So how does ADA compliance apply to websites? Especially since the web wasn’t widely used in 1990 outside of scientific circles.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires brick-and-mortar establishments or, “places of public accommodation” to remove any “access barriers” that would prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing their goods or services. As the Internet has become such an important part of everyday life, the definition of “public accommodations” has extended from the physical world of buildings and offices to the digital world of the Internet and websites.
Websites that have a significant number of inaccessible components may be considered discriminatory against people with disabilities.
In this webinar, we discuss what ADA compliance means for insurance agency websites, the benefits of an accessible website, recent legal activity, and how BrightFire addresses ADA compliance.
Watch The Webinar
Spencer: Hello everyone, my name is Spencer Breidenbach. I’m a Sales Executive here at BrightFire. Thanks again to all of you for attending our November webinar in this 20 Minute Marketing Webinar Series. We’re excited we had a great turnout last month for our 20 Minute Marketing Webinar on Rapid Cost-Effective Lead Generation With Pay-Per-Click Advertising.
Don’t forget you can access that webinar and all of our previous webinars on-demand when you visit brightfire.com/webinars. So the goal of this series, all of our webinars, is to provide you with digital marketing advice and discuss some current digital marketing topics. We know things are really hectic for agency owners, so we want to keep it to a brief 20-minute format followed by a Q&A session.
So any attendees have additional questions, you get a chance to get those addressed.
Today’s 20 Minute Marketing Webinar is on ADA Compliance for Agency Websites. If you think of any questions at all during the webinar, please feel free to use that Q&A feature in Zoom. You’ll see that little toolbar under the video screen. And one icon says Q&A with two little speech bubbles. Feel free, as things go, if you think of a question, pop that in that Q&A box and then we’ll address that at the end. Also as a reminder, today’s webinar is being recorded and it will be available on-demand, just like all the others for future access if there are things you want to go back and review later on.
Spencer: Before we dive into ADA compliance and websites, just to give you a little background on BrightFire, because I know we’ve got some clients as well as some agents out there that haven’t worked with us in the past.
BrightFire started out providing insurance agency websites back in 2000. Over the years since, we’ve seen consumers do more and more research online. And therefore, agencies had more and more that they needed with their online presence as well. So we expanded our digital marketing services beyond just doing the website to also help with things like search engine optimization, helping agents to get more reviews from their clients and build that positive reputation, get more folks willing to reach out and check them out as an option, help a lot of clients with social media content and taking time back from them on that so they are freed up for other more high level stuff. We manage a lot of local listings to help clients build that credibility with Google and help their SEO. And then we’ve got a ton of folks who do pay-per-click advertising campaigns that we’ve built and managed for them as another lead generation avenue.
Today we work with over 2000 agencies across 48 different states, and we’re really proud that our first insurance agency customer that started out with us back in 2000 is still working with us and our client today. So we’ve got that little background and context, let’s go ahead and get rolling.
Spencer: So what is ADA? Basically the ADA or the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. It’s passing ensured that equal access and enjoyment of places of public accommodation was a civil right for everyone. This means that any businesses that serve the public must make sure that their building accommodates people with disabilities of various kinds.
A lot of times, you think of things like wheelchair ramps and parking spaces that are reserved and designated for the disabled had to be made available. So you may be asking, “Okay, so how does ADA compliance apply to our websites?” Especially since 1990 when this was first passed, the web wasn’t widely used outside of scientific circles with researchers.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that brick and mortar establishment or “places of public accommodation,” that they have to remove any access barriers that would prevent individuals with disabilities from accessing their goods or services. So as the internet became such an important part of everyday life, that definition of public accommodations has extended from just the physical world of buildings and offices out to the digital world of the internet and websites.
Even though title III of the ADA doesn’t specifically mention websites, US courts have interpreted it to apply to websites since they are now considered to fall under that category of a place of public accommodation. Here people with disabilities still face major accessibility hurdles as technologies evolve today, we see websites as essential places to shop and learn and share and connect. And thus, they’re protected under the ADA.
Websites that have a significant number of inaccessible components may be considered discriminatory against people with disabilities.
Spencer: So that’s actually the next question, so how is compliance determined for this? How can I make sure that my website is compliant? But this is where things start to get a bit murky since there are no clear ADA regulations that spell out exactly what compliant web content is or the technical qualities of a compliant website.
However, businesses that fall under ADA Title I for employers or ADA Title III for public accommodations are required to develop a website that offers reasonable accessibility to people with disabilities. The Department of Justice is responsible for rulemaking, to provide clear requirements for compliance laws. However, in regards to ADA compliant websites, it hasn’t really established specific requirements for the public to follow. US courts and The Department of Justice have frequently referenced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG, as a standard for website accessibility.
Now the WCAG 2.0 level, success criteria regarded as a standard to gauge whether websites are accessible. But again, these are guidelines and not requirements. And the law states reasonable accessibility to people with a disability, which is quite vague and doesn’t give a clear picture of what exactly an ADA compliant website’s going to look like.
