My colleague William Goren (see his blogs at www.williamgoren.com/blog) passed along a recent interview with Daniel Goldstein (http://www.bna.com/fighting-accessible-websites-n57982065991) that shows, I think, a serious disconnect is between the disabilities rights community and ordinary American businesses with respect to web accessibility.
I’ll start with what Mr. Goldstein said about making a web site accessible. He said: “It’s pretty easy to resolve most of these barriers [to access]” and “the expense is usually small.” His examples of common problems including things like failure to properly use the “H1 tag” or to write code that properly moves the “focus” of a web page. “Pretty easy” and “small expense” are words whose meaning depends on the business involved. This blog was set up by myself using a WordPress template. I didn’t write any code, and I couldn’t find an “H1 tag” to save my life. I do know, because a web programmer helped me look at it, that this single page is created by about 1000 lines of computer code. If that code is wrong, fixing it would not be “pretty easy” for me or any of the tens of thousands of small businesses that use WordPress or similar template based web design tools.
“Small expense” isn’t exactly true either. I’ve talked to a number of accessibility consultants in the last few weeks and the least expensive charges a minimum of $7500 to review a web site and produce a report with examples of what is wrong. That’s for up to 25 pages; additional pages are $250 each. Just to see what this might mean in the real world I looked at the web site of a local parent teacher organization. There were more than 100 pages in the web site. For an organization that makes money selling popcorn door to door $25,000 for an accessibility review is not a “small expense.”
This is the big disconnect between disability rights groups, the DOJ and the real world. The cost of creating an accessible web page bears no relation to the size of the business that creates it, and web accessibility is far more complex and expensive than physical accessibility. I can tell if my front door meets ADA standards with a tape measure and a level that cost less than $10.00. I can’t tell if my home page is accessible without paying a consultant thousands of dollars. Fixing it will cost even more.
Half the American economy is made up of businesses that have fewer than 20 employees. Many, if not most of these have no IT staff at all. However, the way the ADA is written, if Wal-mart has to be WCAG 2.0 level AA compliant then Joe’s Pizzeria has the exact same obligation; the difference is that Joe’s Pizzeria would go bankrupt trying to pay the cost of keeping its website accessible.
This is why, I believe, DOJ has again postponed its rule making on web accessibility. DOJ cannot find a regulatory scheme that fits all sizes of business or other public accommodation. Finding such a regulatory scheme will remain impossible until the software tools to create accessible web pages become readily and cheaply available because an important part of the economic power of the internet is the ability of businesses to quickly and cheaply take advantage of the national and international exposure it provides. What happened between DOJ and Target or Netflix is fascinating, but we need to move the discussion of internet accessibility back to the real world of small businesses and ordinary bloggers, because that is where the effects of any change in the law will be felt the most, and where any change will likely do the most damage.
For more information about the web and ADA go to the Education for Business link at the top of this page, and read my earlier posts: DOJ Plays Kick the Can , Strangle the Internet, You need a nerd, Never would be a good time, and What Kind of Place is Cyberspace,