As efforts to raise awareness of ongoing inequities among marginalised groups have gained traction in the past several years, many creative directors have prioritised diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within their campaigns. However, these campaigns often overlook an important demographic - people with disabilities.
In the US, which represents a sizable market for most global brands, 61 million people live with a disability - whether physical, visual, hearing-related or cognitive - according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To make campaigns more inclusive and accessible for these individuals, brands should adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design and others like it, such as the European Accessibility Act (EAA), slated for adoption in June 2022.
Yet, many brands still fall short, resulting in thousands of ADA lawsuits every year.
In this guide, Tag Americas head of marketing and global DE&I lead, Kaylie Stansfield, and account manager, Chandler Roth, explore the need to prioritise ADA compliance in digital marketing, particularly early in the creative production process.
There’s a reason why it’s called inclusion
According to a 2021 Fortune/Deloitte report, 90% of CEOs say their company aspires to be an industry leader in DE&I practices. “Although it has been a priority for large global organisations for more than a decade, until recently, DE&I was commonly a check box for recruiters, rather than a strategic commitment across the organisation,” says Kaylie.
However, events within the past couple years have heightened the call for a more comprehensive approach to DE&I. In response to heightened awareness of racial biases, the disproportionate effect of COVID on women’s careers, and other high-visibility inequities, DE&I has been an increasing focus for heads of creative, marketing, brand, product development and procurement.
To further advance these initiatives in 2022, brands need to move beyond the standard areas of focus, such as ethnicity, gender, and size diversity. According to Kaylie, it’s time to prioritise other overlooked demographics, such as people with disabilities.
“We think there’s a big opportunity for CPG brands who have done well by prioritising diversity and inclusivity in campaign imagery but may still be producing content that isn’t ADA compliant, whether it’s for eCommerce, product catalogues, store displays, digital ads or emails,” says Kaylie. “There’s no point in doing the right thing with inclusive imagery if the intended audience can’t interact with the message. That’s the equity piece.”
What is ADA compliance and why is it more important now than ever before?
Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, the ADA Standards for Accessible Design prohibits organisations that do business with the public from discriminating against people with disabilities. These conditions include visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning and neurological disabilities.
Although ADA standards are commonly associated with physical accommodations, the ADA also requires companies to ensure web content accessibility.
Kaylie notes that efforts to comply with ADA requirements have for many years emphasised the physical aspects, such as parking lots, stairways and ramps, counter heights, and print materials. “The digital conversation is still relatively new,” she says.
“This is due, in part, to a lack of industry understanding about what ADA compliance means for retail and consumer brands’ websites, apps, and other types of digital content. Moreover, many lack awareness of the impact of noncompliance on affected populations.”
As the world shifted online during the COVID-19 pandemic, inequities were exposed that have existed for many years but never got the attention they deserved. “Digital inequity is a perfect example,” says Kaylie.
When in-person options became a higher risk, people relied more heavily on digital alternatives for work, shopping, medical consultations, banking and more. However, web content accessibility varies.
“There's definitely room for improvement,” says Chandler. He notes that, although businesses’ brand guidelines are ADA compliant, ongoing production of digital marketing assets often falls short. “This is, in part, because so many people are involved in the creative production process and, typically, no one is charged with leading the ADA compliance aspect from the initial concept stage.”
What characterises ADA compliant digital content?
As brands work to increase ADA compliance, they will incorporate universal design elements like these:
Closed captioning for videos
Content compatible with text-to-speech tools
Appropriate colour contrast, font size and other design elements
Chandler stresses that brands should prioritise these ADA compliant designs early in the creative production process. This ensures that campaign assets meet requirements without retrofitting, which slows time to market and increases costs. “Tag builds the ADA coding into the production schedule and leverages efficient processes to keep costs low,” he explains.
For example, one large banking client leveraged Tag’s expertise to optimise digital files for people with visual impairment. To do this, the designer coded the PDF files to specify a ‘reading order’ and document structure tags that enable Adobe Acrobat’s text-to-speech tool to read in the sequence that will make most sense of the content. Chandler says, “It might start with the logo in the top left-hand corner, then the banner with the header on it, followed by a picture, text, and a call-out box.”
“Beyond the time and cost savings of production-stage ADA coding, working within native files can result in a higher quality. For example, coding a PDF’s reading order within InDesign often mitigates glitches that can occur when specifying the order at a later stage within Adobe’s text-to-speech tool,” Chandler notes.
The cost of noncompliance
In addition to the loss of valuable connection with consumers, failure to comply with ADA standards, can result in costly lawsuits. A report from accessibility.com notes that there were 2,352 website accessibility lawsuits filed in 2021 - a 14% increase from 2020. Those most targeted included consumer goods, services and retail companies.
How brands can improve ADA compliance in 2022 and beyond
“This is not a simple widget or overlay solution,” says Kaylie. “It requires a concerted commitment by the brand, its agency and their partners; third-party testing and monitoring from a source knowledgeable in ADA compliance; and a budget to create barrier-free access to people with disabilities.”
Both Kaylie and Chandler stress that ADA compliance needs to be part of the strategy early in the creative development process. Identifying which channels and content are needed to drive a campaign can quickly reveal ADA needs, they say. And, they should be looking to the future and anticipating inclusion beyond ADA compliance.
Kaylie adds, “Retail brands are ramping up their VR capabilities with virtual try-on tools. While these tools have the potential to reach a new audience of people who may not otherwise be able to try on items in store, creative directors should consider how it applies to someone who is not standing.”
Kaylie anticipates that brands will increase efforts to improve web content accessibility when the EAA takes effect in June 2022. Currently, each member state in the European Union has different accessibility standards. The EAA will establish common standards, requiring those not already in compliance to adapt quickly.
“We don’t yet know the implications of noncompliance. However, if the implementation of GDPR is any indication, consumers will be quick to act, and lawsuits will be expensive,” Kaylie says. She concludes that “brands should evaluate their agency partners’ experience with accessible design practices to support the goal of ADA and EAA compliance. It’s no longer a nice-to-have accessory.”