Listen to this episode to learn why your law firm can’t ignore website accessibility.
As we continue to advance in technology, we must always remember to create our content, documents and websites in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities. Amber sheds light on many different areas of importance when it comes to accessibility.
Amber is the CEO of Equalize Digital, Inc., a Certified B Corp specializing in WordPress accessibility, maker of the Accessibility Checker plugin, and lead organizer of the WordPress Accessibility Meetup and WP Accessibility Day conference.
Amber gives listeners actionable tips on:
- [2:00] Why ignoring website accessibility is a bad strategy
- [4:10] Developing the Accessibility Checker Plugin Amber and what it checks for
- [7:40] The importance of accessibility online when it comes to disabilities
- [17:40] What people are getting sued for for not being accessible online
- [23:40] Amber’s book recommendation
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Connect with Amber here:
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[00:00:27] Amber: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m Amber Hines. I’m the CEO of equalized digital. We’re a certified B corporation that specializes in website accessibility, specifically in the WordPress space. And we have a software product called accessibility checker that, uh, audits, WordPress websites for accessibility.
[00:00:48] Karin: Amber, thank you so much for being here. I feel like this is such an important topic, but, um, the reason I think this is going to be such a great episode is because I really do think it’s, it’s this [00:01:00] mysterious topic that is a little bit scary. And so. A lot of my clients, I know just kind of either bury their head in the sand and pretend like they are just doesn’t exist or, um, they just get really worried about it.
[00:01:18] Uh, and maybe, maybe a little too much based on kind of what what’s going on on their particular website. So I really am looking forward to kind of clearing some of that up and opening up the. Opening up the blinds and letting in some light on this topic. Um, so the, the, uh, big question for today that we’re going to answer is why your law firm cannot ignore website accessibility.
[00:01:43] So there’s all these things at risk there’s, you know, potential lawsuits, there’s all these things going on and it feels like. There’s news about website accessibility and lawsuits and all of these things all the time. So let’s start with that. Like, why, why is, [00:02:00] I guess this is sort of a, a simple place to start, but why is burying your head in the sand, uh, a bad strategy.
[00:02:07] Amber: So if you are located in the United States, the first thing you have to know is that website, accessibility lawsuits have been going up since. 2018, and they it’s, it’s a relatively sharp curve. Um, last year there, according to usable net, that’s one resource that I like that tracks, um, all of the lawsuits, they look at everything that’s under the ADA.
[00:02:34] They also look at, um, cases in California under the Unruh civil rights act. And their end of your report was that there were 4,055. Lawsuits, which were up from 3,503 in 2020. So it’s just, it is going up. It’s a big number. And then on March [00:03:00] 18th, the department of justice released a statement that said all businesses have to be accessible, have to have accessible websites under the Americans with disabilities act.
[00:03:13] And that used to be that one. Ways that businesses tried to get the lawsuits dismissed, as they would say, well, look at the Americans with disabilities act. It doesn’t say anything about websites. It says things about places of accommodation. And they’re like, that means a physical place. And the department of justice.
[00:03:29] There, there are a lot of people saying, we need you to win on this. And on March 18th they released a statement and they said, no websites have to be accessible under the age of. We have always thought that it applies to this and we’re officially saying it now. And by the way, here is a website that we put together that talks about accessibility under the ADA and how it does apply to all
[00:03:49] Karin: businesses.
[00:03:50] Wow. Okay. So that was just March 18th of this year, like March
[00:03:53] Amber: 18th. Yeah, just a
[00:03:54] Karin: few weeks. Okay, so that is fascinating, but also a little [00:04:00] intimidating for those of us who create websites and may have websites for clients going back years and years who, you know, some of our clients, um, they, they just sort of have websites that sit there.
[00:04:12] And, um, so let’s. Tell me a little bit more about kind of taking a step back and defining really what that means in terms of, um, big picture for websites. And, um, I know I’ve used your website checker. Um, it’s a plugin that you can add into a website and it goes, it is that right? It’s a plugin, right? Or you, or it’s a website.
[00:04:35] Okay. For some reason I was having a second thought, as soon as I said. But it goes through and it’s checking things. Let’s start with that. Like what, what is that checking for and how does it work? And do you have to get a hundred percent on that? Or explain that a little bit more.
[00:04:53] Amber: So a lot of people might be familiar with some of the SEO plugins that are out there.
[00:04:57] Where you install it on your [00:05:00] WordPress site and it checks your page content, and it gives you a little score for your search engine optimization. Our plugin works a lot like that only it’s for accessibility. Um, we have. More than 40 different checks that we look for. We created these based upon a web content accessibility guidelines.
