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How Accessibility Can Help Your Business Get on Santa’s Nice List

Santa the doll holding a candle standing in front of a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments.

Many of you may have heard the news this year about how a blind person sued Domino’s Pizza who then tried to ask the SCOTUS to excuse them from providing web accessibility. Santa is definitely not pleased and has put this company on his naughty list.

The year 2020 will mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ADA – The Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a federal law in the USA that protects the rights of disabled people. While a lot has improved since the passage of the law, there are still many problems. The number of lawsuits sadly didn’t decrease – it actually even increased lately! For example, there were 2285 lawsuits in 2018 – up from 814 in 2017. That’s a 181% increase!

The main problem is that the ADA was passed before the internet, so many businesses try to take advantage of their loopholes. Domino’s Pizza was not the first or the only one who did this. Other famous examples were Target who refused to make their website accessible to blind people and Netflix who refused to make their streaming videos accessible to deaf people. Target claimed that accessibility applies to physical stores, not websites. Netflix said that deaf people could rent DVDs that have captions.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going into the detail about laws. However, as an accessibility consultant who also happens to be deaf, I find it really mind blowing that a business would be willing to spend money to fight for exemption from laws that cost much more than investing into the accessibility from the beginning. I would like to share my favorite quote by Plato that I use often in my accessibility consulting: “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”

He has a good point. I personally believe that it’s more important to have a better understanding about the needs of disabled people and to go above and beyond than to blindly follow the letter of the law. Times change, technologies change, and so do laws. Laws often cannot catch up with new changes in technologies and need to be updated.

If your business is at the forefront of accessibility, you will acquire and retain a significant number of customers. Disabled people make up the largest minority of over 1.3 billion people worldwide. That’s the population size of China! They also have families, friends, and colleagues that make up an additional 2 billion people worldwide. Together those groups control over $8 trillion annual spending power worldwide! This market is too huge to be ignored!

Accessibility not only improves lives of disabled people, but also benefits many non-disabled people and increases the bottom line for businesses. Everyone wins!

While many disabled people want and try to be as independent as possible, their abilities are still limited. So accessibility is vital for them. For example, I may hear with a cochlear implant, speak, and lipread, but my abilities to understand speech by hearing and lipreading are limited. That’s why people like myself rely on good quality captions, sign language, and other types of access to get all information without trying to fill in blanks or misunderstanding.

Disability is often stigmatized and considered a defect that needs to be fixed. Many disabled people are not aware of their rights or are afraid of speaking up or are just tired of fighting for access. It doesn’t mean that accessibility is not in high demand. You need to become proactive in accessibility.

While it’s great when people care about accessibility, they also need to be careful not to make wrong assumptions and decisions for disabled people without consulting with them. It often results in failed products and services. The great example would be the hype about signing gloves that keeps going on lately and makes many deaf people feel annoyed.

Even as an experienced accessibility consultant who is deaf, I often ask for feedback from disabled people and urge my clients to involve disabled people in research and testing during my consulting sessions with them. Not everyone’s disability, experience, and accessibility needs are the same.

Another frustrating thing is when non-disabled people talk about accessibility while not practicing what they preach. For example, I often see videos and podcasts about accessibility by non-disabled accessibility advocates that do not have proper captions and transcripts for 466 million of deaf and hard of hearing people. Auto captions and automatic speech recognition are not the right accessibility solution, yet non-disabled people often think they are good enough for us. They talk about us while excluding us. There’s a saying in our community: “Nothing about us without us.”

Lastly, accessibility is not a charity. It’s a cost of doing business just like any other business expenses. Many organizations are often trying to look for free or cheap resources – for example, automated testing tools or automatic speech recognition, but it’s often not a good idea. Professional experience with accessibility and understanding the needs of disabled people are vital. So you would need to hire an expert to help you with accessibility – just like you need to hire experts for any type of business operations.

Do you want to get on Santa’s nice list? Consider the following:

  • Make accessibility a priority: invest in accessibility from the beginning, test early and often, and keep maintaining accessibility.
  • Treat accessibility as a team effort: include all team members, accessibility experts, and disabled users throughout all phases of product development.
  • Follow the spirit of the law: try to better understand the needs of disabled people while also following the letter of the law and accessibility guidelines.

Are you ready to make your web, media, events accessible in 2020? Do you need guidance? Contact me – I look forward to hearing from you!

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