In 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity to people with disabilities. It goes without saying that everyone should have access to employment, transportation, facilities, and more. Thirty years ago, this legislation safeguarded those rights. But times have changed a lot in thirty years, where we used to run to the store to pick up groceries, now we order them online to have them delivered; where we used to mail in a check for our many bills, now we automatically withdraw the amount each month from our online banking.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that starting in 2003 the Department of Justice began looking at accessibility within websites. Rules and legislation were made clear for publicly-funded websites – and the requirement of adhering to Section 508 guidelines, but very little direction was given to the privately-held web domain.
For years, private companies made their own decisions on what level of accessibility to enforce within their online presence, but that’s changing. In recent years, lawsuits have popped up across the country. More than 260 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in 2016 and significantly more by the end of 2017.
The difficult part is that most of these companies were not even aware that accessibility could be an issue; and, even worse, that meant that those people with disabilities have not had access to the same conveniences that most of us take for granted.
So why did I take us down this path? While it would be unrealistic to expect every single website to be regulated by the ADA, it’s not unfounded that we could expect people to take legal action for not being able to complete their taxes, shop for goods, or enroll in their benefits online. Additionally, employers need to consider what this means in their workplace, when their impaired employees do not have equal access to employer-paid programs, benefits, etc.
This past year, we focused on ensuring Benefitsolver was accessible to the impaired user, ensuring assistive devices such as screen readers and special keyboards are able to navigate the platform. Beyond assistive devices, the user experience was enhanced for those with cognitive disabilities or those who require more time in the system to make their way through their benefits enrollment. We understand that one size does not fit all and it’s extremely important that every employee have access to enroll in their benefits in the means that is best for them.
In February we received our official audit results stating that we are compliant with applicable Section 508 V2 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A/AA guidelines. While that is a mouthful, it means that we are following the U.S. and international standards for web accessibility.
While web accessibility and the legalities of it within the private industry are still very much in question, there is no doubt that it is an emerging issue. I highly encourage you to reflect on the benefits provided by your organization, and whether your entire workforce has equal access to those benefits. Let’s start the conversation now.