The Legal Importance of Accessible Digital Design
April 20, 2024

What if I told you that almost all websites and web applications are not 508-compliant? The 2023 WebAim Million annual evaluation reports that 97.4% of the top 1 million websites are not ADA-compliant.

Imagine logging onto a website or app and being unable to access vital information or services because of an avoidable design flaw. Frustrating, isn’t it? We often regard design as the bridge between technology and its human users. But sometimes, this bridge isn’t built for everyone. Imagine designing a TV without an off button or stop lights using the same color for go, slow, and stop. That’s the equivalent of creating digital platforms without considering all types of users. 

Beyond the ethical importance of creating inclusive digital spaces, there’s a growing legal imperative to ensure accessibility.  When it comes to designing for the digital realm, the stakes have never been higher. Let’s dive into the maze of 508 compliance and the real-world consequences of overlooking it.

Section 508 and the ADA: More Than Mere Guidelines

If you think that creating an inclusive digital space is just a matter of good ethics, think again. The landscape is steeped in legal intricacies. The ADA and Section 508 (used to measure web accessibility) aren’t just “nice-to-have” guidelines; they are foundational pillars that ensure inclusivity is non-negotiable.

In 2023, the Department of Justice ruled that websites for state and federal governments as well as businesses that are open to the public (and their vendors too!). Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Retail stores and other sales or retail establishments;
  • Banks;
  • Hotels, inns, and motels;
  • Hospitals and medical offices;
  • Food and drink establishments; and
  • Auditoriums, theaters, and sports arenas.
  • public education

“The Department [of Justice] has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.”

Courtesy ADA.gov

Key Aspects of Section 508 Include:

  • Accessible Websites and Web Tools: Any website or web tool operated by or on behalf of a federal agency should be made accessible. This includes everything from web applications to intranet sites.
  • Self-Contained, Closed Products: These products, like information kiosks and multifunction printers, often used in public spaces, must be usable by people with disabilities without requiring an end-user to attach assistive technology to the product.
  • Video and Multimedia Products: Multimedia presentations and the production of video content for viewing by the public or federal employees need to be accessible. This involves providing captions for videos, ensuring any graphics displayed are understandable without relying on color alone, and more.
  • Software Applications and Operating Systems: These need to be developed or procured with accessibility in mind. Features might include keyboard shortcuts and ensuring software is compatible with screen reading technologies.

Consequences of looking the other way.

With the laws laid out clearly, one might wonder: what happens if they’re ignored? Well, recent history has some tales to tell.

Target’s Dilemma: Not even retail behemoths are exempt–Target faced a class-action lawsuit. The allegation? Their website didn’t cater adequately to blind and low-vision customers.

No Exceptions for Government Entities: The sprawling expanse of Los Angeles County was slapped with a federal lawsuit over alleged ADA violations in their digital platforms. This isn’t just a PR nightmare; it’s a glaring reminder that public service websites have a heavy onus of responsibility.

Now, beyond the legal tangles, there’s a significant monetary sting. Immediate fines can skyrocket to $75,000 for first-time violations, can double for recurring ones, and can result in a loss of federal funding. That’s not even factoring in the potential revenue losses or the long-lasting scars on brand reputation.

We place extra focus on neurodivergent design.

In the intricate tapestry of design, many threads come together to weave a complete picture. While many prioritize designing for physical diversity, we believe in pushing boundaries and taking a more holistic approach. What truly sets our work at Red Argyle apart is the conscious emphasis on designing for neurodiversity

At first glance, digital spaces might seem neutral. But, like the physical world around us, they interact with our cognitive functions, emotions, and sensory perceptions. Neurodivergent individuals, such as those with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and others, experience the digital realm differently. Designing with these users in mind isn’t just an act of inclusion; it’s a commitment to genuine understanding.

So, why is it crucial to design for neurodiversity?

  • Reflecting the Full Spectrum of Humanity: Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity. By designing with this in mind, we’re acknowledging and valuing the full spectrum of human experiences.
  • Enhanced User Experience for All: Techniques that aid neurodivergent users often streamline experiences for everyone. Think of it as a ripple effect, where catering to specific needs creates an overall smoother, more intuitive user journey.
  • Promotion of Positive Mental Health: Digital spaces can either be a haven or a minefield for those with sensory sensitivities or cognitive differences. Thoughtful design can minimize triggers and stressors, promoting overall well-being.
  • Broadening Perspectives: By understanding and designing for neurodivergent individuals, we’re also broadening our own horizons, cultivating empathy, and fostering innovation. After all, seeing the world through diverse lenses can only enhance our creativity.

When we design with both physiodivergent and neurodivergent individuals in mind, we’re not just ticking boxes; we’re expanding the realms of what’s possible in digital design. Every user, regardless of how their brain is wired, deserves to navigate a digital world that understands and respects them.

Equally awesome experiences

We’ve stepped into a world where our digital creations need to be mindful, inclusive, and legally compliant. It’s not just about alt-texts or color contrasts; it’s about truly understanding and valuing every user who interacts with what we create.

In today’s digital age, it’s not just about being online—it’s about being accessible to all. And while the moral case for inclusivity is strong, the legal case is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. As you design, develop, and deploy, remember: inclusivity isn’t just an option; it’s a mandate. Let’s strive to make the digital world open to all, and in the process, safeguard our businesses from potential legal pitfalls.

After all, as developers, designers, service- and product-providers, isn’t our primary goal to ensure everyone has an equally awesome experience with what we create?