Spencer: So in terms of recent legal action, we’ve seen the American Disabilities Act has been the source of a tremendous amount of litigation regarding website compliance. There have been thousands of lawsuits alleging that company websites are not accessible to the blind or visually impaired in violation of the ADA. While previous lawsuits have focused on physical barriers to assessing businesses, the new lawsuits alleged that company websites qualify as places of public accommodation and websites with access barriers, such as websites that aren’t compatible with screen reading software, denying users with disabilities rights of equal access.
The fact is, unless a website’s built with ADA accessibility in mind, it’s likely going to suffer from numerous compliance issues. And the growing awareness that digital accessibility is a civil right is putting greater pressure on website owners to address these issues or face possible legal actions.
Failing to comply The ADA means your business is susceptible to penalties and lawsuits. The cost of an ADA lawsuit can add up quickly. Any person with a disability can file a complaint against ADA violators to The Department Of Justice and there can definitely be some severe fines for ADA noncompliance. These can be as high as $75,000 for the first violation. And for subsequent violations, things can ramp up to $150,000.
Beyond legal consequences, failure to provide website accessibility to users with disabilities means you’re losing out on business. If users cannot use your website effectively, you’re missing out on sales opportunities. Accessibility features also generally make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your website, improving your agency website’s SEO and helping you get more visibility in search engines and therefore getting your content in front of more users and potential clients.
Spencer: We’ve received many questions from our clients about email solicitations they’ve received from companies offering inexpensive or even free website toolbars or accessibility overlays. And they’ll often claim to make their website instantly ADA compliant to protect them from ADA related lawsuits.
The purpose is to improve a website accessibility by adapting the existing assets of any website. These changes aren’t automatic, and they have to be triggered by the user before making any visible adjustments to the website, there are no actual changes or improvements to the content on the website nor changes to the technical components of the website to make it accessible to people with disabilities.
These tools attempt to ignore the failings of the website content and how it’s built to conform to the standards. These tools don’t really help the website comply to ADA standards.
There’s a few other problems that these toolbars pose. They interfere with real assistive technologies that the blind or folks with low vision likely already use. Toolbars and these overlays hijack the user’s screen reader that they’re already familiar with and force them to learn a new technology that they don’t normally use to read or view other websites. They have their own and do not need nor want to be forced to use someone else’s.
They make the user identify themselves as someone being with a disability. And finally, since these tools don’t actually fix any underlying issues, websites are still open to a lawsuit or ADA complaint.
Therefore, BrightFire does not recommend using accessibility overlays or toolbars. We really believe the best way to make the website accessible to people with disabilities is to improve the website itself. That’s why we’ve made numerous updates to our website platform to improve ADA compliance across the board for all of the websites we manage. We regularly audit our website platform to identify areas of improvement.
While we do not claim that every component of our websites are 100% ADA compliant, we take ADA compliance really seriously and are continually working to bring every website we manage as close to fully ADA compliant as possible.
Spencer: So what’s the best way to build an ADA compliant insurance agency website, despite there being no clear definition of what that means? There are a few actions your insurance agency can take to set you on the right path towards ADA compliance, or at least help you demonstrate that your business has made a good faith effort towards accommodation. Since the ADA doesn’t offer set guidelines for website compliance, many organizations and businesses follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG, since it’s been referenced by US courts. This isn’t a legal requirement, rather, it’s a reference point for businesses that are looking to improve their digital accessibility.
The WCAG 2.1 guidelines want to ensure that your content is perceivable, content is presented in an easily perceivable manner. Examples of what that means include offering alternatives to texts such as audio alternatives or assistive technology that allows sight impaired individuals to perceive your website’s content.
They want to make sure that it’s operable, navigation’s easy to operate. Examples of this include offering keyboard accessibility features, so users with disabilities can easily navigate your website and access content. The third big benchmark is that it’s understandable, content’s easy to understand. Examples include making your content readable and predictable and offering input assistance if needed. Finally, the fourth benchmark is robust. Your website’s content can be interpreted by various devices and platforms. The example here is you want to ensure your content’s compatible with assistive technologies that are out there and that potential users are going to use. Meeting these standards approves the accessibility of your agency’s websites for individuals with vision or hearing impairments, or those with cognitive language or learning disabilities.
Spencer: So what does BrightFire do to work toward this compliance? We regularly audit our websites using various accessibility testing tools. We always want to try to identify new areas for improvement. Once we identify new areas of improvement, our development team determines the best way to implement an update and whether or not the update is necessary in our professional opinion to truly improve accessibility. Once we have a number of improvements planned, we update our website platform’s core code in a way that improves accessibility across all of the websites that we manage.
Over the past two years, we’ve completed numerous rounds of audits and updates to improve ADA compliance for our website platform and all those that we manage.
Spencer: There’s tons of benefits to having an accessible website, as we’ve touched on. It can definitely increase your sales. This is going to make your website accessible to more customers. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’re 61 million people, or almost one in four Americans, with a disability.
Agencies that don’t have accessible websites are missing out on the opportunity to engage with folks who have disabilities to use their services, engage with staff, and share their content with them. It’s also going to help you avoid ADA lawsuits and legal penalties.
