Small to medium-sized businesses are most vulnerable to an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit because of their limited financial resources. The Blanchard family winery in Colorado is one of the most recent examples of a lawsuit defendant to feel the backlash against their brand. Such lawsuits can damage your brand image, possibly beyond salvage.
What is ADA and how can it damage your brand image
ADA is the acronym for the American’s with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 and was revised several times; the most recent revision occurred in 2016. The purpose of the law is to provide access to individuals with a broad range of disabilities so they enjoy the same privileges and those without a disability.
You’ve probably seen evidence of business efforts to comply with the regulations, including using braille on elevator buttons and other directional signage, ramps into buildings and along curbs, and websites designed to allow those with low vision or blindness to gather information. For hearing impaired students, we use closed text on all videos we show as part of our classes.
The Blancard family winery lawsuit
The lawsuit against the Blanchard family winery was filed by a blind person from Douglas County, who stated that he could not access information on the company’s website with his device designed for the visually impaired.
An attorney hired by the defendant to investigate the lawsuit discovered it was 1 of over 50 filed just in Colorado against small and mid-sized businesses deemed to cash-strapped by the pandemic to fight the lawsuits. Termed drive-by lawsuits, the Blanchard family claims they were targeted by law firms from other states trying to make a quick buck rather than protect individuals with disabilities from inequities.
The Blanchard family started their business in Sonoma County in California more than ten years ago and later expanded their business in Colorado. When the company suffered a loss of revenue during the pandemic, like so many other food and beverage businesses, they moved to an online model operating only from their Colorado location. The business hired a large corporation to create their website, along with ensuring ADA compliance and this was the first lawsuit charging they didn’t provide required access under ADA regulations.
The Blanchard family winery received notice of the ADA lawsuit two months ago, which added to their existing financial crunch since their hospitality and tourism business fell by almost 50%. They claim that although they want to be 100% compliant, the ADA does not accurately define the laws for website accessibility.
However, article III of the ADA clearly states that every place of business must provide accessibility to everyone regardless of ability. That means people with disabilities must have access to brick and mortar stores, as well as business websites.
Lawsuits damage your brand image even when unjustified
Even though business owners like the Blanchard family might feel that ADA lawsuits against them are frivolous or excessive, such measures ensure that people make their businesses accessible to everyone, irrespective of their physical or mental abilities.
An ADA lawsuit can create a PR and social media storm for companies leading to huge damage to their reputation because most consumers support social causes and do not want to associate with companies that fail to support everyone in the community regardless of ability.
A recent series of ADA lawsuits filed against big brands like Domino’s Pizza, Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment, Fox News Network, and several others made it a sensitive topic. That means any ADA lawsuit brings negative press to your business and may damage your brand image.
How companies make accessible websites?
Most business owners don’t know how they can make their businesses accessible, even though a quick scan of the Internet provides all the information necessary.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created a list of accessibility issues and their solutions called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The website wanting to provide accessibility to those with disabilities must meet the current WCAG 2.1 criteria.
Businesses can achieve most of the criteria by applying ARIA attributes to the website’s HTML coding to allow users with disabilities to freely access their websites.
For example, blind people cannot see the images and infographics present on a website. Therefore, HTML5 coding requires content developers to add alt text attributes to inform visually-impaired users about the information contained in images through assistive technologies like screen readers. Adding alt text also improves your SEO (search engine optimization) thus creating a win-win situation for businesses and users
What if your company can’t afford accessibility developers?
Many businesses face serious losses due to the pandemic and financial resources are limited at this time. The traditional route of making a website accessible is expensive and slow, an option that’s impractical for many small companies. It involves hiring designers and developers to edit the HTML coding of the website and perform audits that ensure accessibility.
Thanks to advancements in AI technology, there is now a simpler and more affordable solution to achieve web accessibility compliance. Several ADA compliance platforms like accessiBe and AudioEye provide automated solutions to make websites accessible. Typically, an AI-powered web accessibility solution creates a skin on top of the existing website that makes sites instantly compliant with the latest WCAG guidelines and makes websites compatible with assistive technologies.
Moreover, business owners must keep in mind that an accessibility solution is much cheaper than an accessibility lawsuit and the damage your brand image suffers after the lawsuit.
Can an accessible website help business marketing?
Making a website accessible can not only protect your brand image, but it can also prove beneficial for marketing your brand. Since several WCAG 2.1 criteria overlap with the latest SEO techniques, as mentioned earlier, ADA website compliance can improve the visibility of your brand and its website on search engines.
Digital marketers also noticed that implementing accessibility solutions increases the conversion rate of their websites, digital marketing campaigns, and PPC advertisements. That means any positive shift towards making a website accessible also produces returns in the form of revenue, brand visibility, and conversions.
As the Blanchard Family Winery lawsuit revealed, you can’t use ignorance of the law as an excuse for not providing ADA compliant websites. Therefore business owners must learn the legal implications of website accessibility and find ways to solve any problems faced by users with disabilities in accessing their websites. An ADA lawsuit can not only produce legal expenses, but it can also damage your brand image.
Therefore, making a website accessible is a wise choice, especially when the investment is also returnable in the form of increased brand awareness and revenue.
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