[00:05:19] A wikag is short for that, which are sort of the internationally agreed upon standards for website accessibility or ways that you can measure whether or not a website is accessible. So we created a bunch of rules that check against those. Now some of them are. Errors. These are things that 100% are a problem.
[00:05:41] We can tell it’s a problem. It needs to be fixed. And then some of them we label as warnings. And the reason why this is, is that there are some things that cannot be assessed by an automated checker, and they require a human to look at it. And so it could be a problem [00:06:00] or it could not be a problem. And a person probably needs to assess that and decide.
[00:06:05] And an example of that is. Um, we can tell if an image doesn’t have alternative text on it, which is a code element that describes what an image is for someone who can’t see. So a blind person would hear on their screen reader, but in some cases it’s actually correct that an image doesn’t have alternative text.
[00:06:22] And so a person has to assess that and say, is this an image that needs it is a decorative? Um, so the idea being that, um, errors are things that you pretty much. Would fix. And then when a scan reruns, they would go away on their own. A warning is something that you would assess and then you would probably close it out.
[00:06:44] You might fix it in the code, it would go away, or you might mark it as ignored or assessed. Um, and then you could even put a comment and then eventually it would, as you get rid of all your errors and warnings, you could have 100. Um, there are some items that we still can’t fully [00:07:00] check for. So it doesn’t guarantee that you have a perfectly accessible website, but it will get you a lot closer.
[00:07:08] And it will ensure that you are meeting some of the like base guidelines, things that can be. A lot of websites that if these are improved will make a huge difference for people with
[00:07:18] Karin: disabilities. So what are the kinds of things? Are there things that you mentioned that you can’t check for that, um, we kind of just need to do as a human check or are those things that are in that small little section of, so nitpicky that it’s not really a problem.
[00:07:36] Amber: So there are things that. We need that do need to have a human check that are actually very important. So one example of them is having a visible focus state as you move through the website. So what does that mean for you? Yes. So the first thing to understand is there’s a variety of different people with [00:08:00] disabilities and that need features and some people.
[00:08:05] R a person who can see, but they cannot use a mouse. So they might have, uh, mobility challenges, which could be anything from very severe arthritis and an older person to someone who maybe has had an accident and had, has no use of their arms. Sure. Or, or they might have use of their RS, but for some reason, like a mouse just doesn’t work well for them.
[00:08:30] And so they use a keyboard only. So those people will use the tab key to tab through the active elements on the website, the links and the navigation, the form fields, anything you have. And so a focus indicator should be an outline that stands out from the content as you move through. So you can tell, where am I currently.
[00:08:54] Focused so that if I hit the inter key, I would follow that link. Sure. [00:09:00] And that’s something that we can’t really assess. Like, do you have a good focus on all of your items? And so that’s something that a person would just need to go, and it’s really easy. Like anyone you can open any website and you say tab and you watch your tab move through and you say, first, can I see it the whole time?
[00:09:19] Second? Does it go to things in the order? I expect them to. I want to go from left to right top to bottom. I don’t want to hit tab at the top. And all of a sudden I jumped down to some form at the bottom of the page and I’ve skipped the navigation menu.
[00:09:31] Karin: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That makes so much sense. Uh, I was just on a flight and.
[00:09:38] I was imagining exactly what you were talking about. They had their menus and it was so not user-friendly that you had to go to, like there was an entertainment section. And then if you wanted to choose a movie, a game or a TV show, you, there were these arrows on the top and bottom of. Of the menu. And so you had to get up to those arrows in order to choose the thing in the [00:10:00] middle.
[00:10:00] And it’s kind of hard to describe on a podcast because, um, it’s, it’s a very visual thing, but as I was going through, I just kept clicking on the wrong thing and it was doing exactly what I didn’t want it to do. And it was such a bad user experience that I can completely imagine how that would play out on a.
[00:10:20] Amber: Yeah. And I mean, that’s the thing, like you’re someone who’s typically abled, I think. Right. And you were frustrated and, and that’s the thing. I think some people don’t realize is that accessibility features actually benefit everyone. Like there’s a lot of accessibility that helps search engine optimism.
[00:10:36] Or it can increase conversion rates because it makes it easier for everyone to complete the tasks you want on the website. Not just people with disabilities like
[00:10:44] Karin: everyone. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So I wanted to come back to what you were saying earlier about, um, considering all these different types of, of disabilities as well, because I think, um, when we start to think about websites and accessibility, [00:11:00] we probably each have one thing.
