SXSW Day 3: Focused on Web Accessibility

Note from Lionel: I know in my initial post about SXSW, I said we would publish updates about specific panels in the SXSW 2008 category, but I'm going to violate my own rule because I know there's a broader interest in accessibility and overall. Beyond publishing this post on the main page, I've asked Dodie to blog more about and accessibility more in the future. Here is Dodie's post.

One of the gripes I have with SXSWi is the amount of panels that sometimes conflict. It sometimes means making some difficult decisions. Earlier this week, I really wanted to get to the WaSP Annual Meeting: Don't Break the Web where a friend of mine, Glenda Sims was going to be in a panel along with the Star Wars Accessibility guy, Derek Featherstone, but I had to go with Targeting Your Web Site: Accessibility Litigation Update where Anitra Pavka and Michael Wasylik were the presenters. I'm glad I decided on this panel because I gained a ton of knowledge.  Even suffering through the Target puns!

Everyone should be familiar with their accessibility lawsuit, if not, here is some good background information, and more recent information can be found on the National Federation of the Blind's (NFB) website.  This lawsuit has been going on for 2 years now, and Mr. Wasylik estimated that Target will spend millions no matter if they win or lose.

The important thing I learned at this panel was how to tell if your website has to comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or not. Basically, this act is a mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The actual language of Title III is:


(a) General Rule.–No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

In the Target lawsuit the judge has ruled that is an extension of the retail stores and so they have to comply with the ADA.  The thing is, the NFB approached Target first and tried to get them to comply without a lawsuit, Target refused. Bad move on their part!

So, how do you minimize liability? Be proactive, test existing websites, involve disabled users and make accessibility something you build in from the beginning of the design. You also need to be responsive, take feedback seriously, fix problems as soon as you can and offer equal alternatives.

One more thing is be aware that disability law is changing—Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 is being updated. And the Web 2.0 technologies we are using are also changing; these new technologies require new techniques. To keep up with the changing web standards, bookmark the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative site. To keep up with the lawsuits, scan the news at the NFB and Access Now.

Mr. Wasylik pointed out several times that the cost of the highest paid designers and web coders is small compared to the cost of the team of lawyers you will have to hire to defend you!

About the Author: Dodie Stillman