Is Your Firm’s Website Accessible to All?

November 23, 2020

Many law firms responded to racial justice demonstrations this past summer with public support and a renewed commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. Some signaled this support by placing “Black Lives Matter” banners or updated racial justice statements on their home page. While these are welcome steps toward greater inclusion, law firms may inadvertently have undermined their message of inclusivity by placing it on a website that people with some kinds of disabilities could not access.

Firm websites have always been the initial point of contact for prospective clients and recruits, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified that fact. This means it’s more important than ever to ensure every website visitor (a group that may include clients, prospects and recruits, as well as judges, fellow lawyers, journalists, and others) can access your content, regardless of ability. Fortunately, members of the U.S. House of Representatives last month introduced the Online Accessibility Act, a bill that, if voted into law, would update the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. The new Title VI addition would be devoted to consumer-facing websites and mobile applications, and create a technical standard for website accessibility.

If passed, this bill would go a long way to guiding institutions on how to create accessible experiences online. But law firms do not need to wait for the bill to move through Congress to identify accessibility issues and take steps to correct them. Marketers can lead this effort by building in-house support for a firm website that is accessible to visitors with disabilities, such as vision or hearing impairment. Here’s what to do:

Learn about the four principles of accessibility:

  1. Perceivable — Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable — User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  3. Understandable — Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  4. Robust — Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Conduct an audit. Firms should run a regular audit of their website to make sure it complies with best practices for accessibility, including those outlined in the proposed legislation.

But don’t go it alone. Identifying and solving web accessibility issues is a specialized skill. Seek out one of the many reputable accessibility compliance services that can evaluate your website to ensure it is coded properly for screen readers for the vision impaired and that visual content includes closed captioning for the hearing impaired, among other modifications.

Implement recommendations. Every important issue needs an in-house champion who will advocate for the resources and time needed to do the job right. Identify key in-house people across IT and marketing who can work together on implementing and testing new website features. And as technology continues to evolve and the firm updates its site, speak up to ensure accessibility remains part of the discussion. It may soon be required by law.

Firms demonstrate their commitment to inclusion by ensuring that employees, clients, prospects, recruits, and all other members of the legal community can access their content and participate fully in conversations that start on the website.