Website Builder Accessibility: How Have Big Platforms Responded to ADA Compliance Litigation?
“ADA website” litigation is no longer new.
With years of demand letters and lawsuits documenting that accessibility is essential both for access and compliance, how have The Big 4 platforms (Wix, SquareSpace, Godaddy Website Builder, Shopify) responded?
Below I analyze the materials put forth by each major platform and then grade the overall effort of each.
Godaddy Website Builder
Godaddy has multiple blog posts on accessibility as well as a website accessibility checklist video from their Godaddy Pro YouTube channel.
However, Godaddy still doesn’t have an accessibility statement.
Also, embarrassingly, Godaddy Pro hosted a meetup which ended up being a promo for AccessiBe (note: Accessibe is an overlay widget and does not, by any means, make your website accessible / ADA compliant).
I watched the entire puff video and Rafi Glantz, the AccessiBe representative, actually said this:
“People who are blind are not dumb by any means.”
Here’s the quote within full context:
…optical character recognition to actually look inside an image determine what are the words, what are the numbers, what’s being said in that image, and then write down an alternative text for it and I’ll show you a demonstration of that very soon.
But I want to point out here that there is always a give and take between how descriptive you want to be in an alt text. The reason being somebody is actually having to listen to it in their ear.
And we recently had a really awesome lunch with one of the guys, his name’s Adee, he’s blind from birth.
He’s one of the guys who helped us develop AccessiBe. And he did a demonstration for us of how he uses his screen reader.
He had to turn it down to 40% speed so that we could understand what was being said. So if you can imagine somebody listening to really really really fast speaking, you don’t want to put them through too much.
In my experience, people who are blind are not dumb by any means.
They’re a lot of times quicker on the uptake than a lot of people who can see and so that being the case, there’s no reason to put them through extensive explanations of stuff when they know what’s going on.
There is no way to quantify the immense damage to accessibility AccessiBe will have caused before it goes bankrupt.
Back to Godaddy’s official stance, I can’t see one.
There are a handful posts on accessibility (some of which include discussion on compliance), but there is no formal / official stance on Godaddy which is especially bad because Godaddy has articles dating back 5+ years that touch on accessibility.
SquareSpace has a single blog post titled, Making Your SquareSpace Site More Accessible.
It amounts to a quick tips blog post with a FAQ section at the end that serves as both an accessibility statement and a disclaimer.
Here are three revealing excerpts:
“You’re responsible for ensuring your site complies with applicable laws, including local accessibility requirements.”
“Squarespace Customer Support can’t provide advice about making your site compliant with any specific accessibility laws, regulations, or standards.”
“We’re in the process of reviewing our services to improve user experience and to make it easier for our customers to make their sites accessible.”
SquareSpace doesn’t have an accessibility statement.
Wix wins the website builder contest merely by showing up and spending more than 5 minutes on their homework.
In fact, Wix has actually put some real effort into accessibility.
Some of the encouraging work Wix has done includes:
- Posting an accessibility statement
- Having an accessibility engineer on staff (named in the statement)
- Having an entire page dedicated to accessibility and features for customers
- Naming specific considerations incorporated into the platform
- Encouraging accessibility feature requests
- Showcasing accessible templates
Where Wix lost points is they’ve overextended themselves.
I can tell by what they’ve written that they’re still learning about accessibility themselves.
Which is fine — I love the work in progress, let’s do the best we can and get better as we go approach.
What’s wrong is they got way, way ahead of themselves and started offering accessibility certification.
According to Wix, you can demonstrate “mastery” of a few accessibility considerations and become an “accessibility-certified site creator” upon scoring a 75% or higher on a 30 question, multiple choice exam.
This is highly problematic.
And they were off to such a good start.
Despite their recklessness, at least they’re overzealous about website accessibility.
P.S. Don’t interpret their good intentions as full WCAG 2.1 AA conformance out-of-the-box or anything close, but, rather, a really good start to accessibility.
Shopify store owners have been absolutely decimated by “ADA website” demand letters and yet Shopify has been so passive.
There are two paths website builder platforms can go:
A) be proactive and genuinely attempt to make your platform more accessible out-of-the-box and take an official stance in an accessibility statement
B) be passive and have a few blog posts
Wix is the only platform that chose option A.
Shopify, like SquareSpace and Godaddy, chose option B.
However, there are a few caveats.
On the good side, Shopify has two solid resources on accessibility.
One is “Accessibility for Themes” which contains a handful of accessibility fixes that non-technical website owners can make.
Another is “Accessibility Best Practices for Shopify Themes” which contains guidance on technical remediation for developers.
These are helpful, succinct guides that weren’t quickly slapped together.
Also, to meet Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requirements, Shopify has both an accessibility policy and multi-year accessibility plan publicly posted.
These documents are linked to from a very basic accessibility statement. The statement itself doesn’t have contact information (it should), but the policy and plan do.
On the really bad side, the Shopify App Store sells at least seven worthless accessibility plugins / toolbars / widgets that masquerade as real accessibility.
And, of course, unsuspecting Shopify store owners read reviews and the seeming endorsement by Shopify (apps are submitted for review by Shopify before being published in the App Store) and buy these apps in hopes of making their website accessible and preventing litigation.
Note to Shopify owners: None of them make your website accessible / WCAG conformant / “ADA compliant”.
- CodeInspire Accessibility Tool
- Accessibility Enabler
- UserWay Website Accessibility
- Accessibility — ADA & WCAG 2.1 (Trident AB)
- Accessibility Toolkit
- All in One Accessibility
Loose analogy: Think of going to a New York street corner in hopes of buying a Rolex watch. Do you think any of the street vendors are selling a real Rolex watch? No, they’re all fakes. There’s just a wide variety of fakes to choose from.
And what’s horrible is Shopify is 100% aware of this.
Just look at the nice documentation they put together that I’ve linked to above.
But still they allow these apps to sell in the App Store.
So that’s a problem.
Also, they had to post the Accessibility Policy and Multi-Year Plan for AODA compliance.
And their accessibility statement is 64 words and completely generic. And it’s not linked to from the homepage.
Can you imagine if all four major website builder platforms took option A and embraced accessibility?
The web would instantly be a much more accessible place and thousands of small business owners would have been saved from litigation.
Instead, 2023 is here, and three of these major platforms — with unlimited developer resources — presumably still aren’t taking basic steps to ensure that customers have some of the more technical accessibility considerations taken care of out-of-the-box.
Because of this, overlay widgets like Userway and Accessibe have inserted themselves into the conversation and confused website owners into thinking their worthless widgets can actually make a website accessible.
To be clear, overlay widgets are fake accessibility; overlays are fugazi accessibility.
This article took me about two hours to research and write. And with just two hours of work, I’ve shown how little effort has gone into even documenting accessibility for Godaddy Website Builder, SquareSpace, and Shopify.
And there’s no excuse.
Each have known accessibility is of paramount importance for years.
What an absolute colossal failure.
Do you know how often I look at a major corporation’s website and think to myself how much of a joke diversity and inclusion programs are?
With website accessibility, it’s so easy to tell if a big company actually cares.
And most do not.