Web Accessibility: The Legal Pitfall That Could Cripple Welsh Small Business

Welsh Businesses with a website that anyone from the United States can see may be at serious risk of an expensive legal landmine—web accessibility lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are on the rise.

These lawsuits allege that websites and mobile apps not accessible to users with disabilities like vision or hearing impairments are liable for charges. And the numbers are exploding.

In just the first half of 2023, 414 federal ADA lawsuits were filed against companies—over 100 more cases than in 2022 for the same period.

The meteoric rise was driven by opportunistic US law firms that smell blood in the water, like Mars Khaimov Law and Stein Saks, which were behind a whopping 82% of all digital accessibility cases in 2023.

Don’t assume that large companies are the targets, either. Last year, 77% of cases involved smaller businesses under £20 million in revenue. The e-commerce sector is particularly getting annihilated, with 84% of all suits.

For UK companies, if you digitally sell even 1 unit in the United States, you are liable to the full extent of the law. However, e-commerce is not the only UK sector at risk. If you’re a service business that receives digital bookings such as a hotel, and your service is bookable from the US via your website, you face the same risk.

“Organisations of all sizes, especially smaller businesses who might believe they are under the radar – need better to understand their legal compliance obligations regarding website accessibility”, cautioned Liam Webster, Co-Founder of Identify Digital, a website design and development agency.

Here are six common web accessibility mistakes – and how to correct them:

  • Not making your keyboard navigation accessible  

Recognising that not everyone will be using a mouse to navigate a website is essential. Those with a motor impairment who may have difficulty using their hands or utilising the fine motor skills required to move a mouse may use the keyboard instead. Also, keyboard navigation is used by visually impaired users who rely on assistive technology, such as screen readers, as they cannot see where to move the mouse.

To improve your site’s keyboard navigation, properly structure the webpage in the order in which keyboard-only users navigate the content and use focus indicators on links or interactive elements.

  • Forgetting to add alt text to images

One of the most common web accessibility mistakes is failing to provide alt text on images. It’s an easy fix and gives much deeper meaning to your web pages for blind or partially sighted users. The alt text is read aloud to visually impaired users via their screen reader and can aid SEO.

  • Incorrectly labelled or unclear form fields 

Adapting form fields for accessibility is vital for data capture or simply to provide a way for users to contact the business directly. To do this with accessibility in mind, always label and highlight the focus input elements on your required form fields and add clear instructions. For example, add ‘Phone number’ as a field label instead of a vague text, such as ‘Contact information’. You should also ensure the form can be completed using keyboard navigation and provide relevant error messages.

  • Opting for low-contrast text and background

It is important to remember the contrast as specific contrasts and colours can make it difficult for users to identify edges and shapes or even read the text. For example, red text against a grey background or interactive element is difficult to read. You can use a contrast testing tool to highlight appropriate and inappropriate contrast ratios across your site.

  • Not adding subtitles and captions to videos 

Another common mistake people make with videos on their website is not adding subtitles or captions. Only some people wishing to view your videos can hear the audio or turn it on, and subtitles can help with content comprehension. Adding captions and subtitles to your on-site videos will improve accessibility and boost user engagement.

  • Adding non-descriptive links

A non-descriptive link, such as ‘Click here,’ does not convey the purpose of the link, which is not helpful to screen reader technology. A descriptive link will improve their usability and comprehension of the site.

 

UK companies must adopt a more comprehensive accessibility strategy to derisk their US-facing websites and apps. That likely means a blend of manual human auditing, coding remediations, and consultation from an accessibility specialist.

The legal realities of ADA web accessibility lawsuits are very real. But so are the benefits of getting it right—protecting your brand while providing a better digital experience. The clock is ticking.