User Experience Means All Users

Part One: Understanding Government Regulations Around Accessibility

What’s the cost of excluding users from the web and other digital products? For some organizations, it’s upward of $400,000.

Websites and digital products must have an accessible user experience. This means users with disabilities such as vision, hearing, physical or cognitive impairments should be able to use digital products without problems or the need for an added adaptation. It also means users experiencing situational limitations or restrictions can still use a digital product to the fullest extent possible.

35 percent of web accessibility-related litigation since the year 2000 has happened in the past five years.

Failing to deliver an accessible user experience isn’t just bad practice, it can be expensive. Companies may have to remediate websites or digital products after the fact, an added cost on top of developing the website or digital product in the first place. Neglecting to address accessibility could result in penalties or fines for not meeting compliance, and sometimes there are legal ramifications for excluding users from digital products. In fact, 35 percent of web accessibility-related litigation since the year 2000 has happened in the past five years.

Understanding the government regulations around accessibility is the first step in ensuring your digital products are accessible by today’s standards.

Consider these regulations as the foundation for what product development teams need to know:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990) - This regulation states that communications with people with disabilities are to be as effective as communications with people without disabilities. “Accessible electronic and information technology” is listed as a means of achieving effective communication for people with vision-related disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) - This is an extension of civil rights for people with disabilities who are also recipients of federal financial assistance. It states that communications with people with disabilities must be as effective as communications with people without disabilities.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973) - This section states that federal government agencies must ensure that all electronic and information technology it procures, develops, maintains or uses is accessible.

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (2010) - This legislation brought accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s up to date with 21st century technologies, including broadband and mobile.

Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) - Created by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), VPATs allow organizations to report the level of compliance their software or products meet. At the most basic level, a VPAT is a public statement of the level of Section 508 compliance for U.S. federal government agencies. It’s not a rating or an up-or-down statement of compliance, but it must accurately represent the level of compliance.

One extra! UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities- The United States isn’t the only entity with regulation around accessibility. The United Nations considers it a basic human right to have equal access and opportunities to information and communication technologies for all ranges of abilities.

Depending on the industry, corporations or institutions may establish their own policies for web accessibility that are more extensive than the government regulations listed above. You can get an idea of those applicable policies and regulations from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Understanding all of the regulatory pieces that affect UX can seem overwhelming. You may feel like you have to catch up in order to be compliant, and that’s OK. While it takes time and money to remediate older sites or products, it’s a critical effort that keeps your products out of the courtroom and in compliance. Furthermore, ensuring accessibility is a priority among your team throughout design, development and research can help mitigate risk from the start.

This is part one of a three-part series on accessibility.

Still have questions? Drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

About the Author

Photo of Julee Peterson
Julee Peterson

Julee is UX Designer at Openfield with a Master of Science in User Experience Design from Kent State University. Her tireless dedication to creating stellar user experiences and her conviction for representing the voice of all users makes her a leader among us when it comes to best practices of ADA compliance and inclusive design. Julee enjoys cruising on her motorcycle when the weather’s nice, gardening and furthering her love of cooking and baking with challenging new recipes. She is currently satisfying her thirst to learn new things by teaching herself to play cello and speak Korean. 합시다!

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