IRS Will Pay $5,000 Tax Credit for Increasing Website Accessibility
Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all, in both a real and virtual world should be a paramount mission that we are all engaged in. In fact, the population of those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, neurological and other disabilities can’t afford to be overlooked. In the U.S, one out of every five adults has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 15% of the world's population, an estimated 1 billion people, have disabilities.
In recognition of this issue, lately there has been much more exhortation by governments to encourage digital businesses to make their web presence accessible to all end users. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility, for instance, announced that small businesses could be eligible for a $5,000 tax credit by increasing their website accessibility and making other accommodations to make their business more accessible for persons with disabilities. The IRS guidelines indicate that all efforts to improve website accessibility are eligible for a 50 percent credit for any expenditures over $250, not to exceed $10,250, for a maximum benefit of $5,000. The credit can be subtracted from a business' tax liability.
"When a website is designed and developed with accessibility in mind, it allows all individuals, including those with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, neurological and other disabilities, the power to access the site with assistive technology," says Mark Shapiro, President of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility. "We have a long and successful history of providing our clients from a wide array of industries with the assessments and remediation assistance they need to make their web presence accessible to all end users."
Do Companies Have a Legal Obligation?
For any organization that receives federal funding or does business with the government, the act requires agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. All federal agencies and companies with whom they do business must be compliant with these rules no later than January 2018.
The number of lawsuits against companies is on the rise. If the social responsibility side of making your business more accessible for persons with disabilities is not really relevant to you, then you might want to consider the risk of costly litigation or missing the opportunity to gain more market share.
A legally blind man has claimed in a lawsuit filed in federal court that the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) website is not accommodating to the blind and visually impaired. The plaintiff claimed that the NBA website wasn’t designed to be read by screen reader software or other assistive technologies that enable blind individuals to fully access websites and the information, products, and services available through the sites. Besides this, a very similar lawsuit happened to Toys “R” Us when a blind Pennsylvania woman, Michelle Sipe, filed a complaint against the company. The suit says the toy company’s website contains digital barriers which limit the ability for blind and visually impaired consumers to access the sites.
Besides these organizations, other huge companies including, Hard Rock Café International, Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., DSW Inc., The Home Depot, Inc., Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., Forever 21 Inc., Tommy Hilfiger Licensing, LLC, J.C. Penney Company, KMART Holding Corp and many others have also faced legal action due to alleged ADA non-compliance.
The Department of Justice delayed a plan to issue accessibility regulations until 2018, but said: "The inability to access websites puts individuals at a great disadvantage in today's society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic marketplace and unprecedented access to information."
Support from Silicon Valley
On the other hand, increasingly, tech giants from Microsoft to Yahoo are focusing on making technology more accessible to everyone. "There is certainly more of an interest in just the last five years from these big companies in Silicon Valley," said Geoff Freed, director of technology projects and Web media standards for the WGBH National Center for Accessible Media. USA Today, for instance, reported that Facebook is re-engineering its website and mobile apps, and it's brainstorming a new generation of futuristic products that harness the power of artificial intelligence to improve the experience of Facebook for people with disabilities. Matt King, a software engineer for Facebook, explained the first tool Facebook launched is an automated captioning tool. “When a friend uploads a new profile picture without a caption, the tool tells him there is a person smiling in the photo. When a friend uploads a photo from her phone, it says: Image may contain: two people, one toddler, smiling, outdoors,” he elaborated. "These are our very first baby steps," he added. The social media giant also has a guideline page for providing more information on the built-in features and technologies that help people with disabilities, like vision loss and deafness, to get the most out of Facebook. On top of these, Facebook also developed the Facebook Empathy Lab where Facebook employees can get a feeling of what it’s like to use the social network through Voiceover, short keys, closed captioning or high-contrast interfaces. Other huge tech companies such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and eBay, are also working on the issue in ways similar to Facebook.
Another positive example is JPMorgan Chase & Co seeking to embed the awareness of creating a truly accessible and inclusive environment in its corporate culture. To that point, the bank launched its ADA Program to achieve the firm’s mission to be the bank of choice for people with disabilities by providing their customers with disabilities equal access to the firm’s U.S. products, services, and facilities.
Website Accessibility Tips
When selecting the colors that will be used for the background and text of the website, you should take into account whether those colors will cause users with color blindness or other visual disabilities to be unable to read the text on the site. Use the tools available to ensure if your site’s colors meet accessibility standards. Testing should be done at this early stage.
Add appropriate H1 and H2 tags to describe the contents of the page
Users with visual impairments often use screen readers that read a site’s content to them aloud and navigating through a site’s content using one of these tools can be cumbersome and tedious. Test your design with screen readers.
The majority of the disabled users cannot view Flash. Google, Mozilla, Apple, Facebook, Vimeo, Netflix, The Washington Post, and the U.S. government has already shifted to secure their traffic with encryption through the adoption of HTTPS. You should stop using Flash too in order to make your website accessible.
Keyboard shortcuts make it easier for motor-impaired users to navigate throughout the site easier and faster.
Make sure flashing or strobing images are not present on the site as these effects can trigger seizures in some people.
Proper use of headers and subheadings can help screen readers and search engines understand how information is outlined in the page.
All PDFs, applets and other site features should be accessible to assistive software or alternative accommodations should be provided.
It may be a good idea to let your audience know that you have the intent to make your website or app more accessible and even ask them to give you feedback.
The process may contain a long, steep, and expensive learning curve so bringing in third party experts could be a wise idea, especially if your business is understaffed.
The best way of auditing your website to find out if it is accessible to everyone or where and how your audience is experiencing difficulties is putting yourself in the place of the user. For instance, envision yourself walking into a very noisy bar where you went initially to watch the game. How frustrated would your experience be, if the captions were off?
If we look at the issue from the business perspective, though, making your website accessible is beneficial not only for people with a variety of disabilities but also for protecting and enhancing your business. Usability and user experience are catalysts to a consumer’s decision journey. However, today, as many as half of the websites are nearly impossible for people with disabilities to browse. Considering the number of people with a disability or age-related limitation is expected to increase, the opportunity lies therein for businesses that aim at expanding their audience and reach.
No matter what your motivation is, it is important to keep in mind that accessibility should not be an afterthought, but rather a part of the natural design process.