Accessibility is not just ramps
For portable and self-storage businesses that take accessibility seriously, they likely already provide wheelchair-accessible units, ramps, and handrails. But as more and more customer interactions move online, that isn’t good enough. If your storage business offers customers the option to learn more about your offerings and get a quote on your website, you need to consider how to make sure your website is usable for people with disabilities.
Over the past five years, the number of private lawsuits filed over inaccessible website has soared to thousands per year. And this doesn’t take into account an even larger number of settlements reached before a lawsuit is filed in court. Moreover, the targets of these lawsuits are not huge companies. The vast majority of lawsuits are filed against small and medium sized businesses including a number of portable storage providers.
Why digital accessibility is important for portable and self-storage companies
There are a lot of reasons why portable storage companies should care about web accessibility. Disabilities are far more widespread than most people realize including older customers with impaired vision and loss of fine motor control. Adding improvements to your website to allow these users to browse and buy can improve your bottom line and introduce a better user experience for everyone (even those without disabilities). And if you don’t provide this, they might just jump to a competitor who does. There is also evidence that many technical accessibility improvements can pay dividends in your Google SEO rankings. And of course, it’s also the right thing to do!
For many portable storage facilities, legal considerations are key. You may have heard about drive-by lawsuits in which a plaintiff files multiple complaints against businesses after a quick drive through the parking lot to see if they have handicap parking spots. Lately, the same phenomenon has taken root with websites in “surf-by” suits. In this case, plaintiffs run a quick automated scan to find websites with accessibility problems and send a demand letter. If the business doesn’t pay up immediately, they threaten to file suit.
What is web accessibility?
Web or digital accessibility is a set of standards and best practices that ensure all users, regardless of ability, can navigate, read, and use a website. This includes, but is not limited to, users with blindness or visual impairments, deafness or hardness of hearing, and lack of fine motor control. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a project of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which is a group of international organizations and experts that sets standards for the entire web. Most lawsuits and rulings cite WCAG 2.1 Level AA (the most recent version as of 2022).
WCAG 2.1 contains 50 guidelines at the AA Level and all of them must be met in order to be in compliance. Here are a few examples of ways you can make your site more accessible:
- Support page zoom and resize functions to support visually impaired users
- Code your site to be compatible with screen reader software used by many blind users
- Provide closed captions and audio transcripts for deaf or hard of hearing members
- Keyboard operable interfaces and large click areas support users with tremors or lack of fine motor control
- Select colors that can be easily read by color blind or visually impaired users
Does the ADA require websites to be accessible?
Surf-by website accessibility lawsuits are still only a few years old and the legal landscape is still a bit murky. The federal government asserts that websites and mobile apps are required to be accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but only recently (March 2022) issued guidelines as to what that means. Meanwhile, federal courts have issued different rulings as to which websites are covered under the ADA. To make things more confusing, there are state laws such as California’s Unruh Act and CCPA which include digital accessibility requirements.
However, with digital businesses, it’s fairly easy for plaintiffs to file suit in a friendly jurisdiction. Furthermore, for most portable storage businesses, the website is connected to a physical nexus which means that almost most courts would agree that the ADA is applicable.
When it comes to the ADA, the best defense is avoiding a lawsuit in the first place.
What can you do to make your portable storage website accessible
First, let’s start with what you should NOT do. If you Google for web accessibility, you’ll find a number of overlay products that claim that they can make your site accessible and ADA compliant with just one line of code. It sounds like a great solution, but unfortunately it is not technically possible to fully automate accessibility. Furthermore, automated overlays like Accessibe can degrade the user experience for screen reader users and invite lawsuits from plaintiffs that know these solutions aren’t really compliant.
You should start by talking with your website provider or agency along with any third-party products or solutions you employ. Find out what they have done to make your site more accessible and how they can help you become more compliant. You can also run an initial scan on tools like WAVE to get a sense of how many egregious accessibility violations there are on your site.
Unfortunately, web accessibility is still not on the radar for many agencies. Depending on your budget and how soon you’re planning for a web redesign, it might make sense to rebuild with accessibility in mind. Alternatively, you can work with an accessibility provider to perform an audit on your site, find the major issues and work together to remediate them.
Claim the Disabled Access Tax Credit
While accessibility is an investment, it may be more affordable than you think. Many small businesses are eligible for the federal Disabled Access Credit where you can earn back 50% of your spending on digital (or physical) accessibility efforts (with a maximum tax credit of $5,000). If you time your accessibility project right, you may even be able to claim a full $10,000 over two years. Eligible companies can receive the tax credit every year, which means that delaying your accessibility project until next year is leaving money on the table. You can learn more about eligibility and how to claim this credit in our more detailed post here.
Taking the first steps
There are no turnkey solutions for accessibility. But you can still take immediate steps to improve your accessibility. You can work with a professional to draft an accessibility statement that describes your compliance goals and the steps you are taking to achieve them. This can help demonstrate your commitment and can help you in a legal context as well.
Ultimately 100% compliance is the goal, but Access Armada can help you plan the highest impact accessibility fixes. That way, you can quickly make sure to remove the issues that introduce the most accessibility issues and ensure that surf-by plaintiffs won’t be able to target you based on a quick scan. To learn more about accessibility and for a free website review and strategy session, please reach out.