[00:11:03] Imagine whether it’s a blind person or, um, you know, whatever the case might be, but you were talking about how you really have to consider a lot of different types of disabilities in terms of that interaction with the screen. And so what different, so obviously we have to consider a blind person and how they won’t be able to see the imagery or, or, um, you know, kind of click through the menus and, and find those things in the same way.
[00:11:31] Seeing person would, but what other kinds of experiences do you need to account for when you’re thinking of, uh, the accessibility and how, how that needs to kind of be.
[00:11:43] Amber: Yeah. So another big group that people are aware of and literally a lot of lawsuits in this space are people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
[00:11:51] And so making sure you have captions on your videos that are actually correct. Um, so that was one thing, like, uh, some of the big [00:12:00] lawsuits, like there’s one against Harvard and another one against MIT and they had the YouTube auto-generated captions. So they had. But they weren’t actually, nobody had corrected them.
[00:12:10] And so they weren’t lined up. They had the wrong words and it was to the point where they were like, we can’t understand this. So having, having captions on videos, transcripts for podcasts, um, or transcripts for videos too, is important because if someone is deaf, Yeah, they can’t read the, the captions on the video.
[00:12:29] They would actually engage with that video or learn about the information in that video from the transcript, because it would transcribe it into a refreshable braille display so they could read it in braille to access that content. So, so people who are blind, people who are deaf blind, and then there’s a lot of people that we don’t frequently think of having disabilities that, or they have a disability, but we don’t think of it as impacting websites where they can.
[00:12:55] People with ADHD will frequently talk about how. Having [00:13:00] things that autoplay or sounds they can’t turn off or like things that fly in from all the different sides of the websites, how it’s really distracting. They’re trying to read the content and there’s something moving over here. And they, they, they have a hard time like interacting with the website or getting where they need to go, because it’s just like so much going on.
[00:13:19] Um, people with epilepsy, they have actually like some of those movements. Um, or if there’s a lot of flashing and a video, like, let’s say you made a marketing video for your business and you’ve got like flashing or rapid changes that can actually trigger seizures for some people. And I’ve, I’ve heard someone talk about, I was on a website and I had a seizure.
[00:13:40] I’ve had someone else heard someone else talk about. Their wife was like work, like navigating the web and sodomy with one, I literally made her throw up like right there. Right. You know? And so like that, those are things that maybe we don’t think of as much. And then I mentioned before people with mobility challenges, um, and then [00:14:00] there’s also just a general like low vision.
[00:14:02] So color contrast is a big thing, making sure that your text stands out adequately from the background color that it’s on and that really can impact everyone. Yeah. So, you know, I have been on sites where I’m like, I can’t, I cannot read this. I have to zoom in on my browser or I have to, um, since I would develop, I know how to go on the color, like the inspector and like change the color code so that I can actually read it, or especially on my phone, if I’m outside and it’s bright and there’s not good contrast, I have to like turn the brightness up on my phone.
[00:14:36] And sometimes I still
[00:14:37] Karin: can’t. Yeah. I was just thinking that while you were talking about. These are all important things to think about in terms of accessibility, but the color contrast, that’s something that needs to be thought of a broad scale for all users. Because first of all, if you are not making it very clear with your calls to action and have that stand out, high contrast [00:15:00] color, it’s not going to work like, you know, aside from accessibility.
[00:15:04] Really impact your, your functionality as well as your results. So for a handful of reasons, these things are important. Um, accessibility being the one that we’re talking about today.
[00:15:16] Amber: Yeah. Yeah. I mean like links is another really common one. So in paragraphs or body texts like that, you really want your links to be underlined.
[00:15:23] And a lot of designers. Oh, I don’t want to do this. Well, I’ll just show the underline on hover, but like the color that they’ve, you can’t use color alone because if someone is color blind and you’ve chosen a color for your links, that they can’t see, it might not look any different from the text surrounding it.
[00:15:40] And that’s why traditionally in the internet links are underlined and only links are underlined. You can’t like underline something else for emphasis because. On like Hotjar recordings of websites where people try to click on underlying texts. Cause they just assume it’s a link. Yeah. We get
[00:15:57] Karin: texts all the time from attorneys where, [00:16:00] um, it may be like a legal brief or something that they want to include.
[00:16:03] And the format of that is completely different from what you. On the internet. And so I’ll, I’ll push back and say, okay, we can’t use these underlines. And then they’re like, well, this is the appropriate. And it’s like, okay, well it’s appropriate for that purpose. But underlining on the website is, has one purpose and one purpose only.
