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Our eighth minisode of the fifth season of “The Creative Influencer” podcast is available today for download on iTunes, Spotify, and premier platforms everywhere. This is the first of two minisodes about online accessibility and making sure content is compliant with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it applies to influencers. In this minisode, Jon discusses the law’s background and outlines a few best practices for websites.
A transcript of the episode follows:
Today’s minisode is about online accessibility and making sure your content is compliant with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA for short) and how it applies to influencers.
This is the first of two minisodes on the topic. In this minisode, I’m going to give some background about the law and outline some best practices for your websites (think: merch sales, informational websites, etc.). Next minisode, we will talk about some specific best practices for Social Media.
Why does this matter? Well, not only is it the law and can get you in legal trouble (either sued or fined) both here in the United States and in other countries and regions that have similar laws (like the European Union), but it’s also just a generally good idea to make sure that nothing comes between your followers, your customers and your content!
You’re probably already familiar with the ADA in normal day-to-day life offline. Wheelchair access ramps, accessible restroom facilities and many other equal-access accommodations are a regular part of most public spaces in the United States.
Title III of the ADA requires that every owner, lessor, or operator of a “place of public accommodation” provide equal access to users who meet ADA standards for disability. With over 3 billion people around the world online, one might reasonably presume that this concept extends to websites, but from a legal standpoint, there is a surprising amount of grey area.
Back when the ADA was put into effect in 1990, the internet was just a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye, and the law didn’t even contemplate websites as places of public accommodation. And even though the legislation has been amended and updated since then, it is still silent on websites. This means that the interpretation of the ADA and it’s applicability to websites is up to the courts.
Some courts have ruled that commercial websites are places of public accommodation and thus subject to ADA rules. Think websites for companies and websites that sell products or services, but not necessarily personal promotional websites or blogs.
Other courts have concluded that websites are bound by ADA regulations if there is a close “nexus” (that’s a legal term) between the website and a physical location. In June 2017, the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain was found to have violated the ADA because their website was not easy to use for the legally blind and because it didn’t offer a screen-reader software or other accessibility features on the site.
And yet other courts have decided that the ADA as written simply does not offer any protections for online users.
With no overarching federal rules in place, it’s difficult to make a definitive statement about which types of websites are governed by ADA accessibility rules. But as it applies to influencers, or anyone who’s online presence is more than just a blog written for friends and family, it’s a good idea to make sure your websites are ADA compliant.
There are two best-practices that are easy to follow to avoid any issues now or in the future.
The first is making sure your website is compliant with a set of internet standards called WCAG 2.0 Level AA. It is a set of guidelines that provide the basis for online accessibility laws in the European Union and other countries since 1999. (This is part of why I said earlier that ADA compliance isn’t just important in the U.S.—much like how almost every website has those cookie warnings even though that is a privacy law in the EU, and not the US).
The WCAG standards cover the “under the hood” structure and coding of the website, readability of text, color contrast, and making sure that links are properly tagged so screen readers can identify them. It’s a long list of simple adjustments that have a lot of overlap with recommendations for making your website “Google friendly,” often referred to as “search engine optimization.”
The simplest thing to do is to wo see if your website is in compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is to use one of the many online site checker tools or browser plugins that will give a report on your website and give a list of issues to correct. Just search online. Many fixes are easy to do yourself with some intermediate website coding knowledge (which if you built your website yourself, you can do), or simple tasks for a website coder or consultant.
The second best-practice, especially to influencers selling merch on their website, is to make sure that you have an accessibility plugin on your site that allows visitors to modify text size and color and provides screen reader interoperability. You can see an example of this on my website, pfeifferlaw.com. This will help you avoid the problem Winn-Dixie had with their website.
Next week, I’ll talk about how ADA guidelines relate to your social media presence and content. Until then.
The Creative Influencer is a weekly podcast where we discuss all things creative with an emphasis on Influencers. It is hosted by Jon Pfeiffer, an entertainment attorney in Santa Monica, California. Jon interviews influencers, creatives and the professionals who work with them.
Contact Jon and his team today.