How meeting 508 requirements can increase your business market share and ultimately save you money
By Jenny Woldt
Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine trying to order a pizza online or access and read your insurance documents. Would you even know where to start? Would you be frustrated that companies didn't want to follow the law and make these functions and materials accessible to you? Of course, you would. Not only would you be frustrated, but you would most likely also feel cut off, and alienated when they refused. For millions of hard of sight individuals this is their daily struggle.
My grandfather was an avid reader. Some of my fondest memories were he and I snuggled next to each other reading before going to bed. Grandpa always had the coolest books about his love of flying airplanes and the mechanics behind them, historic biographies, and then intense books, like War and Peace. It was a part of his daily ritual. Unfortunately, this came to an end as he got older, and he lost his eyesight entirely. This caused him to become very withdrawn. The simple joy of reading before bed was taken from him. I would read to him occasionally, but I couldn't always be there. I hated seeing him lose this simple joy he loved so much.
So, when I first found out about 508 Remediation, it became a passion for me to learn as much as I could. I offer this service in his memory and for all the grandparents, parents and children that struggle to see, so they don’t feel left behind. I am thankful that we have been given a platform where we can seriously help others.
Simply put... 508 Remediation and ADA compliance means that your online documents and website have undergone a procedure to make them accessible to the hard of sight. Not to be confused with 504 which addresses the hard of hearing. The number 508 is the number of the law for hard of sight ADA compliance issue. This means that when a person with limited vision accesses your documents with a screen reader, the reader makes the page come alive for them and gives them the same information a sighted person has access to, in a logical and easy to follow manner.
This process makes sure the document is read in the correct order. For instance, if you have a document that is multi columned, like a newspaper, the screen reader will automatically just read right to left across each line and not properly going down each column and back up to the next column. The remediation process also includes adding alternative text to images, so the individual gets a visual word picture of the photo, graph or map on the page.
Making a document accessible includes adding bookmarks to the page so the reader can jump to different sections. Imagine having to listen to an entire 500-page insurance document to get to the one part you needed to find. That would be tedious. Making it accessible also means adjusting how words and acronyms are pronounced when read. For instance, HMO for a health plan will be pronounced HOMO. The abbreviation for doctor will sometimes be read as drive.
A lot goes into the process of making a document accessible. This process cannot be automated as many companies like to claim. It requires a person to make the best choices in making a document accessible. For example, a computer cannot accurately describe a photo that enhances the text on the page. Describing a sunset or the joy on a child's face requires human intervention.
As I mention in the headline of this article, accessibility is not just the law, it’s the right thing to do. Being inclusive to the hard of sight community is vital to their participation in our digital world. Unfortunately, many companies look at meeting this compliance requirement as something to avoid doing, until they are faced with a lawsuit. And even then, they often settle out of court and make little strides in becoming compliant.
How does 508 Remediation increase marketing potential?
There are many levels of visual impairment and getting a definitive answer on exact numbers affected is hard. But based on our research there are upwards of 25 million Americans with significant forms of visual impairment. Approximately 12 million Americans over the age of 40 have severe vision impairment issues. And 93 million adults in the US are at high risk for some form of serious vision loss in the future. It is one of the top disabilities that people suffer. With this in mind, if your documents and website are accessible and easy to navigate, think about the increase in customer base you could experience.
Our Medicare and Medicaid clients are very mindful of this population, and we are blessed to be partnered with great clients that are passionate about meeting this need. Their ratings are high among their members, and this is one of the reasons. People will stay with a company that cares about making them feel included.
Accessible documents and websites are better for everyone to access, both sighted and hard of sight. The added bookmarks help the sighted navigate documents as well, the alternative text is informative, and with designers focused on using proper color contrast, documents and web pages are easier to read. When your website is easy to read and navigate, people will stick around, and your sales will increase.
The other point to helping the bottom line is if a company's websites and materials are accessible, they won’t be sued. Lawsuits can get into the millions of dollars, just ask Target, Netflix, Winn-Dixie, Five Guys, Nike, Dominos, and Beyonce.
Your best option is to work with web accessibility, not against it. Yes, it is a cost center, but in the end it could pay for itself by avoiding costly litigation and increasing your market share. Website accessibility lawsuits show no signs of slowing down and will continue to grow. The lawsuits are hitting all sectors including e-commerce, food service, health care, academic, entertainment, and financial. Florida, New York, California, and Pennsylvania lead the states with the most federal website accessibility lawsuits.
It was recently determined that companies with less than $50 million in revenue were hit with two-thirds of the accessibility lawsuits in 2021. A significant shift from previous years. So, don’t think because you’re not as big as Target you won’t be hit. There were 2,900 lawsuits in 2019, 3.500 ADA lawsuits in 2020 and 4,000 in 2021, showing a year over year increase. With the increased reliance on e-commerce the number of lawsuits is only going to increase.
With this in mind, you might want to evaluate if it's time your company had an accessibility review and started making a difference in the lives of your clients that are hard of sight.
Send us a message to set up a one-on-one call to discuss how to take care of accessibility issues for your company and what the best process would be to get started. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are passionate about helping you get compliant.
Jenny Woldt is the President and Founder of Splash Box Marketing, an ADA Compliance Provider and Creative Marketing Company.