Making a business website easy for disabled customers to use is required under the Americans Disability Act (ADA), but it’s not just a matter of compliance, keeping websites usable by everyone is just smart business. 

A recent count by law firm Seyfarth Shaw found that of the more than 2,200 web accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court in 2018, one in 10 cases involved a restaurant company and that number is growing. The average settlement costs alone cost restaurant owners $16,000—not a minor gamble. So why do so many companies spend so much on their digital footprint without including accessibility? Well, there are a lot of ways to fall out of compliance. 

“From the suits we’ve seen, the top two reasons is third parties, third parties are really the reservations systems and private events, catering companies,” said Perry Rahman-Porras, channel strategy manager, at BentoBox, a company that helps restaurants with all manner of digital infrastructure. 

She said even restaurant companies that do a good job have third party issues on their site that makes using a restaurant inaccessible to customers, the bar set by the ADA. 

“If I’m using assistive technology, and trying to order on Uber Eats, and I’m not able to successfully check out of that system, that is a barrier. So third parties are one of the top reasons we’ve seen in the lawsuits for our restaurants,” said Rahman-Porras. “Another issue is lack of alternative text on images and third, something as simple as keyboard navigation being embedded on all sites.” 

She said it’s hard to keep everything working great as developers build beautiful, novel websites for the general populous, compliance can get shoved to the back burner. 

Shawn Pike, VP at User1st, a company that builds website overlays to read the context of the site and make it compliant for users with a disability. He said there aren’t strong guidelines even in the exhaustive Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that were updated last June. 

“WCAG is the framework standard, but it can be implemented in a number of different ways,” said Pike. “How come you cant tell me exactly how to do it is like saying to an artist how exactly to paint a picture. Building websites is as much art as science.” 

He said the biggest issue he sees routinely is keyboard navigation, the ability for visually impaired users and those with mobility issues that might keep them from using a typical mouse or touch screen. 

Pike said it’s not just about guarding against lawsuits from users or drive-by litigators. 

“What most people don’t realize is that there a massive market for it. By doing this, there are upsides, not just compliance,” said Pike. “There’s more disposable income with people with disabilities than large minority groups. They’re a minority group that cuts across all demographics.”

According to the American Community Survey, a government entity that surveys around disabled Americans (ACS), it’s a massive market. In the entity’s 2017 survey, there were more than 3 million households with a visually impaired, working-age adult and more than 8 million households with an ambulatory disability, according to the ACS. Those households account for $135 billion and $316 billion respectively, or more than $450 billion in annual household income. The American Institutes for Research pegged the group’s disposable income at $490 billion in 2018, in the realm of all African Americans ($501 billion) and Hispanics ($582 billion). 

“People spend so much on marketing to 23-26 year olds, when you have this population you can get significant gains,” said Pike. “I really wish people would understand that this is good business, when you design accessible website you design greatly usable websites for everyone, and I wish they would understand the power of word of mouth and the spending power of people with disabilities, so they can stop looking at compliance and think that this is a whole new strategy.” 

The first thing pike and Rahman-Porras said to do is just check out the website and call your developer. If you can’t navigate the website with tab and the arrow keys, that’s an issue. And there are many, many restaurant sites with endemic issues. They can be hard, costly and time consuming to fix, but Rahman-Porras said showing some good will goes a long way and advises all companies to include a accessibility statement on their website. 

“For example Souvla [one of their non franchised clients] has an accessibility statement outlining the work they’ve done to make it more accessible. It tells you the level of compliance they’ve achieved,” said Rahman-Porras. “And it has an email address to ask about any barriers and also gives a phone number and says a good time to call about accessibility. It gives the end customer the ability to access anything they want. This is best practice and you should do this, it shows the world that you care.” 

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