Can Small Businesses Afford the Hidden Legal Costs of Free Website Accessibility Plug-Ins?

Can Small Businesses Afford the Hidden Legal Costs of Free Website Accessibility Plug-Ins?


It has become important for American Society to be legally as inclusive as possible. Therefore it is no surprise that we have seen an increase in the number of web accessibility lawsuits for businesses in the last few years.

Even though the graphical curve for accessibility lawsuits has started to flatten, the numbers are still rising significantly. In fact, the recent trend shows that small and medium businesses are becoming frequent targets of accessibility lawsuits

The problem is that most small business owners fail to oversee the technical aspects of a website due to time constraints. They might be aware that the Department of Justice requires a business website to comply with the ADA and make it accessible for people with disabilities.

They might have also heard of the famous accessibility lawsuits like the one against Domino’s Pizza or Beyoncé and spurred to take action. But since most small business owners have limited funds, they tend to turn to free website accessibility plug-ins. However, they might not know that these so-called free plug-ins can create expensive legal trouble for them.

Why Should Web Accessibility Concern Small Business Owners?

Many small business owners may be ignorant of website accessibility until a lawsuit knocks on their door. But Web accessibility is not just a concern for big companies anymore. Disability activists and advocates have grown increasingly tired of waiting for businesses to make their websites disability-friendly.

Therefore, they have started sending legal notices and demand letters to companies with a non-compliant online presence. The result is a steady rise of lawsuits against small businesses all over America.

A blind person might have felt frustrated because he could not order a pizza or a restaurant website. Or an elderly customer might have faced difficulties ordering medicines due to the confusing site layout.

Compliance is not the only reason why web accessibility should concern small business owners. According to the CDC, almost 61 million adults live with a disability of some kind in America.

All of these adults prefer to shop online because they want to enjoy the convenience just like everyone else. The combined earning of Americans with disabilities is north of $ 21 billion, which is more than the earning power of several market segments.

How to Make a Website Accessible?

There are no definitive legal guidelines for website accessibility in America. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recognizes the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a measure to judge compliance. To make a website ADA compliant, business owners should ensure that it meets level A and AA of WCAG 2.1. Some of the objectives covered by these guidelines are:

  • Provide support for assistive technologies like screen readers, Braille readers, head pointers, and several others.
  • Ensure that the text on the website is easy to read for people with impaired vision or color blindness.
  • The language used on the website is simple and easy to understand.
  • There is adequate text to background contrast ratio.
  • The website follows logical navigation and hierarchy.
  • Buttons and links are clearly marked with multiple visual parameters.
  • Pictures used on the website have appropriate alternative text attributes.
  • Videos on the website do not autoplay and have supporting closed captions and transcripts.
  • The website navigation is accessible with a keyboard only.

What Makes Free Plug-Ins a Legal Trap?

Most small business owners have limited funds and therefore prefer using free plug-ins or add-ons. However, free plug-ins like UserWay or WP Accessibility might increase the risk for an expensive lawsuit. Small business owners think that they have completed their due diligence by adding one of these free plug-ins.

But the truth is, these plug-ins cannot take care of most of the accessibility challenges presented by a website. It might be able to correct the basic usability problems with actions, such as:

  • Adjustments to the size and space of texts
  • Improvement of contrast ratio
  • Magnification of the cursor and links

However, these adjustments fall far short of the requirements for true website accessibility. Most small business owners feel that plug-ins are an easier and less expensive way to take care of website accessibility. But they often confuse free plug-ins with less-expensive solutions offered by other developers.

Software startups have indeed come up with similar ways to manage website accessibility. But these solutions are usually AI-powered to take care of all the accessibility problems of a website, including the serious and difficult ones. The solutions may not be as easy to implement as installing a plug-in but are not that difficult either.

For example, business owners can implement the a premium accessibility solution such as accessiBe to become ADA compliant. Other solutions like UserWay fall short on delivering full compliance which can expose websites to legal proceedings.

The process of implementing an accessibility solution is not any more difficult than copying and pasting a few lines of text from one document to another. And while these solutions may not be entirely free, they are way less expensive than hiring designers and developers.

The software can ensure ADA and WCAG 2.1 compliance to protect the business owner from expensive lawsuits. The best part of these accessibility solutions is that a person can implement them to their website and forget about it because new elements or content are automatically optimized for accessibility.

Website accessibility problems might be a bit more complicated than what small business owners believe them to be. With the rise in the number of accessibility lawsuits, it is best to sidestep any free plug-ins or methods of solving the problem.

Instead, small business owners can rely on smart AI-powered accessibility solutions to ensure that they do not have to face exorbitant legal expenses. Making a website accessible will also ensure that the business can benefit from the market segment of customers living with disabilities.