[00:16:22] And you throw an underline in on a website where it’s not a link and it’s confusing. And for accessibility purposes, you’re gonna end up throwing people into. You know, a tailspin of not knowing what’s going on on that page.
[00:16:37] Amber: Yeah. I think another example, besides the underlines that I see sometimes in like contracts is all caps and all caps, I think does have, I’m not a lawyer, but it has like an attentional legal reason why they make some things, all caps and all not.
[00:16:53] But for some people like someone with dyslexia or someone like that, that could be really hard to read. And so it’s [00:17:00] almost like you want to prevent. Here’s my literal legal contract, and maybe I have a button or a tab in my content editor link, depending on how you implement that, where they could click over and read the same thing without the all caps, because then they might actually be able to read and understand it.
[00:18:00] I had no way of access accessing that. And so, therefore you’re not protected by your terms of service. Oh,
[00:18:05] Karin: So that’s a good segue into the next thing I wanted to ask about is kind of what’s at risk. So going more into the lawsuits that you were mentioning at the beginning and what you’ve seen, especially you were mentioning in the last, you know, you’re a couple of years that they’re just kind of way up year over year.
[00:18:24] So what are people getting sued for? And what’s at risk for, for websites and law firms that are not paying attention to this stuff.
[00:18:33] Amber: Yeah. So I would say the vast majority of losses that I’ve seen are either lack of captions or inaccurate captions, or, um, not being accessible for people who are blind. Um, and,
[00:18:47] Karin: and the questions are usually related to a video, right?
[00:18:50] Amber: Typically they are related to a video, but it could apply to like an audio file as well. Well, that wouldn’t be captions, but it would be a transcript for an audio file. But typically, typically [00:19:00] it’s related to a video, um, Over 70% of the cases are e-commerce websites. So that’s like a good sign for businesses that aren’t in the e-commerce space, but there are other businesses outside of that.
[00:19:15] Um, and then I think another thing that is good to be aware of is, is also that, uh, there, there has been a rise of tools that are called accessibility over. And these are things where they say, um, just, you know, you sign up, you pay a monthly fee for based on how many pages are on your website. Like it’s some it’s scales by the number of pages.
[00:20:04] Oh my gosh.
[00:20:38] It’s this sounds like a band-aid, but it is, it’s not even a bandaid because it’s creating more problems and. Is that. And does that end up being more of a magnet for these lawsuits too, because they’re using those overlays.
[00:20:51] Amber: So that is a question that has come up, um, with these typically. So it’s, it’s usually very obvious that you’re using one of these relays, um, [00:21:00] even to someone who.
[00:21:01] Like scanning the website because there’ll be a physical icon, which is either like the accessibility icon for web, which is like a person with their arms out like a starfish, I guess, or, or sometimes you see like a wheel, a person in a wheelchair like that kind of accessibility symbol. And it’s usually a button that hovers in the bottom right.
[00:21:47] For example, that’s a really popular one. Um, and, and law firms are increasingly. Using that to be like, oh, they know they have problems and they’re doing something. And actually we have [00:22:00] documentation that this plugin can add problems. And so not only are they including in like the, the description. For there, I’m not a lawyer.
[00:22:10] So I don’t remember what the, the exact term is called, like the brief, right? Yeah. That they submit it, the lawsuit problems that exist on the website without it, but there are actually sometimes including problems that the overlay caused. Oh my gosh. In that brief. And then, um, yeah, so, and, and that’s what we’re seeing too is then on, if they go into like structured negotiation or they have a settlement.
[00:22:36] The terms of the settlement, almost always say that they’re going to remove, like, they’re going to remove the overlay and they’re going to do accessibility. Right. So it’s like mandated as part of the settlement that you have to remove this overlay. And so really that’s where we’re just like, I can’t recommend my clients use those.
[00:22:53] And it’s just say, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is like making your website [00:23:00] accessible in 24 hours. Probably not going to happen.
[00:23:03] Karin: Cause there’s just so many different angles that accessibility, you know, like everything we were talking about earlier, all these different angles that you need to consider that just throwing that overlay.
[00:23:13] But as you’re describing it just, you know, from a 10,000 foot view, it sounds like if I was looking at it, it’s like, oh, you know, that sounds like a quick and easy option, but not only is it. Not a great option, but it’s kind of becoming a, it’s creating all those issues on top of it, which, oh my gosh, how awful.
[00:23:32] I, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t make sense to me how it’s even still out there and people are still doing that. So definitely,
[00:23:39] Amber: yeah. Slimy marketing that’s that is literally the reason why. Right. You know, and I feel bad because I think, you know, a lot of people. Like they know accessibility is the right thing to do.