Insurance agency owners don’t just risk losing their potential customers who aren’t able to access the website, you’re also opening yourself up to the risk of a lawsuit, as websites with significant inaccessible components can be seen as discriminatory against people with disabilities.
As we touched on earlier, it definitely can improve your SEO, and in turn, get more traffic and potential buyers to your website. The process of making an insurance agency website ADA compliant, by its very definition, improves the readability of your website. Website accessibility can help improve your search engine optimization, or SEO, by keeping your website’s interface cleaner, making the pages easier to navigate, improving internal page structures that search engines look at, and increasing the time that consumers are spending on your website.
And finally, it can definitely help with your reputation. Not only are you going to attract more customers, but those customers will also appreciate that you value them and other folks with disabilities. After all, they may have already been discouraged by other insurance websites that were not ADA compliant before they found you, and your website was helpful to them.
Spencer: If you’re unsure if your website’s accessible to people with disabilities, BrightFire is really happy to offer a no cost accessibility evaluation of your website. This report can identify many accessibility errors and how well your website meets those web content accessibility guidelines that we’ve been talking about.
To request that report and have that run, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your agency website and your contact information, we’ll reach you with those results. So again, every website we build is built with those WCAG guidelines in mind and is accessible to people with disabilities.
We believe that all insurance agency websites should be a pleasant, convenient experience for everyone. Your policy holders and your prospects should be able to interact successfully with your website, regardless of which device or browser they’re using and regardless of whether they have limitations or disabilities.
The pricing for our Insurance Agency Websites is $100 per month. Our insurance agency websites, all of our digital marketing services, we don’t have setup fees or contracts. We also include a 30-day, money-back guarantee with all of our services.
As a thank you for attending today, we’re offering a $50 account credit to webinar attendees who purchase a new agency website. This promo ends November 23rd.
If you want to get started with a website from BrightFire, please visit our website at brightfire.com or you can speak with a bright fire expert at (888) 778-4393. We’d be happy to talk through your goals and figure out what would best help meet your needs and what you’re looking for for your agency.
That concludes our presentation on ADA compliance for agency websites. We’ll now go ahead and start the Q&A session if anyone has any questions. We’ll do our best to answer any questions that come on through. And if we don’t address your questions during the webinar, rest assured somebody from BrightFire will follow up with you via email later and make sure that your question is addressed.
Spencer: So a few that we’ve gotten. “Are BrightFire websites’ fully ADA compliant?” Again, we take ADA compliance seriously, and we continually work to make sure all of the websites we manage are compliant as possible. Since there’s not agreed upon legal standards, it’s not really possible to claim that a website is fully ADA compliant. And when we review our website platform for areas of improvement, we think more in terms of making the website as accessible as is possible.
Spencer: And then another question, “Is there a website certification for ADA compliance?” So no, to be clear, there’s not an official government level of certification. You won’t be certified as ADA compliant because there’s no exact parameters on what makes a website fit the definition of legally accessible. There are a lot of private companies that specialize in ADA compliance that offer a certificate for your website. However, that generally means that they issue a statement of conformance that you can add as a certificate on your website or a badge that’ll help relay that your website’s been certified by them to meet those WCAG Standards.
Spencer: Next question “I have a BrightFire website. Is there anything I need to do for ADA compliance?” So good question. No. We regularly audit our platform to identify areas of improvement.
Spencer: “Are there any testing tools I can use to see how ADA compliant my website is?” Yes, so we do recommend using the Wave Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, and that’s available at wave.webaim.org. Again, that’s wave.webaim.org.
Holding out for another moment to see if any others come in. And then again, if you guys think of questions later, or we don’t get to you, definitely going to loop back and answer all your questions individually. Give it another moment to see some coming through.
Okay, and I think that does it for the questions today. Again, if you reach out or think of something later, we will make sure to loop back with you. Before we close out, I’d like to remind everyone of our upcoming 20 Minute Marketing Webinars. Our next one coming up is 10 Tips to Humanize your Agency with Social Media Marketing. Insurance sales, definitely about developing relationships and that’s exactly what social media can do for your agency. We’ll talk about how you can communicate and connect with insurance consumers in the fun, casual structure that social media channels provide. So you can really show off the human side of your agency and you can join us to discover 10 actionable tips to help make your agency feel more human to your buyers. That’ll be held on Wednesday, December 16th at 2:00 PM Eastern, 11:00 AM Pacific.
Our webinar in January is going to be Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Your Online Reviews. Over 85% of consumers read reviews for local businesses. So it’s not only important, but really critical for insurance agencies to stay on top of what people are saying about their business and manage their online reviews. So in that January webinar, we’re going to be talking about the do’s and don’ts of managing your online reviews from, at the beginning, how do I get more new reviews as well as responding to negative reviews and things like that that are bound to come up along the road? That one will be on Thursday, January 28th at 2:00 PM, Eastern or 11:00 AM Pacific.
You can reserve your spot at those webinars, again, by visiting that webinars page on our website, brightfire.com/webinars. So that does it for today. And from me and the rest of the BrightFire team, thanks so much for attending and using some of your valuable time today. Hope you guys all enjoy the rest of your week and look forward to seeing you around next time. Take care.