We’ve spoken many times about the importance of Digital Accessibility. Not only does the Americans with Disabilities Act compel us to provide accessible digital experiences to all users, but it is also the right thing to do.
In our practice, one particular area of focus is our work with Jewish Community Centers. As the vendor that provides services to the JCC Digital Co-op, we have spent many years servicing community centers around the country (and Canada, too!). As these centers already know, providing accessibility accommodations is central to the services they offer at their physical locations. But, it’s important not to overlook the compliance of their experiences online, too.
This week, we’re going to look at five reasons that JCCs should focus on their level of digital accessibility and what they can do to work towards compliance.
Jewish Tradition Teaches Inclusion
Specifically, about ensuring everyone in the community can participate in their religious and public life, specifically by removing barriers for the disabled.
“Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5); accordingly, we must prevent anyone from being separated from the community against their will.
In Leviticus 19:14, we are commanded, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Stumbling blocks come in many forms, from less-than-accessible buildings, Shabbat services, prayer books, and web pages to health care that is harder to access or isn’t sufficient for people with disabilities. We are obligated to remove these stumbling blocks; this is why Judaism cares so deeply for the rights of people with disabilities.
Ensure equal access and usability of their digital resources
JCC buildings are required (by law) to be accessible. By making their websites and other digital resources accessible, they will be aligning their digital (and web) resources to align with their (already) existing physical ADA practices.
It is easy to overlook digital accessibility. It is time-consuming, therefore, can be expensive to remediate. It is not an expense that sits easily with bookkeepers. And it is confusing – there are many standards, many ways to check on compliance, and too many characters promising conformity and failing to deliver.
Despite all of this, it’s important to make sure that a digital experience matches what your physical JCC needed to pass its own building inspection. An accessible digital experience will let your users know that you take the matter seriously and that they can expect the same accommodations at your center, as well.
Accessible Websites Can Help Avoid Litigation
The current landscape of web accessibility is varied and unpredictable. The Justice Department has long held that websites must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act because they are a place of public accommodation. Some legal points to consider:
Many courts (11th Circuit in particular) have found that websites are subject to the ADA if a nexus between the website and the physical premises of public accommodation can be established.
Other courts have found that websites meet the requirement of a place of public accommodation and, therefore, must comply with the ADA, regardless of if a physical location exists.
Any JCC website that has online forms that allow users to sign up for events, reserve times, or purchase goods or services will likely be found as needing to comply with the ADA for persons to access those digital forms.
Any JCC that receives government or public funding must comply, by law, with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (revised in 2017). This requires conformance with WCAG 2.1 AA guidelines. Again, ensuring their digital assets meet the same accessibility standards as their physical spaces.
What does this all mean? It indicates that your website and all functionality linked to it – whether it be donation forms, ticket sales, CRM systems, and the like – all need to be compliant.
Accessibility Improves the Usability for Everyone
Just as how having slopes cut into sidewalks has benefited more than just blind persons, an accessible website benefits more than just blind people. An accessible website is a usable website. Especially when it comes to accessing a site on a mobile device. Most people don’t realize just how much everyone benefits from accessibility in their own lives:
Permanent Disabilities. Sure, those with permanent disabilities are the ones we think of when we talk about disability. 20% of our population identify as being in this group which is why it is so important to not exclude that large amount of our population.
Temporary Disabilities. Most of us have experienced this at some point in our life. Be it a broken limb or having your eyes dilated, many of us have had periods of our lives where we have experienced a temporary disability.
Situational Disabilities. Ever try and respond to a text while carrying groceries or a baby? It’s not easy, especially if you are trying to use your non-dominant hand. All of us have been in a situation that impacts our ability to use an app or website, especially with a mobile device. Having more accessible websites and apps certainly benefits everyone.
One of the nice side-effects of an accessible website is that overall, the experience and efficiency of the website tend to improve. Accessible websites are known to load faster. Thus, they perform better and are more usable.
Accessible websites can also improve SEO rankings, as many of the tagging techniques we apply are also beneficial to SEO.
And most importantly, disabled persons are a loyal community, which is what JCCs are meant to serve. Since most websites are not accessible, sites that are accessible are remembered and patronized more by disabled persons. You get free word-of-mouth advertising, and you are doing the right thing along the way.
Digital accessibility for JCCs is of the utmost importance. Jewish Community Centers around the country and the world are providing a valuable service to their local communities, one which is based on the inclusion of all people, regardless of their limitations. NP Group has worked hard within the JCC Digital Co-op to make accessibility more of an issue to be addressed and is working to ensure all future builds are accessible from day one.
Please visit www.jccdigitalcoop.com for more information about the co-op and how it works.