Website Accessibility 101: What It Is and Why You Need It

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In 2016, an individual named Guillermo Robles, who is legally blind, filed a lawsuit against Domino's Pizza, claiming that the restaurant chain's website and mobile application were inaccessible to him, therefore violating the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). Robles said that on multiple occasions, the screen reader technology he used to browse the internet failed to read instructions and help him order a pizza online.

In January of 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Domino's, and other retailers, must make their websites accessible. In the Opinion Summary of the ruling, the judges stated that "...the ADA applied to Domino's website and app because the Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino's, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind."

Also in early 2019, a lawsuit was filed against the entertainer Beyoncé and her official website for violating ADA because it denied visually impaired users equal access to its products and services. This stemmed from the fact that images on the website didn't have any alternative text attached to them, preventing screen readers from reading the page. The person who filed the complaint said the website's restrictions prevented her from being able to attend a Beyoncé concert.

There were more than 11,000 active lawsuits against companies claiming their websites violated the ADA in 2019, which has shifted how websites are designed to meet the needs of everyone who visits them.

In this blog, we'll explain what website accessibility is, who it affects, and why it should be incorporated into your apartment community's website.

What is accessibility for the web?

Website accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with websites by people with disabilities. Disabilities that affect how websites are accessed include auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual. 

Individuals who are limited due to these types of disabilities navigate the web in different ways. Some may require the use of assistive technologies, which include screen readers, magnifiers, and voice recognition. Others may use adaptive technologies, which allow users to increase text size, reduce mouse speed, or turn on captions.

To help solve the challenges that disabled individuals face when using the web, developers rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to improve accessibility. Web content breaks down into two categories: natural information (text, images, or sound) and code (the markups that define site structure, presentation). The WCAG Guidelines focus on four main principles, each containing criteria for developers to achieve accessibility. Those four main areas, with examples of actions designers can take to improve each category, include:

Perceivable

    • Provide text alternatives for non-text content, and captions for multimedia.
    • Create content that can be presented in different ways, such as assistive technologies.
    • Make it easier for users to see and hear content.

    Operable

    • Make all functionality available through the use of a keyboard.
    • Do not include content that causes seizures, or similar physical reactions.
    • Give users enough time to read and use content.
    • Help users find and navigate content.

    Understandable

    • Make text easy to read and understand.
    • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
    • Help users avoid and correct mistakes.

    Robust

    • Maximize compatibility with current or future user tools.

WCAG classifies a website's accessibility with three levels of conformance: Level A (basic web accessibility features), Level AA (the biggest and most common barriers encountered by disabled users) and Level AAA (the highest and most involved level of accessibility). The guidelines to improve website accessibility, however, are not legal requirements.

Who might have issues accessing a website?

The interactions people have with websites depends on what they're able to see, hear, say, or touch. Permanent disabilities such as blindness, hearing loss, missing limbs, etc., are the most prohibitive for users needing to perform one or more of those basic interactions.

Those with permanent disabilities, however, aren't the only individuals who may experience issues accessing a website.

Temporary disabilities, either physical, such as a broken hand that requires a heavy cast, or contextual, like ordering dinner in a foreign country, affect how an individual interacts with the world around them. 

When an individual's current environment hinders their ability to perform tasks, such as being in a large crowd and it's hard to hear, or they're a brand new parent who only has one hand free to use throughout the day, are instances known as situational disabilities.

The graphic below shows how individuals with permanent, temporary, or situational disabilities are affected when trying to perform basic interactions:


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By creating accessible websites that allow all users the ability to see, hear, say, or touch, they're addressing the challenges presented by a permanent, temporary, and situational disability.

Why should my apartment website be accessible?

When website designers, and companies in general, assume that each user's senses and abilities are fully enabled at all times, they're willfully choosing to ignore the needs of a lot of people. Unfortunately, Domino's Pizza and Beyoncé now know the consequences of having a website that can't be accessed by a disabled user.

The amount of content on your community's website—floorplans, amenities, prices, availability, video tours, images—is staggering. Without the assistance of built-in accessibility features, it would be nearly impossible for disabled users to gather all of the relevant information they'd need to rent from you.

Not only could you be facing a potential lawsuit, you could also be in danger of violating Fair Housing laws. The National Apartment Association warns that fair housing attorneys are targeting property management companies for website accessibility issues, and is recommending that communities should do whatever they can to make their online experience accessible for all.

Making your community's website accessible isn't only the right thing to do, but it also makes practical business sense. Look at it this way: when all users are able to access your site, you're reaching a wider audience. That could result in more leads for your community.

Conclusion

As part of our company mission to consider others as more important than ourselves, we at RentVision have begun the process of making our community websites more accessible. To be clear, this is a work in progress, and we cannot claim full compliance. Our road map is to eventually meet Level AA accessibility from the WCAG guidelines.

We will be updating accessibility features in a series of product updates. We'll also be including an accessibility statement on community sites, so users can see that we're working towards it.

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