Manage Risk, Maximize Opportunity: Is Your Website Accessible?
Digital accessibility is smart business. From brand culture to ethics to economics, there are many reasons ISBN members would take steps to make your company’s digital spaces as readily accessible as your salon, spa or barber locations are to clients with disabilities. A recent Supreme Court decision involving Domino’s Pizza means you may no longer have a choice.
In fact, to avoid costly litigation and be best positioned to serve and build loyalty with consumers with disabilities—a large, diverse and influential demographic—you’ll likely need to ramp up accessibility on your web site and other digital platforms, if you don’t already have a strategy in motion. Here’s why:
In case you missed it: On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court denied a petition by Domino’s to hear a case involving a blind man, Guillermo Robles, who sued the chain after he was unable to order food on Domino’s website and mobile app with the screen-reading software he was using.
Two sides: Robles attorneys claimed that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses with physical locations to make their websites and other online platforms accessible to people with disabilities. Attorneys for Domino’s argued, as other business groups have, that the ADA should not apply to online platforms that did not exist when the law was passed in 1990, and also that there are no clear rules on how to make their digital platforms accessible.
What it means: The Supreme Court’s denial to hear the case means an earlier ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, which states that the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.”
The decision is seen as a win for disability advocates and a loss for Domino’s, which issued a statement expressing disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision and plans to move forward to trial in district court, and urging “a need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible.”Is your salon, spa or barber business at risk? The high-profile, timely Domino’s lawsuit is just one of thousands filed over digital accessibility in recent years. Eric Feinberg, chief marketing officer of eSSENTIAL Accessibility (essentialaccessbility.com), a company specializing in digital accessibility solutions, says that companies across every category are being impacted, including beauty.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small your company is, or in what industry,” he says. “It’s pervasive. In 2018, there were 2,250 ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits, and already more than that have been filed in 2019.”
Feinberg says online retailers have been particularly susceptible to the uptick in digital accessibility lawsuits developed, but the current status of the Domino’s case means businesses that engage with clients in a physical space (like salons, spas and barbers) are more vulnerable than ever to scrutiny of their web sites’ accessibility, and to litigation.
“Businesses within the ISBN world are double targets for plaintiff firms because you are both retailers and a nexus to a physical location,” Feinberg says. In his estimation, most salon, spa and barber business websites are in some way inaccessible today.
He also clarifies that no matter what kind of functions a company’s site and platforms offer—whether or not you offer services like online booking, e-commerce product sales or digital gift certificates, for instance—the platforms must be accessible or at least on the path to accessibility—to be compliant and manage risk.
“The principle of the current status of the law is that people with disabilities should be able to access a company’s product or services wherever they have them offered or featured,” Feinberg says. Meaning if someone with vision or hearing issues was using digital technology to search for a salon online, found yours, then wanted to learn more, they would need to be able to access all the information your company shares online—text, video, audio.
So, how do you protect your business?
As the Domino’s attorneys pointed, part of the frustration for businesses is that there are not yet set federal rules or ADA-specific guidelines for digital platform accessibility and compliance. Such rules are readily available for physical space requirements, like wheelchair ramps, restroom access, etc.
There is, however, a global industry standard of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the Internet. Feinberg says that most if not all website accessibility lawsuit settlements in the U.S. refer to WCAG and the settling company’s intent to take steps to meet those guidelines. He also notes that many other countries do require businesses to comply with some version of WCAG, so that is what his company and others advise and help businesses to attain.
Legal, commercial and ethical motivations for being proactive.
Feinberg presents at numerous events and conferences in the retail business space on the topic of accessibility, and eSSENTIAL Accessibility recently signed on to be at ISBN’s 2020 Conference in San Diego May 3-5. He assures owners and execs there is a practical process to mitigating risk, and that his and other companies can help business owners navigate it in a logical, affordable way. He also emphasizes that by taking those steps to make your digital platforms more accessible and WCAG compliant, you also make it easier for the significant population of Americans who live with a disability to do business with your salons, spas or barber shops.
“There are over 60 million people living with disabilities in the U.S. alone (1.3 billion globally), making it the largest minority group,” Feinberg says. “Friends and family represent another 105 million people in the U.S. who have an emotional connection.”
For businesses that thrive on recommendations and referrals, it makes sense on multiple levels to promote accessibility to such an influential audience of potential consumers of cuts, color, spa treatments, nail services, beard trims and beauty or grooming products.
“Promote accessibility and inclusion whenever and wherever you can,” Feinberg advises businesses, ideally before a demand letter makes it a necessity.
Simply being on the path to accessibility and showing that your company has made a commitment to improve accessibility within a certain time frame and being able to point to an accessibility statement posted on your website can help protect your business if and when threat of a lawsuit surfaces, Feinberg explains. “Showing that you’ve done some of the work already is valuable. It’s just about getting started and telling people you are getting started.”
And that’s where eSSENTIAL Accessibility comes in.
According to Feinberg, the company offers turnkey solutions to help businesses get started with and follow through every step of their digital accessibility journeys. Many major and multi-unit brands are clients, including Macy’s and Hertz, and eSSENTIAL Accessibility also has recent experience in the multi-unit salon, spa and barber segment as well.
Their proprietary digital accessibility compliance platform offers businesses “accessibility as a service,” which includes:
- Automated testing: specialized software that evaluates a company’s web site, app or platform, with monthly or annual audits.
- Functional and manual testing: usability lab gauges customer experience; people with disabilities use their own assisted technology screen readers or other resources to perform basic tasks like finding a location or booking an appointment.
- Assistive technology application: suite of accessibility solutions that clients can offer free to their users who have trouble typing, moving a mouse, gesturing or reading a screen.
- Ongoing support: to ensure the company stays up-to-date with relevant accessibility standards and guidelines.
There’s much more on the service menu, like a rapid draft and placement of an “accessibility statement” that outlines the company’s inclusion policy, accessibility resources and plan, and more.
“Moving forward, I do believe accessibility statements will be as common and as important as privacy statements, appearing at the footer of every branded web site and email,” Feinberg says. Done well and leveraged properly, this becomes more like a purpose statement and can be very good for the brand, he adds.
“You can look at digital accessibility as a legal headache or a growth opportunity,” he concludes. Either way, every business with an online presence will need to address it.
MUSE on this: Watch for more specific accessibility tips and a best practices checklist from Feinberg and the eSSENTIAL Accessibility team as part of ISBN’s new MUSE (multi-unit salon/spa exchange) communications platforms in early 2020. Also, plan to connect with eSSENTIAL Accessibility at the ISBN Conference May 3-5 at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. In the meantime contact Alex Khan or Eric Feinberg, with questions, and mention ISBN.