually-impaired man a huge victory.
Food & beverage brands, especially those who offer e-commerce and food ordering services, must be equipped and ready to meet new standards. And Coronavirus lockdowns have only accelerated this need.
Here is everything you should know about making your site ADA compliant to better serve and avoid alienating an important segment of your customers and falling into potential legal recourse.
What is ADA Compliance?
To understand website ADA compliance, we need to step back and understand the American Disabilities Act (ADA) first.
ADA is a civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life,” according to the ADA National Network. The law broadly aims to ensure that Americans with disabilities are given the same rights as those without.
Years later, the Department of Justice released the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which detailed that all electronic and information technology needed to be accessible to those with disabilities. The DOJ’s further clarified their position in a statement over a lawsuit involving Netflix:
“The Department is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory process is not yet complete in no way indicates that web services are not already covered by title III.”
Here’s where things get tricky. Those “regulations” mentioned above? They don’t exist yet. More on this in a bit, but let’s first answer another important question around website ADA compliance.
Do food & beverage brands need to comply with ADA regulations?
Short answer: YES, and especially so for food & beverage brands with websites that offer takeout, online ordering & reservations, menu browsing, and DTC e-commerce.
More and more, digital properties are being considered in the same light as physical storefronts. The law, though still open to some interpretation, is becoming more clearly defined through recent legal cases.
Like the DOJ says in their statement in the NAD v. Netflix case, “web services” are covered under title III of the ADA. That means, if your brand falls under one of the following categories, your website could be liable to lawsuits if it does not meet certain accessibility standards:
– Private employers with 15 or more employees
– Businesses operating for the benefit of the public
– All state and local government agencies
Source: Interactive Accessibility
In other words, almost any kind of organization under the sun needs to comply, including yours. But ADA website compliance is not as black-and-white as it might sound, especially given the lack of formal guidelines mentioned above.
Instead, web designers and developers turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by non-governmental organization W3C, as the de facto protocol for achieving ADA compliance. These rules were written to develop standards for the international web community, and are undoubtedly the most widely accepted guidelines we have today.
What do food & beverage brands need to know about WCAG?
Achieving ADA compliance on your website isn’t as easy as checking a box (we wish it were). It starts in the planning phase of your website redesign, and requires an understanding of the different grades of accessibility as outlined by WCAG. The level of accessibility your site needs to reach will affect how it’s written, designed, and developed.
According to WCAG, accessible websites are those that are perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. These are the four categories used to organize these guidelines.
The three grades of WCAG from least to most accessible are A, AA, and AAA. Not to scare you, but they get complex — and quickly. You can find the full, direct-from-source guidelines here. And below, is a brief summary of what it means to reach each of the 3 grades. However, you will likely need to work with an experienced developer to ensure your site meets the following requirements correctly.
Level A compliance
Sites that achieve Level A compliance include things like alternative text for images, video captions, and a clear information hierarchy so that visitors using screen readers are able to understand the content on your site. We use Level A as the baseline for all sites that we build at Aid&Abet as a best practice, then build from there.
Level AA compliance
The next level of accessibility builds on Level A, paying closer attention to things like color contrast, text size, intuitive button styles and more to ensure the site is usable for more people with disabilities.
Level AAA compliance
The final level of ADA compliance as outlined in WCAG is the most accessible, but also the most restrictive in terms of design and functionality. For that reason, it is relatively uncommon and most often adhered to by branches of municipal, state, and federal governments.
Why is it important for websites to be accessible?
So far, we’ve only considered the legal ramifications of poor accessibility. And sure, that’s important, but there are arguably even more compelling reasons to build an ADA compliant website.
It expands your available audience
As many as 1 in 4 Americans have a disability that impacts major life activities. Choosing to build a site that is not ADA compliant means potentially excluding an enormous audience from ordering your food, making reservations, buying your product, and generally engaging with your brand.
It may improve your site’s SEO
Google has not indicated that accessible websites will be favored in their search results. However, many of the tactics involved in making a site ADA compliant (e.g. alt text, defined tags, descriptive links) do have an impact on your search visibility. Win-win.
It’s the right thing to do
Put business aside. Improvements in web technology have made it such that, if you put in that little extra effort to make their site accessible, so many more people can be included in experiences that others without a disability take for granted.
In web development—as in web strategy, design, and writing—we need to always remember what we’re doing it for. If not for the people using the sites we build, we’d have no reason to build them.
“Web accessibility” can easily be cast off as the buzzword of the day, but its impact shouldn’t be understated. Accessibility ultimately means more people can enjoy your site and engage with your brand.
So, are you making it easier or harder to expand your brand throughout the world? That’s why you need to be thinking about ADA Compliance for your website.
This post is not written by an attorney nor is it intended to provide legal advice. Should you need legal counsel, please contact your attorney.