Everyone who’s anyone who’s no one knows about the landmark handicap accessibility case that’s shaking up the web development industry. Wait, not everyone knows? Let’s back up a step: on June 13, 2017, the Florida District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the case of Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. The case was regarding Winn-Dixie’s alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What was especially notable about this case is that there was nothing physically lacking in any of Winn-Dixie’s locations; the issue wholly concerned their online presence, and its inaccessibility to users with visual handicaps.
Websites have a number of ways in which they cater to users with different interfaces; for example, handling swipe events for touchscreen users and click-and-drag events for desktop users. In this sense, handicap users are no different from normal users, as they tend to navigate via keyboard. The big differences come in how the site is hierarchically structured, and how content that is not primarily visual can be communicated to a visually impaired user.
For example, a simple contact form should be set up in such a way that a user can move from field to field by using the keyboard’s “tab” button, and the fields should go in order from first to last. Important images should have alternative text that describes their content to users, and content that updates automatically should announce itself to the user (e.g., the automated subtotal on an order form).
Put another way, without these compliance tools in place, a site is not truly cross-device compliant. If a lack of cross-device compatibility is the core reason for the Winn-Dixie lawsuit, then the expectation is that the site must be functional across all standard, modern browsing devices.
While the DOJ is most likely going to ensure there are standard legal consequences, those have yet to be defined. However, the biggest consequence comes from users not being able to access content. In this day and age of global Internet availability, an application that implicitly denies access to a set of users is both neglecting a potential market, as well as discouraging users outside of that market.
By making a site accessible, all obstacles are removed from conversion paths, freeing users to access all content. So the lesson is NOT that handicap accessibility matters (we already knew that), but that it plays a central role in ensuring that all devices are supported and all audiences given a voice. By complying with these (relatively unchanging) standards—in addition to the ever-evolving cross-browser compliance standards—every user can be guaranteed an optimal browsing experience, and a chance to take part.