[NFBWATlk] The Current State of Website Accessibility for Disabled Individuals - Zenyth Group CEO Daryn Harpaz

Merribeth Greenberg merribeth.manning at gmail.com
Tue Feb 4 16:04:56 UTC 2020

The Current State of Website Accessibility for Disabled Individuals -
Zenyth Group CEO Daryn Harpaz
Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is an Autism Industry authority, speaker, and
ForbesBooks author of Autism Matters.

The relationship between technology and autism services has been a focus of
my thinking and writing lately. It’s an urgent topic that I feel deserves
attention, but it’s also led me to a broader conversation about inclusivity
(or lack thereof) of technology for the larger disabled community. As our
lives become increasingly enmeshed with technology—phones at our
fingertips, brick and mortar retail locations rapidly disappearing, the
supremacy of social media and e-commerce—the need for technology that can
accommodate the disabled community is at once something that must be a
priority, yet is often either left ignored by businesses or unaddressed
because they lack the knowledge and ability to make their websites ADA

In search of more information about this landscape and the “state-of-play”
when it comes to websites and online life generally becoming more
accessible for disabled individuals, I spoke with WCAG (Website Content
Accessibility Guidelines) Compliance Specialist and Founder and CEO of
Zenyth Group, LLC, Daryn Harpaz. Our conversation revealed some curious
information, statistics that should scare and incentivize business leaders,
and insights that should give us all a better idea about the status quo
informing current inclusivity efforts for disabled individuals online.

The first thing to know is that it’s impossible to have this discussion
without mentioning the Americans with Disabilities Act which passed in
1990. As Daryn explained it, officially, there is no legislation holding
private sector websites accountable for accessibility, as the law predated
the prevalence of the internet as we use it today. However, guidelines put
together by the World Wide Web Consortium have essentially been adopted as
precedent, and those guidelines are confirmed by the Department of Justice.
Lawsuits pursuant to accessibility compliance are being upheld by the
courts, so while nothing is instantiated by law, it’s becoming a must for
businesses to ensure their websites are fully accessible to the disabled

“Currently there's a [accessibility] lawsuit being filed at the rate of one
per hour in America. And these are lawsuits most prominently bought by the
plaintiff side—a blind plaintiff who is not able to access a website using
a screen reader and a keyboard,” Daryn told me. While vision impaired
people (4.6% of the disabled population in America) struggling with
assistive technologies online represent the majority of the lawsuits we’re
seeing, guidelines cover a much wider spectrum of conditions, and so
solutions need to address the same.

Individuals disabled in some way—including autistic individuals or people
with epilepsy—comprise about 15% of our population in America, or 61
million people. Add to that the fact that 40% of US adults over the age of
65 have one or more disabilities (many of whom would benefit greatly from
more accessible websites due to vision loss and motor functioning
complexities) and the market is too large to be ignored. Yet, many
businesses still aren’t addressing the issue properly.

I asked Daryn what would constitute an ADA violation in our current moment.
“If somebody visits your website and can’t buy a product successfully, they
are essentially being denied an equal shopping experience. That’s
considered a violation of the ADA.” he said. Furthermore, if your website
directs users to a physical location which they then can’t find, that would
also be considered a violation.

With the right insight and expertise, these are all avoidable problems that
could easily create a more equitable world for all. But, many either are
either openly hostile to accommodating disabled individuals or seem to be
acting only out of fear of being sued. A lot of these attitudes are born of
ignorance, and businesses should be highly incentivized to accommodate such
an enormous market.

“If you consider the spending power of the disability community, you're
talking about a half a trillion dollar industry: $490 billion. That's what
people with disabilities spend a year in consumption. So why wouldn't you
want to be one of the brands that cater to that demographic? Parallel to
that, it is well known that people within the disability community are one
of the most, if not the most loyal brand advocates. A lot of companies do
not cater to them, so when they find a company catering to their needs,
they are very loyal, often becoming brand ambassadors.”

While I’d prefer that the current conversation was starting from a place
more anchored to the humanity of these individuals, motivating startup
retailers just trying to get by and monolithic corporate entities all at
once is difficult work, and any progress in the right direction is still

Ultimately, change will require a shift in mindset that Daryn tells me he
and his company are working hard to achieve, “My platform is to move that
conversation from the defensive framing to an attitude that’s more
proactive, one with which organizations embrace accessibility as a best
practice, and deploy technology and messaging that is inclusive,” he
explained. “If we're going to really move the needle in our industry, it
has to be a conversation around humanity.”

Our conversation goes on to unpack the more technical aspects of the work
ahead for disabled individuals and website accessibility. Those details and
more will be shared in an upcoming blog, so keep an eye out for the
conclusion of this important discussion.


Beth Greenberg

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