The internet is no longer the Wild West. It’s been five years since 2016, a monumental year for legislation about websites: Europe passed GDPR, a series of regulations on how websites have to handle and treat visitor data, while a lawsuit against pizza giant Dominos in the United States began to work its way up to the Supreme Court.
Three years later, in 2019, the court ruled that websites were “places of public accommodation” under the ADA, meaning that websites are legally required to uphold certain accessibility standards.
Are Today’s Websites Accessible?
A February 2021 survey of one million websites found that compliance with the ADA was virtually non-existent. 97.4% of home pages examined by WebAIM had one or more elements that failed to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Most pages had multiple elements that failed to meet these standards, with an average of 51.4 errors per page.
These errors included issues like low contrast text, images without alt-text, forms without labels, and empty links. The results of this survey suggest that website owners are generally uninterested in complying with the ADA. Not only are errors incredibly prevalent, but they’re also increasing from year to year.
Issues like low contrast text have become more common since February 2019. While a handful of WCAG issues (like missing alt-text) have become less common, these factors probably aren’t being fixed to make sites compliant. Instead, they’re an element that’s added to help boost a page’s rank on search engines.
Unique Industry Regulations
ADA and GDPR (or CCPA) compliance are big factors for most websites with a user base in the US, but financial websites have to comply with additional regulations. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (or FINRA) mandates that financial service organizations must only communicate in honest, fair truths.
Websites are communications, so banks, brokers, and insurance companies are strictly limited in the kinds of things they can say on their websites. You’ll see lots of clear warnings and plain-language disclaimers on these types of sites.
Further complicating things, the SEC requires all communications a broker makes with the public to be recorded in a non-rewritable, non-erasable format. In other words, there is a special process of archiving a website.
Checking Your Site’s Compliance
If you’re interested in checking your site’s compliance, you can check the WCAG 2 guidelines online. Multiple browser plugins and other tools can also be used to quickly check your site for compliance errors. As mentioned above, updating your website to be compliant with these guidelines won’t just help your community read and interact with your site more easily. It can also help your search rank.
Search engine crawlers usually use alt text and labels to identify what the image-based elements of your site are. Without these tags, Google and other engines won’t know what your pictures are about. Other fixes, like putting text on your site instead of using pictures of text, can similarly enlighten crawlers and help Google correctly recognize your most important content.
Do You Need To Comply?
GDPR, CCPA, and regulations concerning financial service providers’ websites are strictly enforced. The ADA is not. While you should probably make a good-faith effort to make your website WCAG 2 compliant, the sheer volume of errors reported by the WebAIM survey suggests that it’s not a thing that you should panic about.
Instead, it’s likely an issue that will be revisited by future legislation. Getting ahead of the curve now ensures that it’ll be easier to comply with any future laws or policies that pass and keeps your content easy to access for people who might struggle with non-compliant website elements.
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