Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has ensured equal opportunity for Americans who live with physical and mental conditions that limit their means. While wheelchair ramps, closed captioning and wider doorways have become commonplace, the digital realm still lags behind.
Accessible360, founded by entrepreneur Mark Lacek, seeks to fix that oversight. The company’s purpose is to make websites and digital apps fully functional for those who live with blindness, deafness, or physical or cognitive disabilities. The company was launched in April 2016 and began promotion last fall, just in time to help businesses comply with a rollout of new regulations from the Department of Justice in 2018.
Technology has changed since 1990 when the ADA was passed. The Department of Justice announced last year that it the law applies both to physical buildings as well as digital areas. Accessible360 is here to make companies accessible today.
Many screen readers don’t recognize 100 percent of a website, Lacek said. When a blind user can’t access an offer, it is discrimination and a violation of the law. Some compliance issues are obvious, like font sizes that affect persons with visual impairment.
But Lacek said most are subtle. “There are things you would never recognize as a sighted person. Technology just doesn’t pick them up.”
Checkout screens are a notorious problem for blind users, he explained. This alienates those users and decreases potential sales. Studies show that Americans with disabilities spend more time online than their non-disabled counterparts, so it’s essential for companies to adapt to their needs. “Up to 85 percent of websites are not compliant based on what the current ADA guidelines are,” said Lacek.
“It’s somewhat Y2Kish,” Lacek said when explaining digital ADA compliance. “There’s this pending thing on the horizon. The difference is everyone knew about Y2K and people are just becoming aware of this issue.”
Accessible360 offers three core services. Lacek’s team of 10— led by accessibility engineer Aaron Cannon (who is blind)—will provide an audit of a website to determine issues and potential fixes for a client. Other services are remediation (fixing the issues) and monitoring. Monitoring, he said, works like a home security system or credit card alert program, where Accessible360 makes sure that any new content uploaded to a website remains in compliance even after the first two phases are complete.
“The biggest challenge is really awareness and education of the general public,” said Lacek. “A lot of people don’t realize that the ADA regulations applies to the internet and their sites need to be accessible.” The company was inspired by the number of lawsuits being filed about website accessibility.
So far, Lacek’s team has worked with retail, financial services, travel, health and medical, and educational websites. It’s important to be compliant, he says, but it’s more important to make the world a better place.
“No one wants to be that company or that website that’s not empathetic to all of society,” he added, “including the disabled.” (This article originally appeared in The Line.)