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No Accessibility Option On Your Website? Ah Oh!

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Are you thinking of setting up a website for your business? Do you already have one? Of course you’ll make sure to have an accessibility plugin, but do you know if the plugin installed in your website meets the requirements of the law? And what about an accessibility statement? If you don’t have the proper declaration, you are liable to be fined, and may have to deal with class action and individual civil lawsuits filed against you!

So what is an accessibility statement, anyway? Which businesses must issue such a statement? What is the risk for a business that doesn’t publish an accessibility statement on its website? Here is what every business owner with a website needs to know.

I’ll try to be brief and purposeful. But I must first mention that I am critical of and harbor some resentment towards the politicians in Israel in this area. They make sure to set proper and good standards for helping people with disabilities. This is good for everyone and a positive reflection on them and their policies. But they have created a system where everything ends up falling on the backs of the business owners. They’re tasked with making their websites accessible at their own expense! Those who do not do so are exposed to fines, enforcement proceedings, individual lawsuits and class actions!

If you are a business owner you will identify with the following story:

Our office was contacted by the owner of a business that sells fireplaces. During the corona period, he decided, like many other business owners, to deal with the lockdowns by setting up an online sales site. The company he hired to build the site has already informed him that in order for the site to be accessible, they will install an “accessibility plugin” on the site (yes the same button that everyone knows that allows playing with the contrast, colors, type size and more).

The only thing was, like other companies in the field of building websites, they had no idea whether the functions in the plugin they installed on the site met the legal requirements in relation to that specific site. And to make things more complicated, it is also necessary to publish on the site a document called an “accessibility declaration”.

The same client contacted our firm because he received a class action lawsuit in the amount of millions of shekels!

The cause of action is a breach, due to a violation of a legal obligation to publish an accessibility statement on the website. Thus at once and regardless of the outcome of the procedure, he found himself in an unnecessary legal battle that robbed him of considerable sums and valuable time that he was forced to invest in a completely unnecessary legal battle.

For quite a few businesses, the mere need to deal with such a lawsuit may completely collapse the business!

So what is an accessibility statement? Which businesses must issue such a statement? What is the risk for a business that does not publish an accessibility statement on its website? And how can the matter be dealt with?

First, Israeli law requires the business owners to make the website accessible to people with disabilities. The accessibility of the site should be done in accordance with the Israeli standard (IS 5568), which in fact adopted international guidelines for website accessibility (the WCAG) of the C3W organization, since the assistance to people with disabilities is a priority matter for the State of Israel, and adding stricter standards at the expense of Israeli business owners, which are not such a priority to Israel (ok, I’ll try to keep the criticism to myself).

If until now it seems that like I’ve been speaking Chinese, I’ll get to the bottom line and explain what is needed.

A website (and when I say “website” that includes an app as well) must have an “accessibility statement.”
The accessibility statement is a document that details information regarding the accessibility of the site, just like there is a physical store, then of course the accessibility of the store and various details such as ways of contacting the accessibility coordinator (oh right, it is mandatory to appoint an accessibility coordinator for the business, we will expand on this in another article).

Of course, there is a difference between a website that provides the service to the public within the framework of the website itself (for example, a sales site), and a website designed to market a service provided through a store / office / clinic or any other physical place used by the business to sell its products or provide its services.

A business that provides service in a store or physical place will also include in the accessibility declaration details regarding the physical access to the compound where the service is provided, and if it is a business with several branches, such details are required for each and every branch. (Information such as: if there is disabled parking? if there are disabled toilets? if the road to the business is accessible? if the entrance has been made accessible so that it is possible to pass with a wheelchair, etc.).

As far as the website itself is concerned, the accessibility declaration must specify all the tools used to make the website and its contents accessible to people with disabilities. The site must include many functions (the same functions that were implemented on the site through an accessibility plugin). The functions must allow people with disabilities to browse the site freely and for this purpose, the content on the site must be made accessible in any form and format, texts, images, video, audio and the like. Here is also the place to note that not every accessibility plugin provides the required accessibility in relation to a specific site, so for example the functions required of a site that provides video content are different from those found on a site that does not include video content, etc.

A business owner who does not make the site accessible (by writing code or by a plugin that allows an accessibility level of AA), or as in the case of our client, who made the site accessible properly but refrained from publishing an “accessibility statement” on the site, actually violates the law, is legally exposed and endangers his business financially.

The legal risks

1) From a criminal point of view – this is exposure to a criminal authorization and a fine in the amount of up to NIS 150,000, in addition, the court may issue an order to suspend or terminate your business activities.

2) From an administrative point of view, a website owner who violates the regulations may receive an accessibility order from the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where a violation of the order may lead to a fine at the rate to be determined and be fined continuously at a rate of 5% for each day that the offense continues throughout the period specified in the order.

3) Private civil lawsuit – Any person or organization may sue the site owner, in the amount of up to NIS 50,000 without the need to prove damage, in an individual civil lawsuit.

4) And the most severe blow – exposure to a class action lawsuit – a person with a disability or an organization representing people with disabilities may file a motion for approval of a class action, on behalf of a public or group of people with disabilities. The amounts of compensation claimed in class actions are usually millions and even tens of millions of shekels. And the very need to defend against them constitutes a significant expense.

So if you have a business and you have a website, avoid unnecessary risks, contact an attorney who is knowledgeable in the field who will be able to advise you on the necessary accessibility adjustments on your specific website and will make an appropriate accessibility statement for you.

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