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Website Accessibility UNSEEN LIABILITY

WRITTEN BY TOM WOODS & COREY DAY

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ou get a notice in the mail (or even hand delivered) saying your distillery is being sued by a customer. You think to yourself, “I’ve been essentially on lockdown since March last year, what could a customer be suing me for?” You read further and get the gist, a visually impaired customer attempted to use your website to make a purchase and couldn’t because the website was not compatible with the customer’s screen reading software. As a further complication, there’s a bunch of jargon in the complaint you’re not familiar with: WCAG 2.1, W3C, alt text, and Title III of the ADA, and potentially mention of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act) or New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). This scenario is occurring more and more often. Distilleries and other alcohol businesses are increasingly the target of these website accessibility lawsuits. To help to avoid finding yourself in this situation, we suggest getting up to speed on website mechanics, the law, and how to comply. This is just a brief introduction to these issues and further study will definitely be necessary.

WEBSITES: IN A NUTSHELL

Websites are basically written words that tell the web browser how the site should appear and behave. If you had the skills to create your website from scratch you’ve seen this, but if you hired a web developer or used a website creation service — like those offered by WordPress or Squarespace — you can take a peek at that code by clicking “inspect” within your web browser’s settings or options. If you do that, you’ll see a wall of words. That’s the code. Besides containing the written content visible on your website, your site’s code includes invisible instructions and other information that contribute to the behavior of your site. One such piece of information is alt-text. Alt-text is a written description of non-text portions of your website. So, a picture of your award-winning gin would include an alt-text label “Bottle of gin with gold medal next to it.” Screen reading software takes the code of the website, including alt-text and other background information, and verbally transmits that information. This allows visually impaired customers to get an equivalent experience to sighted people. To help guide development of accessible websites, the advocacy group World Wide Web Consortium (w3.org) has put out its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — currently in version 2.1. The WCAG 2.1 details recommendations on what site owners can do to maximize visually impaired visitors’ ability to use their site.

WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY LAW

In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law put an affirmative duty on businesses to make their premises accessible to people with disabilities. At the time the law was passed, the concern was access to physical locations; websites and the internet were understandably not mentioned. Fast-forward to now and some federal courts have ruled that the ADA also applies to a business’ website. In that same period of time, a number of states enacted their own antidiscrimination laws. For example, the Unruh Act in California and the NYSHRL in New York. Courts in those states have also interpreted those

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Profile for Artisan Spirit Magazine

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2021  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Spring 2021  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

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