Website digital accessibility – the ability for all users including those with visual, auditory, motor or cognitive disabilities to easily navigate and understand your website and its applications – has been an issue for over a decade.  Since the internet is considered a public space, it’s subject to Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance standards.  However, a vast majority of websites, including BHPH car dealerships, fail to adhere to these regulations and as a result, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.  Because there are not yet any federally mandated guidelines, most are at a loss about how to improve their digital accessibility to become ADA compliant which is imperative since this lack of federal regulations does not stop courts from siding with plaintiffs.  Here is what you need to know about ADA compliance standards for your website(s).

According to analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, nearly 5,000 lawsuits were filed in 2018 alone, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing in 2019.  Many blame the deluge on the Trump administration’s decision to scrap four Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemaking, or ANPRMs, pertaining to digital accessibility.  As long as people felt assured something was being done about the issue, there were fewer related lawsuits being brought against businesses– 2016 saw only 262 suits– but with that assurance removed, the metaphorical floodgates have opened.  Whether or not the current administration is really to blame, the fact remains that thousands of businesses and other organizations are now feeling the sting of lawsuits.

Plaintiffs allege that websites are difficult or impossible for the disabled to use with the largest number of digital accessibility lawsuits coming from those who are visually impaired.  For example, a legally blind Florida man, Joel Price, sued multiple county agencies in his home state because records were posted online in a PDF format his screen reading software couldn’t translate.  To date, Price and his lawyers have received around $90,000 is settlements plus the cost of his legal fees, and that is on top of what it will cost for county governments to update their websites to meet ADA compliance standards.  Similarly, a woman named Emily Fuller has sued large corporations including Chick-Fil-A and Sephora because their websites were not ADA compliant.  Unlike Price, she is suing only for legal fees and for better digital accessibility.  Smaller businesses are just as vulnerable as large ones.  The 10-room Avanti Hotel in Los Angeles was sued by Kayla Reed, a Montana woman who was allegedly unable to make reservations for a vacation because the hotel website did not meet ADA rules.

So what does this mean for BHPH car dealerships?  It might be thought that the automotive industry owners, especially those with dealerships, are immune, but can BHPH Dealerships really take this gamble?  If it is legal for a hearing impaired person to drive, can a dealer be certain that someone with hearing problems will not visit their website?  For that matter, can anyone say with certainty that there is no chance of a sight impaired individual purchasing a vehicle for a family member, or to be driven by an aid?  Banking on none of the above ever happening seems an unnecessary risk for BHPH dealers to take.  The smart move independent and BHPH car dealerships can make is to be proactive in ensuring their websites are ADA compliant. So, how can your BHPH car dealership website be made more compliant?  Although there are no official federal rules, here is an excellent resource to assist you with the process: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are acknowledged to be the best available standard, and in fact most digital accessibility lawsuits have been settled when companies agreed to adopt them.

The documentation is complex and somewhat confusing, but here following are some of the basics (simple, detailed explanations of the entire WCAG can be found on the Web Accessibility Initiative website).  Websites adhering to WCAG should “POUR,” meaning they should be Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust with documents uploaded in a format that screenreaders can translate and web content meeting the same standard.  Video content should include captions for the hearing impaired and audio should be accompanied by a written text version for the same reason and all images should include alternative text, again so that screenreaders can describe the image to those who are unable to see it.  A link should be placed next to time-based media providing alternatives for those who are hearing or sight impaired and instructions for website operations (such as logging in or changing a forgotten password) should be provided in both written and audio format so that everyone is able to use it.  All functionality of provided content should be available via both mouse and keystroke so that those who cannot operate a mouse can still use the site and all audio content should either be played upon request or automatically turned off when accessibility software is detected – unless it’s part of a screenreader’s function, etc.  Online assistance in both written and audio formats should be available.

Altering websites for greater digital accessibility will not only prevent your dealership from becoming one of thousands of businesses facing ADA lawsuits, but may also improve your image with potential customers.  Using technology to make dealership websites more inclusive also has the added bonus of encouraging innovation and improving a dealership’s reach.  Just as offering the option to interact with a Spanish-speaking salesperson can build a larger customer base by making these car buyers feel welcome, so offering greater web accessibility can attract more business by making dealerships more attractive to the hearing and sight impaired.  The principle is the same.  With over 1 billion disabled customers in the global market boasting a spending capacity of over $6 trillion, this demographic could prove well worth dealership’s efforts to include.

Making the necessary changes up front will cost BHPH dealerships and depending on the complexity of the website, could be a huge cost, but doing so will save money in the long run, and may even attract more business.  With so many companies facing legal trouble due to lack of digital accessibility, leading the pack in updating your web content may be your best option.  All other considerations aside, the chances are that when federal rules for digital accessibility are finally put in place, which seems inevitable given the number of lawsuits, you may be glad to be a step ahead.

Sources:
LA Times
Web Accessibility Initiative
Web Accessibility Initiative – Business Case
WFLA
WFTV

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