By Adam Dennis —
You have no choice but to care about whether your website is accessible for people with sight impairment because the law tells you that it must be so. If your site is configured well for assistive technology (think website readers that read text out loud or make text larger), then you're good. But say your website is not configured properly, then what happens? Simply put: You are at risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that puts your dealership at risk of a lawsuit. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ This article was written by Adam Dennis, Principal at SurgeMetrix and Tom Kline, Lead Consultant and Founder of Better Vantage Point. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Facts We like facts. Facts aren't opinions. They don't have feelings. They tell you what's up and, when used properly, inform good decisions. As we've discussed in previous articles, we've analyzed over 35,000 dealer websites for a variety of performance issues as well as demographic and digital market data to set a context for the industry and individual dealers who want to see how they rank relative to their competitors. In this article, we are reviewing the Accessibility of a website as per Google's algorithms. Now you might look at the data and conclude it means nothing to you, but the reality is that with Google being the dominant force in the search market and recognized authority of website performance, you can't ignore their conclusions. So let's look at the facts. Of the 35,444 dealer websites we analyzed, we could not match 5,930 of them due to a range of issues, from configuration problems to software setups that retard Google's ability to analyze certain data about a website. Consequently, our actual surveyed total was 29,514; a not-too-shabby number all by itself. When Google ranks a site for its technical Accessibility, it does on a three-part colored scale out of 100. The sweet spot you want your website to occupy is the 90-100 bracket. This rating is the best and indicates that your website is technically very well constructed for people with sight limitations to be able to read and for those people who use assistive technology, to be able to understand the website as well. The other two ranking categories stake out in brilliant clarity those websites that do not perform well in terms of their technical configuration for meeting accessibility requirements. The yellow category covers sites with ratings from 50 to 89/100. This is a nether world where you're meeting some, but not all, of the ADA requirements. The lower you are, the greater the risk. Finally, if you are in the red zone, you are in potential trouble. Simply put, you are broadcasting to enterprising lawyers that you could be sued. The red zone covers ratings from 0 to 49. What did we learn? We found the following results with 1.8% of the websites in the Red, a whopping 76.5% in the yellow, and only 21.7% in the green. That big yellow area was concerning, so we broke that down even further into 10% chunks giving us 50-59 for the first chunk, 60-69 for the second, and so on. We did this because we still see a risk for dealers in the yellow area, especially if they are in the lower ranges. Here is what we discovered: Would you want to be in those lower ranges with an Accessibility rating of 68 or 72? I wouldn't; I have faith in opportunistic lawyers. If I were a dealer who wanted to mitigate risk, I would ask my website vendor to improve my performance: at the very least, to the high 80s. The Risks According to the Seyfarth law firm, ADA website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court were up fourteen (14%) percent from 2020 to 2021. This translates to 2,895 cases, an increase of 372 actions. These numbers do not account for the following: Demand letters that were sent and/or settled; State court actions; or Mobile application lawsuits were accounted for differently Just as there are attorneys specializing in suing dealers in the automotive industry, there are plaintiff lawyers specializing in ADA lawsuits. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites these statistics: "Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. As of 2012, 4.2 million Americans aged 40 years and older suffer from uncorrectable vision impairment, out of which 1.02 million are blind; this number is predicted to more than double by 2050 to 8.96 million due to the increasing epidemics of diabetes and other chronic diseases and our rapidly aging U.S. population. Approximately 6.8% of children younger than 18 years in the United States have a diagnosed eye and vision condition. Nearly 3% of children younger than 18 years are blind or visually impaired, defined as having trouble seeing even when wearing glasses or contact lenses." These are large numbers. Unless you have addressed website ADA accessibility, you open yourself up for exposure to these enterprising lawyers who make a living from ADA-based lawsuits. As with any compliance topic, "willful non-compliance" opens you to higher settlement numbers and further unknown liabilities, and other unintended consequences. Willful non-compliance is a term we use to describe a situation where a business lacks a robust Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) program. In short, a GRC program follows the outline of what a "prudent business person" would do in a similar situation. This entails having written (and acknowledged) policies and procedures with your employees, which are then checked by someone performing an audit function. Remember, you manage what you monitor. Importantly, depending on how the allegations are crafted in the lawsuit, your garage insurance may not cover any of the allegations. If that is the case, settlement indemnities will come from your dealership's bank account. What To Do This is a simple one, folks, with just three steps to get you compliant. Step 1, have the website reviewed for accessibility compliance using a tool such as Google's PageSpeed Insights tool. The tool has an "Accessibility" section that, when selected, will give you the issues that will need to be addressed. Step 2, once you understand what needs to be fixed, buy a tool to install on your website to help make it ADA compliant very quickly. We really like Userway ( www.userway.org ) as the interface is simple and clean. Its pricing starts at $490 per year for up to 100,000 website page views per month, to $3,290 per year for up to 10 million page views per month. Finally, for Step 3, test your website again with PageSpeed Insights to see if you have improved. Our experience is that most dealer websites will quickly go into the green. If not, then ask your web provider to use the PageSpeed Insights data as a guide to improving performance. It's that simple. Test, buy Userway, install it, test again to validate (and fix anything that remains), and then eliminate this risk. Don't make it easy for the attorneys.