Most franchises are aware that they need to make special accommodations for people with disabilities in their places of business.
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, it’s become commonplace for businesses to make adjustments like installing wheelchair ramps and allowing service animals on their premises.
The goal of the ADA is to remove barriers that would prevent a disabled person from accessing or enjoying facilities, services, and benefits to the same degree as a non-disabled person.
But many franchises don’t realize that their websites should also be aligned with the ADA.
That means a disabled person should be able to access the same information, perform the same tasks, and enjoy the same ease of use on a website as someone with no disability.
So what happens if your website isn’t aligned with ADA guidelines?
Your franchise could be sued
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more website accessibility lawsuits were filed in the first half of 2018 (1,053 cases) than all of 2017 (814), and the new total is 20 times higher than the 57 cases filed in 2015.
The NRF also reported that businesses located in 38 states have experienced website-related lawsuits or threats of lawsuits, and they’ve paid anywhere from $10,000 to over $90,000 to get the claims resolved.
In a first-of-its-kind trial regarding website accessibility under the ADA, Winn-Dixie Supermarkets (a chain based in Jacksonville, Florida) was found to be in violation of the ADA for having a website that was inaccessible to visually impaired visitors who needed screen reader software.
The court stated that Winn-Dixie denied the defendant “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers to its sighted customers,” and it was ordered to update its website.
You may not think the ADA applies to your franchise website.
But consider this…
Even if your franchise is not legally found at fault in a lawsuit, you could still get stuck with massive legal fees, bad PR that makes the public lose confidence in your brand, and worst of all, delivery of a poor customer experience.
So what should you do to protect your brand and your franchisees?
Make your franchise website more accessible to the disabled
It may seem like a major investment of your time and money. BUT it’s worth it in the long run when you’re able to avoid expensive lawsuits and show customers that your brand provides an excellent experience to everyone, every time.
We’ll explain how you can improve accessibility on your website—but first, let’s take a deeper look at how the ADA is being applied to the virtual world today…
Understanding where current accessibility guidelines stand
The ADA has been around for decades, so it’s nothing new.
But what has changed in recent years is that more courts have been interpreting the law to consider websites “places of public accommodation.”
And this poses a problem for franchises because the federal government has yet to provide clear guidelines on how businesses should update their websites to follow ADA guidelines.
The Department of Justice stated in 2015 that it would roll out a set of standards, but those standards are still being established.
Since that time, courts have largely been deferring to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, but judgments have been inconsistent across the board.
While the details get sorted out, your franchise should be proactive and ensure your websites are as user-friendly as possible for disabled customers so your brand can avoid future complications.
It’s better to act now and adhere to high standards of accessibility than to get stuck with legal problems down the road.
How you can give disabled consumers a better experience
Here are some best practices that could help improve accessibility on your website.
First, think of the acronym P.O.U.R. Make your website:
- Make sure your website content is easily recognizable, visible, and understandable for all users. One way to do this is by always having text alternatives for non-text content.
- Make your website keyboard-accessible—meaning your visitors don’t have to use a mouse to navigate your site.
- Your content should be written in easy-to-understand language, and it should clearly explain technical terms. This makes it more accessible for people with cognitive disabilities.
- Your website should be coded and built in a way that is compatible with assistive technologies like voice recognition programs and screen enlargement applications.
And here are a few other strategies to consider:
- Clear layout and design
- Large links, buttons, and controls
- Text resizing options
- Alt text that tells the visitor what is shown in an image
- Video captions
- Text-to-speech technology
- Voice recognition technology
- Strong color contrast
These are just some of the strategies that may make it easier for people with disabilities to access your website.
To learn more about how to create a high-quality franchise website that delivers the best experience for all your site visitors, talk to one of our franchise web design and marketing experts!