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Nonaction Around Accessibility is Putting More Businesses at Risk

by Michael O'Laughlin August 2, 2023

Privacy law has been gaining a lot of attention over the last couple years, and for good reason. However, a growing number of Accessibility lawsuits are now also bringing Accessibility and compliance back into the spotlight.

We have previously discussed why Inclusive Design and Accessibility are valuable for all users and how non-accessible sites put you at risk of losing business. And while the potential to lose users and even business are important considerations, in this post, we are focused more explicitly on the potential legal risk businesses need to be aware of as they assess whether and how they will address Accessibility.

Why you should care (now more than ever)

Accessibility lawsuits are growing at an exponential rate.

Big-name brands like Amazon, Domino’s Pizza, Five Guys Enterprises, Nike, Peloton, Target, and The New York Times—to name a few—have recently had Accessibility cases brought against them, and that’s just the tip of the spear. From 2017 to 2022, the number of Accessibility lawsuits brought to federal court increased 400 percent, from 814 cases in 2017 to 3,255 cases in 2022. Many of these cases have come with hefty legal and settlement fees. For example, Uber recently reached a $2.2 million class action settlement, while Target landed on a $6 million class action settlement.

Organizations are holding their vendors and partners to a higher Accessibility standard to help protect themselves.

In addition to the legal challenges increasing for many businesses, associations and different levels of government are asking vendors about their Accessibility approach in RFPs and during procurement, with many of them asking for Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) reports. Below are some of the common questions coming up in RFPs around Accessibility:

  • Does your product meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, Level AA standards?
  • What internal processes do you use to evaluate and remediate Accessibility issues? Do you use any assistive technology applications?
  • Does your company have a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) for a current version of your product that documents product conformance with Section 508 Standards and/or WCAG 2.1 Standards?
  • If your product is not fully accessible, describe your Accessibility roadmap for remediation, including defects, fixes, and timelines.
Businesses not adhering to Level AA Accessibility Standards may soon become even more vulnerable.

Perhaps the biggest potential catalyst for increasing Accessibility standards (and expectations) is a bill the California Assembly is currently working on that would adopt the WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the standard for all websites. This means that any website not currently meeting that standard, estimated to be over 96 percent of websites, would immediately be at risk of being sued for non-compliance.

Avoid common Accessibility pitfalls.

Having worked with many clients to ensure their digital properties are accessible, we’ve come across some common mistakes that could prove to be “low-hanging fruit” in your efforts to provide a more accessible experience.

  • Content on websites needs to be perceivable, presented in different ways, and, ultimately, easy to see and hear (even with assistive technology). Oftentimes, websites will be missing alternative text on images or won’t have proper form labels, which could lead to challenges in that content being readable and understandable for the visual and hearing impaired.
  • For sites to be operable, you must offer users ways to navigate the site, find content and know where they are. One common mistake we see on sites is not having descriptive link text. “Read More” or “Learn More” are not descriptive enough. Instead, you should have “Learn More About (fill in the title of the topic).”
  • Not having unique IDs for all elements of the page is another common mistake. IDs are used by assistive technologies to help users interact with a web application. If IDs are duplicated/reused on the page, these users will not know the section of the page they are working with.
  • Some organizations have also turned to using an overlay like accessiBe on their websites to try and solve Accessibility issues. However, it’s important to note that overlays do not solve all compliance issues, and accessiBe has also started to face lawsuits, along with the businesses whose sites their overlay appears on.

Take action to protect your business.

The biggest piece of advice we give to clients to protect their organizations, while also providing the best user experience possible to all users, is to be proactive. A lawsuit coming your way shouldn’t be the trigger that gets you to react and address compliance issues. Instead, have a plan in place to decrease (or eliminate) your legal liability from the get-go—and remember that Accessibility isn’t one and done. To truly protect yourself, Accessibility needs to be an ongoing process and priority. Committing to a constant journey of identifying future conformance opportunities ensures you remain in compliance with changing standards moving forward.

Addressing the low-hanging fruit we outlined above is a great first step. But if you want to really understand where your specific application’s gaps are, undergoing an Accessibility Audit—and involving a representative audience in the process—best positions you to develop a strategic approach to Accessibility. At One North, we work with clients often to review and test the templates of their site(s). We use automated tools like Axe and WAVE, as well as manual tests with browsers and screen readers. Our audit specialist team is comprised of a diverse group of testers who use assistive technologies personally in their daily lives. This inclusive practice allows our specialists to bring an expert level of understanding to our audits and proposed solutions.

Not having an accessible application—or plan to make it accessible—threatens your brand and your bottom line. Not only do you risk ostracizing new and current clients, employees, and other stakeholders, but you also leave yourself open to the possibility (and likelihood) of costly lawsuits. If you have been holding off on reviewing your application’s accessibility and making updates to conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA, now is the time to move forward.


One North can assist your organization in identifying the conformance opportunities that make sense for your specific application(s). If you’re looking for a partner to help you along the journey, contact your Account person or click the button below to get in touch.

Photo Credit: Rowan Heuvel | Unsplash

Michael O'Laughlin
Director, QA & Managed Applications

As Director, QA & Managed Applications, Michael is responsible for delivering One North digital experiences to clients and creating both web applications and custom data integration solutions. Michael’s favorite Chicago spot is the United Center, watching the Hawks in the playoffs.