WCAG is the set of guidelines created by W3.org that has been set forth as the accessibility standard for governmental websites in the United States. We reached out to the office of Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania but were not given a comment. WCAG is designed to make it easier for persons with disabilities to access and have the same usage experience as individuals who would normally visit the website. Since we are the leaders in Philadelphia web design, we have a unique perspective on this issue and want to give our insight into WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania. However, WCAG guidelines have recently come under far more scrutiny in the web design & development world. Recently, California passed a bill requiring business websites to offer accessibility to customers with disabilities, a move that has created waves in the small business world. The most recent landmark case required that Pizza Deliver giant Dominoes has to make its online ordering system adhere to WCAG standards for use, going so far as to say that phone ordering was not sufficient in terms of accommodation. As a web design company we frequently service small business that are just getting started with building their website. We have a unique perspective on the impact that the current landscape has and will have on these business owners barring any significant reform at the federal level. So let’s jump into what WCAG entails and what the new spree of lawsuits mean for small business owners.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
WCAG refers to the set of guidelines set forth for governmental websites in the United States. WCAG guidelines are created an provided by W3.org. Their stated purpose is,
“Developed through W3C’s consensus process and WAI’s strong multi-stakeholder engagement, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 helps Web designers and developers better meet the needs of users with disabilities and older users. The Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) addressed new requirements towards a goal of coordinated international uptake and standards harmonization.” — Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO
These guidelines have a cited intention of making the web accessible for those who otherwise could not receive services through online retailers, application, and websites. The stated goal is one that is widely supported, but the application of these standards has not been applied universally to the United States which is causing a myriad of problems for small business owners. The guidelines themselves are highly technical and are really only meant for web designers but you can see the WCAG 2.1 guidelines HERE.
Recent Rulings on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Recent rulings ins California and all across the country have arisen against small businesses that lack a WCAG compliant website. For the moment WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania is unlegislated, so there are not currently any specific requirements. Dominoes is perhaps the highest profile case that has occurred recently. From the view of the courts it was found that a blind customer who utilized a auditory screen reader was unable to successfully use the Dominoes online ordering web service. The blind user was told by the company that he would be offered accommodation in the form of the phone-based ordering platform Dominoes offered. The court found that this was insufficient based on the fact that the phones were limited by the hours of operation of the company. The damages awarded to the plaintiff were that Dominoes conform to WCAG standards in their design so that the online ordering app was accessible to consumers with disabilities. If you would like to read more in-depth about the case, you can find the case summary here.
WCAG Impact on Small Businesses
There will be a few severe impacts on small business, the cost of maintaining a website will increase drastically as accessibility guidelines move forward and as WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania becomes more commonplace. Another famous case, and one of the first high profile cases, was against Winn-Dixie who was required to make changes to their website which cost nearly $250,000 dollars as well as settle with the plaintiff for the attorneys fees incurred by the lawsuit. Small businesses can potentially expect the same thing if they fail to conform to WCAG guidelines. While California specifically has laws on the book; many other small business are being sued based on the ADA title 3 section which requires forward facing places of business to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
While Caveni supports adoption of universal WCAG-based guidelines, the lack of a clear standard is what is most dangerous to small businesses. Conforming to standards like WCAG which are 3rd party standards not adopted into United States legal code (except in the state of California) can be difficult. Yet many small businesses are suffering from lawsuits for failing to conform to standards which are in no way universal among states, companies, or in their implementation. Our suggestion, which does not constitute legal advice, is to conform to existing WCAG 2.1 standard for the safest position for your small business.
The primary impact in website design will be the increase in man hours required to produce a website of the same quality with WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania in mind. WCAG 2.1 guidelines require quite a bit of additional work even for the most basic designs. We saw earlier that complex applications, large websites, and 3rd party software all needs to conform to WCAG 2.1 standards. We expect the cost for the individual website to increase by a baseline of $1,000 on a linear scale based on product complexity to achieve WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania. We have already seen that a Website like Winn-Dixie’s required nearly $250,000 to bring up to WCAG 2.1 standards. Many of the design practices we engage in are already WCAG 2.1 friendly as a lot of Google’s standards for things like images are similar for SEO. You can read more about image optimization and creating SEO friendly content on our website.
We expect the cost to scale between those amounts based on your overall web presence complexity, with the upper end being less linear to have your website fill WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania expectations. This will mean there is an even greater barrier for entry for a small business in creating a new website. Where it may have only cost a few thousand dollars for an initial design, many small business are looking at a nearly 25% increase in the costly to get off the ground without any third party application or complex systems. Mobile application design cost is expected to rise by roughly 15%; again increasing the barrier of entry for many businesses. However, we also recognize that the potential for job growth in the programming sector, based on the need for additional man hours. Assuming that many companies engage in a policy of 10-20% markup on their services, tech companies and web design companies may actually see an increase in profits from the current precarious situation; until WCAG 2.1 becomes universal enough to become standard practice.
The landmark Winn-Dixie decision to force the website to conform to article III of the ADA by using WCAG 2.1 guidelines. This case occurred nearly two years ago but has set the stage for the current situation that many small businesses find themselves in. A large company like Winn-Dixie was required to pay out nearly $250,000 which was not considered a burden to to the massive amount of profits they pulled in the same year. Our concern is with smaller companies like landscapers, who are perhaps pulling in around $50,000 a year in profits. A landscaper with a scheduling system could see a cost of nearly $5000 to bring their website up to the current standards set by courts. They would also need to break from reliance with 3rd party software used in the running of their business. We could expect that a small business may end up paying out 10-20% of their yearly profits to become accessible.
WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania Conclusions
Caveni has very openly supported accessibility guidelines in the past and we will continue to support a legally recognized universal standard for WCAG Compliance in Pennsylvania, but the current ambiguity of existing guidelines have made it easier for small business to become assaulted by fraudulent litigation. We are concerned for many companies in Pennsylvania because of the lack of direction currently within our State Legislature as well as the federal equivalents. We are desperately in need of a federal standard as a direct addendum to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The non-universal standard has only caused harm to businesses that have no clear way of knowing whether they could be sued for their current website. The impact on smaller businesses is even more severe, their costs will rise initially and in the longer term many of them will be open to lawsuits for something they could not possibly know about. Struggling businesses may find themselves declaring bankruptcy to try to cover the legal fees of aggressive litigation that is frequently bordering on fraudulent. We hope to see a universal accessibility standard come from the the federal government/Department of Justice, otherwise the pain on small businesses will only increase.
*The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the company.*