[00:23:51] And a lot of business owners, maybe they didn’t, they are maybe they haven’t ever been sued, but they’re like, I want to make my stuff as accessible for [00:24:00] everyone. And so they start looking for solutions. And if you don’t know tech and you don’t know the field and you’re not a developer, you don’t really know how to test it with a screen reader to see what it might cause.
[00:24:10] Like. Sure. I think a lot of installing this comes from good intentions and it’s easy to fall for the marketing that these companies.
[00:24:17] Karin: That is so frustrating. Just kind of looking at, like you said, it’s all good intention. They’re trying to do the right thing and they end up going backwards into a hole of creating more of a problem.
[00:24:29] Um, so, all right, so I don’t have a good, smooth transition to our book review section of the show. So Amber, tell me what book you have to recommend, um, to our audience today that, that you thought was something that was really worth.
[00:24:46] Amber: So, if anyone is really interested in, um, website accessibility, I highly recommend from a legal perspective, uh, following Lainey Feingold, and she just put out the second [00:25:00] edition of her book, which is called structured negotiation, a winning alternative to lawsuits, but she is one of the top attorneys in the disability rights space she’s been practicing for over 30 years.
[00:25:11] She helped with, um, doing. Um, structured negotiation with like bank of America and some really big, um, even going back to like accessibility of ATM’s, um, and the nineties and that kind of stuff. So she has a book out that’s really from the legal perspective, which I would highly recommend. Um, and then if you want to stay on top of law, she has a blog it’s just LF legal.com.
[00:25:36] And she, she constantly is posting about the different cases and when their settlements and. And that’s really where I follow to get like what’s happening in the law and in the courts.
[00:25:49] Karin: So Laney fine. Gold will obviously linked to her blog and her book on the show page, but that’s, it sounds so valuable because, um, as we were starting [00:26:00] the show, we were talking about how it’s changing all the time.
[00:26:02] The lawsuits are going up and as those lawsuits keep, uh, coming and, and, you know, increasing that will change. As well, things will change based on what happens in those lawsuits. So requirements may change. There’ll be precedents things, you know, that will in the future, it’s moving so quickly that, you know, you almost need someone like her to just kind of have some sense that, you know, you’re not, you’re not forgetting anything, you’re not missing any major thing.
[00:26:28] That that could be a problem. Um, so Amber, what, uh, what’s one big takeaway that you would want people to get from this episode?
[00:26:37] Amber: So. I think the big takeaway of course, is that you, as you said at the beginning of the episode, right, you can’t bury your head in the sand. This is something that is a legal requirement for your website and could impact you.
[00:26:49] Um, but I think beyond that, I know it’s, it’s like scary to talk about the whole risk and there’s this huge group of audience. And it’s a lot of things. If you’re not, you know, you’re not a [00:27:00] developer and you’re just thinking, I don’t even know where to start. Um, and so I was like to help people is that there are.
[00:27:06] Small ways that you can make your website accessible over time. Um, and I know we don’t have time to go into all of those, but there are things that even a non-developer can do, Justin, like the WordPress content editor, and that’s where using a tool like our tool can be helpful, but also if you can act with the developer, that’s familiar with accessibility, then they can help you, you know, figure out what can we do?
[00:27:28] You know? And, and maybe you don’t have the budget to do it all in one month, but you could be like, let’s just fix this one thing in our head or. This month, and that will fix every single page on our website because our headers on every page. Right. And so you can create a plan for doing it over time and that can really help.
[00:27:44] That can also be helpful to protect you from lawsuits or when you’re responding to lawsuits to be like, oh, this is our plan. Here’s what we’ve done already. This is what, right. Like that’s per activity can be helpful.
[00:27:53] Karin: Yeah, absolutely. And then I would just add that on top of all of that. You’re making the [00:28:00] website better all the way around.
[00:28:01] So, you know, obviously we’re talking about accessibility, but on, on top of that, your, your user experience for all users is going to be better because of all of these changes. So, yeah, I love, I love the idea of just taking it. Um, if you need to just take it one step at a time. And, you know, do a little piece over time, but then also, you know, kind of pay attention to what’s happening so that you’re not, um, putting yourself at too much risk for, for all the things that are kind of coming, coming through and happening in the news of accessibility.
[00:28:30] So, awesome. That’s so helpful and there’s so much good, valuable information here. I hope everyone gets at least a couple good takeaways from it. Uh, Amber Heinz is the CEO of equalized digital and they specialize in website accessibility. Um, thank you so much for being here. That was so such a good conversation.
[00:28:49] Amber: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It’s been fun.